One of the more memorable skits from WFMU’s The Best Show with Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster involved a character, spoken of fearfully by an underling, who called himself Power Pop Pop Pop. Quad P (for short) is a dictator and an unlikeable sort, which runs contrary to the feel-good nature of the genre he purports to live for. Two guitars, bass, drum — no orchestral instruments, no keyboards, none of that “drug stuff.” Anyone who diverts from that model is not true power pop and should be drummed out of the scene, and also pelted with small bits of hardened garbage.
I preface all this by saying that there’s no way that Power Pop Pop Pop would have a problem with Kurt Baker Combo’s live effort, Muy Mola Live!, recorded in June 2014, and I don’t say this derisively. Baker, one of the last of the longtime true believers, is in the same vein as Paul Collins’ Beat, meaning that you are driving this enterprise of a song for the purpose of getting to the big hook or the chorus as soon as possible. This isn’t prog rock where you bob and weave and slowly build to crescendo. With a combination of band originals and covers such as “Love Potion #9” the ethic at work here is that it should all be crescendo.
In the wrong mood, the listener may become exhausted. In the right mood, this music reveals something I have suspected for a long time. High energy power pop and classic rock and roll, and three chord punk, are very much the same thing with different moods attached. One says, let’s have fun, and party, and dance. The other says, the world sucks and ought to burn, and I have all the matches. Few examples of the former toes the line so close to the latter without stomping on it as does this live rendering.
I’m still a bit perplexed by the recording in totality though. The band sounds monstrously tight and locked; so tight, in fact, that I presumed there was hanky panky afoot with later overdubs and redux in the studio. It’s a common practice. Yet, if you’re going to take that effort and redo parts and get your vocal harmonies synced ‘just-so’, you’d also likely dump in more audience noise. The room Kurt Baker Combo plays in sounds incredibly tiny and not particularly well-booked either. I’m guessing then that everything I’m hearing is for real, which is in itself an insanity.
As with so much, this is not for everyone. If you need wild shifts of variation and tone, and moody undercurrent, you have come to the wrong saloon. But if you are strict power pop acolyte, Kurt Baker Combo’s your huckleberry. Dare I say it would be Power Pop Pop Pop approved?