This Radiant Boy
Shakedown at the Russian Disco


ull disclosure: Fall, 1996. As a freshman at St. Joseph’s University, I quickly realized how staid and conservative tastes were on campus, my assessment based on a preponderance of evidence: Dave Matthews Band posters papering every wall; quiet reverence for Brad Nowell, late front man of Sublime; and, shockingly, my neighbor’s insistence that Bush were the saviors of rock. These suburbanites from Mechanicsburg knew preternaturally that Wu Tang kept it real. I played New Adventures in Hi-Fi as a reassurance that someone would fend off the incessant ping pong between Marilyn Manson and Guns & Roses (Roommates, no less!), while my anachronistic Kiss poster hung in sheer defiance of contemporary middle class taste, counterpoising its meaning a generation earlier. Surrounded by would-be suburban gangstas comin’ straight outta Cherry Hill, it was momentarily refreshing when an unkempt Buddy Holly-cum-Rivers Cuomo impersonator entered our suite (I’d already met the guy who liked Yo La Tengo). Bear in mind, two musicians occupied a room down the hall: a guitarist with a penchant for white-boy funk, and a drummer who’d recently taken to playing bongos. It was hoped that the newcomer would prove an ally of sorts. Predictably, the result was typical and for the worse; a twee voice had joined the suite’s cacophony. You see, the newcomer insisted that he was “all about the rock” and was himself a “rock star.” Irony aside, this remains high atop a long list of annoying introductions. As far as I could tell, he was an undeclared Humanities major with delusions of grandeur.

That young man was Michael C. Guggino. Aided by classmate and manager Dan Bisogno, his band played relentlessly at the college and around the area. Maybe they were still called Spin Cycle, or perhaps it was This Radiant Boy’s earliest incarnation, with fellow classmate Marcello DeFeo playing electric bass guitar. Whichever band it was, they single-handedly obviated any interest I had in on-campus mixers and certainly anything resembling a benefit or fundraising show. Their brand of cloying take-it-or-leave-it pop punk was too emo, too earnest and too uniform in tempo and style. At best they were a cartoon garbage heap festooned with layers of pop detritus, outgrown Weezer cardigans and Elvis Costello glasses, composting behind Casa Pollard where folks went when they were feeling Lowe. But these were their salad days, and they were young and hopeful. Nevertheless, their demeanor begged the question: gay, or indie rock?

Fuller disclosure: Present day. In the interceding years I moved out of town and didn’t hear much about This Radiant Boy. When I returned to Philadelphia, TRB hadn’t gone anywhere, and they still embodied indie rock’s paradigm: a hardworking touring act that records when they have the money and who are always available for drinks, and taking me aside to find out about the latest trends in adult video.

But the laws have changed now. Since vocalist Jamie Lynn Udinson joined Philadelphia’s pop band “most likely to spontaneously become a kickball team”, the whole group’s gotten better looking, not to mention that they finally have a singer. Now a six-piece, they careen around the Shakedown at the Russian Disco in a scant fifteen minutes like a pack of adolescents racing around a go-kart track some wistful summer’s night beneath the underwater moonlight, winding in and out of familiar turns, laughing.

“(I Once Felt) Broken Eyeballs” and “Beware the Scabs” became quick favorites, settling on a sound approximating Elf Power, This Radiant Boy enjoying the bubbling water once the warm jets kick in, GBV’s “Lord of Overstock” rippling beneath the surface like soothing flatulence. The remaining three songs capitalize on the joyous noise of the recent power pop resurgence. On “I Miss Ol’ Miss”, Guggino cribs notes from Carl Newman’s MLA handbook for Udison to sing, her voice supplanting the lead’s competent, but reachy, warble; the rhythm section of Adam Herndon and Brian “Bucky” Lang chugging along quietly beneath Verechia and Hass’ guitar and keybs collage. “We Can Pretend” musters more enthusiasm than an oversexed cheerleading corps, or better still, the undersexed University Singers chorale, who lilt their hymns into the great unknown, something the devout refer to as Superchunk. But it’s the unfortunately titled “Rocking Islands” that stands out as a dynamic, original piece that aggressively clicks through the slalom gates making one wish that the course were perhaps a bit longer.

If over the years This Radiant Boy have squirreled away enough scraps of paper and yarn to create a comfortable nest in the indie-rock family tree, then consider Shakedown at the Russian Disco a lost wedding ring they brought into it as a housewarming gift.

Reviewed by: J T. Ramsay

Reviewed on: 2004-11-11

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Posted 11/11/2004 - 09:02:01 AM by mariat:
 remember blairmag had a game called "gay or eurotrash?" perhaps we could have a new one called "gay, or indie rock?" nice piece, jt! keep up the good work.
Posted 11/11/2004 - 04:12:55 PM by KyleMcConaghy:
 Very enjoyable, entertaining piece, J.T. Thanks for the read.
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