Something's fishy when it comes to Timothy Finn, pop music critic at The Kansas City Star, and Alacartoona, and I don't just mean their names (get it? "fin," "tuna,"!?!?LOL!!!). Seriously, though, I have to wonder what's going on. Finn wrote one big arse-licker of a feature in the Thursday Preview section on this band in March of last year, and just this past week, he wrote another Preview feature on the plight of Alacartoona frontwoman Erin McGrane as an understudy for a musical at the KC Rep. It was an odd little story, a portrait of a darling nobody. McGrane never gets tapped to be in the show, so the article's all about her standing on the sidelines. There's even a picture of her singing into a microphone on the set of the play, evoking the pathetic cliche of the would-be starlet stealing a few moments on the stage while the real actors are away. I can't figure out why, with all the genuinely interesting stuff going on in local music, Finn would want to feature a performer who is so explicitly not stealing the show.
Well, maybe it's because he's got a huge freakin' boner for McGrane and/or Alacartoona. Take that story from a year ago. Here is an excerpt of one of the many laudatory passages. After establishing how drop-dead sexy McGrane (aka Ruby Falls) is, Finn writes:
And like the classic film "Cabaret," Alacartoona mixes music with satire, drama, farce and social commentary during a period of unease and dissent. At uncertain moments like these, any bartender has what can help you forget, but Alacartoona has what it takes to escape.
Theirs is "modern" cabaret because Alacartoona takes some of those traditional elements and applies them to other, contemporary ideas. So an Alacartoona show is a little "Rocky Horror Picture Show," a little David Bowie as Lady Stardust, even a little Queen -- any concept that uses music and theater to mess with sex and gender roles and the ambiguities that can arise between them.
But mostly, Alacartoona is about love and escape, about living at the edge and submitting to your temptations and entertaining your impulses because, as Ruby Falls will warn you: "Who knows about tomorrow?"
Alacartoona showed its gratitude for the story on its Web site (Keep in mind, by the way, that whoever writes PR for Alacartoona -- McGrane, presumably -- refers to the band collectively as if it were an individual female. This facilitates the cloying, purple prose she/it produces for the site and in emailed press releases):
tim finn hasn't just fallen in love. he's proposing marriage. silly boy...alacartoona has much too much love for one man. however, he can be assured that the next time she sees him, any doubts of her appreciation will be ridden from his mind.
if you're curious about the proper way to write about a musical experience, let this be your guide. click the logo to the left to read the article. the kansas city star archives its old stories in a pay-per-download database, so alacartoona won't bother linking to the piece. however, if you would like to express your own bit of gratitude to the paper or mr. finn, click here.
Way to go, Timmay! From the way that sounds, you got some kind of reciprocation for performing journalistic cunnilingus on Alacartoona.
I remember when that story came out. That very night, I went to Molloy Bros. (now the Record Bar) to see the Scottish band Aberfeldy, a show that had gotten some day-of buzz thanks to the promotional efforts of Sonic Spectrum host Robert Moore. Guess who was there? Members of Alacartoona. Guess which one was carrying that day's issue of Preview, showing it to her friends? Ruby "Shameless Self-Promoter" Falls.
By an odd coincidence, Aberfeldy returned to Kansas City a year later and played Molloy's/Record Bar on the same day Finn's second ode to McGrane came out in Preview. Guess who was there this time? Members of Alacartoona and Tim Finn himself. On a side note, it was a disappointing show. I love Aberfeldy's music, and they played well, but singer Riley Briggs was pissed off about having to play a 7 p.m. show because other bands had been booked that night, so he withheld all his charming showmanship and let loose with sarcastic comments about the situation between songs. He also thanked Alacartoona for no visible reason, because that band wasn't even playing. However, I noticed later that night, when my friends and I were at Jilly's and Aberfeldy came streaming in, led by Erin McGrane herself, that Aberfeldy and Alacartoona have some sort of relationship, one which I hope does not exact some sort of parasitic toll on the former.
Speaking of parasitic relationships, at the Pitch, our legs are completely Alacartonna-leech-free (if you hadn't guessed already). In fact, the band's web site seems to make a couple of veiled jabs at us. On the press page, directly above the de-capitialized text of a Pitch Best Of award — text that I wrote, I'm ashamed to admit — Alacartoona says, "even the pitch can't ignore ruby's obvious charms." Even the Pitch? What is this passive-aggressive bullshit? It gets even murkier. Scroll down to the last item on the page, where there's a link to a blurb that Pitch staffer Annie Fischer did on Alacartoona for which she interviewed McGrane. The accompanying text: "annie fischer wasn't actually listening to ruby during this interview. but really, despite ruby's adept conversation skills, don't we all find it a bit difficult to listen to her when we're looking at her?" McGrane never indicated to us that she was misrepresented in the piece, and if you read it, you'll see it's quite good press for the band. But what do we care? We do what we can for bands, sometimes more than we should, and if they don't like it, it's their problem.
Anyway, the trouble with all this press from the Star is not so much that Tim Finn may be friends with someone he finds excuses to write big stories about once in a while. The trouble is that though Erin McGrane is spectacularly good looking and has a good voice, her band is wholly mediocre. I've seen them maybe four times and only the first time was in any way compelling. Without the musical chops to back it up, Alacartoona's shtick wears thin fast. For all the over-the-top antics of Ruby Falls and her male counterpart Providence Forge (who powders his face white, puts on lipstick, wears a wifebeater over his jiggly gut and contorts his face into maniacal expressions that could traumatize small children), the band's original material is weak. With minimal percussion, an accordion (the only good part of the musical performance), occasional acoustic guitar from Ruby Falls and electric bass guitar from Providence Forge, the musical portion of Alacartoona is little more than that of a vaguely European jugband. The more they pour into playing dress-up, the more half-assed they come across (especially when Ruby wears the same costume and Providence the same non-costume every show).
Get a stand-up bass -- hell, get a real backing band — and play some real songs. Do Kurt Weill tunes and quit pouring all your creative energy into masquerading as the sexiest beings on earth. Maybe you can fool a writer at the daily paper and a handful of people who think interactive dinner theaters are the shit, but the rest of us are ready for either the music to start living up to the hype or for Alacartoona to shut her fatuous mouth once and for all.