Certain Songs #1165: The Miss Alans – “Earwig (Wild Blue 03-30-1991)”

Album: All Hail Discordia
Year: 1991

Kirk Biglione was worried about The Miss Alans. And while that was somewhat of a default state, in this case he had good reason.

Not only had The Miss Alans been basically neglected by Genius Records in terms of promoting Smack The Horse, Genius had rejected the demo tape that had the likes of “Big Hand on the 7,” “Otis Plum,” “Crushed Impalas” and “Angel Death Blues.” So not so much geniuses after all. In any event, while siccing John Hayes on Genius to try to get out their contract — more on that tomorrow — he realized that by the time they got another record contract, this particular period would end up being undocumented, as they would gravitate to their most recent set of songs for that album.

So he pitched the idea of recording a live album — direct to two-track DAT tape, so what you see is what you get — in order to not forever lose not just the songs I’ve already written about, but other worthies like “Hard-Kissing Harold,” “Flame,” “Big Black Gun,” and “Bucky’s Song, and if it worked, their second full-length album would be in the tradition of Neil Young’s Time Fades Away Hüsker Dü’s Land Speed Record or MC 5’s Kick Out The Jams: the live album of all-new material.

The band thought it was a fine idea, and so three nights were booked at the Wild Blue: March 28-30, 1991 (though only tapes of the second & third nights have surfaced), Ian O’Higgins was brought back to produce and local engineer Bob Martin ran the board. It was, once again, a very D.I.Y. thing: they probably could have done it in Los Angeles, but of course, it was best to feed off of the energy of a hometown crowd.

If there are tapes of the 28th, I’ve never even seen them, but listening to the tapes of the show on the 29th, it was clear that they got what they needed. That said, the energy was not quite as high on that night as it had been in previous nights, as the focus was on getting the songs right. And that’s what happened on the 29th: they played the songs right and the recording was clean and strong, which meant that the pressure was off for the gig on March 30, 1991, and as a result turned in an all-time great show, loose and fun, and at times off-the-charts transcendent.

There is no way to know if it was the all-time greatest Miss Alans show, but you can certainly hear just how great it was it at the moment they hit the chorus on “Earwig,” the opening track of the live album made from that evening, All Hail Discordia.

At the time of the recording, “Earwig” was only a couple of days old, just one of several new songs they wrote specifically for the live album, because, god damn it, of course they did.

At first, the guitars on “Earwig” ring and chime, with Manny playing mesmerizing notes, as Scott sings over a slow beat:

Can you help me get out?
Help me get me out of here
Lifting all the problems
Going to make me a man
Can you help me get out?
Can you help me get out?

Then, with a thwack of his snare, Ron kicks “Earwig” into escape velocity, except Manny didn’t get the memo, and continues to play the slow, chiming notes even after the full band kicks in and the song hits escape velocity, and the contrast between his chimes and the rumble of Scott, Jay & Ron is really kind of cool.

As Scott starts singing the song, Manny joins the rest of the band, as “Earwig” builds toward its chorus while Ron double-times his drums.

Trot home, here it comes
Trot home, here it comes, here it comes
Here it comes rushing round in circles
Shining a light on your last trip
TRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIP

On the first couple “here it comes,” Scott is undersinging just a bit, suddenly taking off with “rushing round in circles” and then, of course, totally exploding with the long “triiiiiiiiiiiiiiip.”

Also exploding: Manny’s guitar, into a fireball of white light scorching everything in its path, at one point imitating Scott by singing “triiiiip” its own self, not the last time Manny’s guitar and Scott’s vocals imitate each other on All Hail Discordia.

Like a couple of the other songs of this period, “Earwig” is concerned with aging, in this case, wondering what it means to be pushing 30 while still pursuing a career as an indie rocker — and avoiding adult responsibilities in the process — which just seems hilarious 25 plus years later.

“Earwig” reminds Ron Woods of The Feelies, a, er feel that Scott attributes to Ron’s drumming bringing the rest of them into the song, and with Manny’s guitar continually corkscrewing around his tom-heavy beat, not to mention the way the song ebbs and flows without ever really losing momentum, that’s really a great reference.

“Earwig”

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