SXSW 09 Picks 2 Click

A septet of local acts with (inter)national appeal

SXSW 09 Picks 2 Click
Photo by John Anderson


Free drugs and living-room rock

I've caught Michael Coomers just waking up, and the wind's blowing through his cell phone as he walks to get coffee. It's fitting because Harlem has bedhead as well, a haze of out-of-tune guitar and poppy harmonies that feels eraless.

Coomers and Curtis O'Mara, who switch off on guitar, drums, and vocals, grew up in Tucson, Ariz., and played in bands together. O'Mara moved to Nashville, and Coomers joined him. They couldn't get a show in that city, so they hopped in the van again and eventually ended up back in Tucson. Miraculously, they've only been a band for about two years. Coomers is good at telling stories, and whether they're true or not, you can see how he might come up with lyrics.

"In Tucson, Curtis fell into a ditch and broke his arm," he begins. "He was at a bar, and this girl's wearing a White Zombie T-shirt, and they're talking, and he thinks she likes him, so he follows her down a road, and he accidentally falls into a ditch. When his arm got better, we recorded the last half of Free Drugs, but we didn't want to stay in Tucson. We knew some kids here, so we moved."

Harlem's recent surge in popularity here and in the blogosphere still seems strange to Coomers, who traces the band's history through hotel rooms, miles of road, and the inability to get booked in most cities they roll into. Even with such environmental upheaval, 2008's Free Drugs only took a year to write.

"We were desperate and hungry for it, I guess," offers Coomers.

Reflecting precisely that, the self-released LP takes a short and sweet tape-hiss road trip through songs about boredom and "Psychedelic Tits." The trio's live shows can be spot-on or sloppy messes, bassist Christian Swamper the group's grounding influence, and one such show caused Don Bolles of the Germs to compare them live to "Lord of the Flies style, homosexually oriented, tribal street gangs that proliferated in Weimar-era Berlin."

Harlem recently started a cover-of-the-month club on its MySpace, which already features the band's take on the Plastic Ono Band and Q Lazzarus, and when the dreaded "G" word (garage rock) comes up, Coomers offers an alternative.

"I guess we're living-room rock. We were dining-room rock, but our bass player lives there now."

Insert rim shot here. If Harlem isn't technically proficient, they sure write damn catchy songs. Coomers agrees.

"A guitar has six strings, and that's all I know."

SXSW SHOWCASE: Saturday, March 21, 9:05pm @ Beauty Bar Backyard

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