International Pop Overthrow comes to Chapel Hill for the first time | Music Feature | Indy Week
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International Pop Overthrow comes to Chapel Hill for the first time 

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click to enlarge David Bash
  • David Bash

In 1998, Los Angeles music writer David Bash decided approximately 120 pop-leaning acts playing in a handful of venues around the city over 10 days seemed like a good idea. He called this festival of his International Pop Overthrow, a name borrowed from the early-'90s full-length debut from beloved power-pop trio Material Issue.

Indeed, that inaugural IPO was heavy on power-pop: bands like Evelyn Forever, Blue Cartoon and Chewy Marble; solo artists like Matt Bruno and ex-Caulfield John Faye; secret code words like Yellow Pills, Amplifier and Not Lame. But it was never intended to be strictly a power-pop gathering or an event limited to Bash's backyard: In its 10th year, Bash's IPO will travel to 13 cities, starting in Atlanta and Chapel Hill this month, moving on through the Midwest and then to Liverpool, England; followed by West Coast stops in Los Angeles, San Franciso, Seattle and Vancouver; and wrapping with Boston, New York and Toronto. Every stop showcases a strong regional presence, balanced by national—and even international—acts, and the power-pop is balanced by pop hyphenates of a half-dozen orders.

For instance, each night of the Chapel Hill four-night stand will feature eight bands turning in 20-minute sets that are as compact and bursting as, well, a 3-minute pop song. In all, 21 North Carolina acts will be joined by state crashers ranging from South Carolina's hook-mad Fire Apes to South African modern rockers Stealing Love Jones.

"Every band that plays IPO, whether they're power-pop or folk-pop or punk-pop or indie-pop or whatever, their songs are very melodic. That's paramount for us. That's really our hallmark, trying to showcase melodic rock," says Bash by phone a couple hours before flying to Atlanta for the year's first IPO. "I also like to have songs that feature strong hooks. The kind of stuff that stays in your head long after the song is over."

Moments of the festival, like the melodies of the songs themselves, tend to stick with Bash, and he's got plenty of them after a decade of traveling the globe in the name of pop: "One moment that's always stuck with me is opening night of the festival in 1998. Actually realizing, not just intellectually but viscerally, that it was happening," he recalls. "Just like your first kiss, it's something you never forget."

Other fond memories involve reunion sets from some of his favorite bands, like Sweden's Beagle in 2001 and the Elvis Brothers in Chicago the next year. Then there was IPO's inaugural invasion of a dive of some renown in Liverpool in 2002. "The first time I walked down the steps of the Cavern Club, I couldn't believe that I was there, much less that we were actually going to have the festival there. It still feels a little surreal."

Bash will walk down those historic steps for the sixth time when the IPO returns to Liverpool later this year. Both for nostalgic and practical reasons, he says it's always a highlight. "Bands from Europe can afford to go there," explains Bash, adding with a laugh, "and the ones from the U.S. really want to go there because they're all Beatles freaks." With anywhere from 10 to 20 countries represented in a few nights of hooks and charms, it best exemplifies Bash's vision for the festival, anyway: to bring a worldwide pop scene together under one umbrella.

Hey, good idea.

International Pop Overthrow comes to Local 506 from Thursday, Feb. 21 through Sunday, Feb. 24. Tickets are $8 Thursday and Sunday, and $8-$10 Friday and Saturday. For a complete list of the bands and set times, see

Your Guide to IPO-CH at Local 506

Thursday, Feb. 21

click to enlarge Stealing Love Jones
  • Stealing Love Jones

South Africa's STEALING LOVE JONES comes to the first night with perhaps the biggest buzz (and travel bill). "They're young, and they have a more commercial sound than we generally showcase, but their songs are good," offers Bash. He also singles out AIRSPACE—a youthful melodic rock outfit from North Carolina by way of Belfast, Northern Ireland—and Durham's BRETT HARRIS, who proves that singer/ songwriters can pop, too. Hometown smirk-poppers SNMNMNM—think Too Much Joy and late locals Soccer—close out the night.

Friday, Feb. 22

click to enlarge Stratocruiser
  • Stratocruiser

Three power-pop scholars from Louisville, Ky., calling themselves BROADFIELD MARCHERS kick things off with many a nod toward Britain. Two hours later, Asheville's THE TREASURY ("Imagine if the Posies' Dear 23 album was more rocking," says Bash) commences a quadruple-shot of N.C. bands: Michael Slawter's exemplary SAVING GRACES, Sparklefest honcho Mike Nicholson's arena-rocking STRATOCRUISER and Terry Anderson's perennially crowd-pleasing OLYMPIC ASS-KICKIN TEAM follow. This is also WATERSTONE MUSICAL INSTRUMENT night, with a Waterstone guitar going home with a lucky IPOer.

Saturday, Feb. 23

click to enlarge Gondoliers
  • Gondoliers

It's old-home night for Chapel Hill legends, the word that Bash puts on the table. THE STARS EXPLODE marks the welcome return of ex-Gladhand Doug Edmunds; says Bash, "[Edmunds] still knows how to write those great chord changes, those real quirky ones." And ABSOLUTELY THE MAYBES sports Chris Stamey and Matt McMichaels, once of Stamey proteges The Mayflies USA. And Bash is especially excited about the garage/ psychedelic double whammy of Philly's MONDO TOPLESS, while kindred spirits/ Chapel Hill legends-in-the-making THE GONDOLIERS hit the stage at midnight.

Sunday, Feb. 24

click to enlarge Tony Low
  • Tony Low

According to Bash, LEISURE MCCORKLE, who holds down the 5 p.m. slot, is one of the most educated IPO performers: "He has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, and I guess he's a professor now in that field. But he's certainly a professor of rock, too." Veteran power-popper, hook-master and joke-cracker ED JAMES is always a treat, and Kernersville's TONY LOW (formerly of The Cheepskates) offers further veteran chops. Locals VELVET, who've played IPOs in other cities, get to bring down the curtain in their own backyard. Bash couldn't be happier: "I just thought they'd be the perfect band to cap off the festival." —Rick Cornell

Power-pop starter kits

David Bash and Rick Cornell look at their top five power-pop records

Here are 10 albums that reflect the International Pop Overthrow sound, with an emphasis on power-pop. But first some scene-setting from David Bash: "There are very few true power-pop albums; most albums that get labeled as power-pop contain only a few songs that can truly be called power-pop, and are often filled out by ballads and other melodic pop which doesn't quite fall into the genre. Power-pop is, first and foremost, a singles phenomenon. Many albums that are classified as power-pop really aren't; they are melodic pop to be sure, but often lack the power or the urgency that true power-pop requires. Essentially these albums fall into the category of ‘discs power-pop fans would love, but aren't power-pop in the strictest sense of the word.'"

That's the case for the majority of the list below, featuring five from David Bash and five from Rick Cornell.


Badfinger, Wish You Were Here (1974)

click to enlarge badfinger150.jpg
Anyone who grew up in the early '70s remembers power-pop gems like "No Matter What" and "Baby Blue" gracing Top 40 radio, and, while Badfinger's hits are what are generally most fondly remembered, it's their sixth album, Wish You Were Here, which stands as a monument to the band's immense talent and power. With songs like "Know One Knows," "In The Meantime/Some Other Time", and the ultra-intense, "Dennis," Wish You Were Here is a window into the tortured souls of a band who lived the primer of being screwed by the record industry. An absolutely majestic testimony to an amazingly talented, ill-fated band.

Shoes, Present Tense (1979)

click to enlarge shoes120.jpg
More than anything, power-pop is about girls; the girls you love, the girls you long for, and the girls who done you wrong. This Zion, Ill., band with a trio of amazing songwriters really wrote the book on the fairer gender with this album chock full of power-pop goodness. Tracks like "Tomorrow Night," "Too Late," "Cruel You," and "Now And Then" are packed with the urgency of post-teen angst, with gorgeous vocal arrangements and awesome melodies.

The Smithereens, Green Thoughts (1988)

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Fans of this New Jersey quartet might opt for their first album, Especially For You, but as great as that disc is, it's a bit less focused in terms of power-pop. Green Thoughts almost never strays the course, as "Only A Memory," "House We Live In," "The World We Know," and "Drown In My Own Tears" pack more punch than Muhammad Ali in 1965. "If The Sun Doesn't Shine" proves that Beach Boys-styled harmonies can live in a power-pop world.

Beagle, Sound On Sound (1992)

click to enlarge beagle150.jpg
Not power-pop in the strictest sense, but power-pop fans are guaranteed to love the stellar songwriting, melt-in-your-mouth hooks, and intricate chord changes by this Swedish band. Highlights include the sparkling ballad "The Things That We Say," the Left Banke-inspired "Everything Will Work Out In The End," the sprightly "A Different Sunday," and the absolutely beautiful "Slow Down." Fans of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Left Banke, and Crowded House would absolutely love this one, and—since we can agree that power-pop fans are enamored of those bands—they would be equally enamored of Sound on Sound.

Gladhands, La Di Da (1997)

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Since I'm bringing the International Pop Overthrow festival to Chapel Hill this week, let's conclude with the finest disc by a band who, for a long time, called Chapel Hill their home. Again, not power-pop in the strictest sense, but it certainly contained enough power and more than enough pop, along with some startling chord changes that often seemed to come out of left field! You've gotta love the album opener "Kill ‘Em With Kindness," the soulful "Smallsville," the tongue-in-cheek "(Gore Girls) Gimme More," and their killer cover of the best song Nazz ever recorded, "Forget All About It," among the 12 gems that make up this tantalizing disc.


Tommy Keene, Songs from the Film (1986)

click to enlarge keene120.jpg
The next time someone's pontificating about how guitars can't actually ring, cue up Songs from the Film (with an emphasis on the monumental "Places That Are Gone," reprised and somewhat rethought from the EP of the same name) and shut up that annoying literalist. Songs' chime and charms are so powerful they've been known to turn people into idiots. Case in point: In the late '80s, I saw Keene open from Alex Chilton at the below-street-level Cat's Cradle. Still pixilated by the record, I caught up with Keene after his set, thrust the gift of gold-can Michelob in his direction, muttered "I love Songs from the Film," and scuttled off. If I saw him tomorrow, I'd do the same thing.

Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend (1991)

click to enlarge sweet150.jpg
It takes an incredibly gifted record to live up to the promise of the fetching photo of a young Tuesday Weld that adorns Girlfriend. That it manages to surpass the cover shot is a testament to Sweet's skills as a pop craftsman and his ear for guitar workouts: Robert Quine, Richard Lloyd, and Sweet all take turns on lead. Gems abound, but start with the buzzsaw of a title track, the multifaceted "Divine Intervention and "Evangeline." That last one is a valentine to an intergalactic comic book heroine, and its hooks can be seen from outer space.

The Figgs, Low-Fi at Society High (1994)

click to enlarge figgs120.jpg
Low-Fi at Society High hits with the thrill of skipping school, its sound the collision of pub rock, punk and various phases of the Kinks. Its melodic bursts are filled with enough hooks to attract the ever-vigilant power-pop searchlight. The quick hitters—"Favorite Shirt," "Chevy Nova" and "Stood Up!"—are bouncing and sinewy like hyper welterweights. Your first thought will be "Hmmm, Graham Parker meets the Replacements." And you'll be pretty much right: the Figgs have recorded with Parker and Tommy Stinson and backed them on tours.

Velvet Crush, Teenage Symphonies to God (1994)

click to enlarge velvet150.jpg
The title comes from a Brian Wilson utterance, but the sound is proudly more Byrds than Beach Boys, with a cover of Gene Clark's "Why Not Your Baby" and moments of Gram-ish country rock backing that up. (Still not convinced? A take on "One Hundred Years from Now" was included on the CD single of "Hold Me Up," Symphonies' soaring shoulda-been smash.) It's the sound of three guys searching for pop's Holy Grail and still having the time to explore roots music. And you can't ignore the connections: Matthew Sweet produced Velvet Crush's full-length debut In the Presence of Greatness, Velvet Crush drummer Ric Menck contributed to Girlfriend, and Sweet and Tommy Keene (and Mitch Easter and the Gigolo Aunts' Dave Gibbs) all took shifts as the band's second guitarist.

The Breakup Society, James at 35 (2005)

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Former Frampton Brother Ed Masley leads a hook-crazed outfit through a pop-heading-to-punk concept album about women and how men struggle to find them and then seem to have no problem losing them. Even if you aren't in your mid-30s like the record's retrospecting hero, you probably can relate to his through-the-years issues like competing with rock stars ("Robin Zander"—oh that voice, that hair) and owning favorite shorts (um, "Favorite Shorts"). Songs like "The New Ronnie Spector" wave Masley's music-geek flag high, and if you don't choke up at least a little during "Corn Palace," then you don't have a Great Lost Love lurking in your past.

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