here’s a portion of their feature article:
“Hello Tokyo! Hello Australia! Hello Africa!” Tsar’s mascara’d main man, Jeff Whalen, hits the Roxy stage with a skinny swirl, launching his band into a frenetic flash of power-pop paradise. In taut Navy-grunt shirt, white Levi’s and sneaks, the Compleat Rock Star edition 2005 whips his grand little combo harder, faster, furiouser, windmilling his ax in twin-guitar bliss with lead guitar dude Daniel Kern. Blamblamblam!
“It’s about being born to be alive!” Whalen bawls, stripping down to a sweaty T. And then Whalen, Kern and new members Derrick Forget (bass) and Chuck Byler (drums) lay out a ripping “Wanna Get Dead” from the band’s recent Band-Girls-Money album (TVT Records), followed by “Wrong” (“which is,” Whalen says, “always pronounced wrong”).
Yes indeed, and if you cast half a squinty eye at the band’s cheezee flash-bulbed TSAR logo, you quickly grok his POV. Tsar segues from one potential hit single to another, rarely pausing to breathe or even to allow the adoring hordes to properly hail the group with whoops and hollers. Which is too bad, ’cause if any band currently struts a stage with gleefully awesome power, grandeur and majesty, it’s Tsar. Exhausting, almost, or it would be if the band’s shtick weren’t so damn funny, so very pertinent and so very, very rocking.
Sure, they’re good-humored and cuddly cute in a Banana Splits kinda way, but Tsar’s visual comedy comes loaded with a decidedly heavy rock slam and twisted, even sinister lyrical undertones — call it pathos, if you must.
Here’s a band, meanwhile, where the entire family can have hours of fun spotting the influences. Go ahead, give it a whirl: Mott the Hoople, Cheap Trick of course, Beatles, Dave Clark Five, Sweet, T-Rex, the New York Dolls, the Stones, Aerosmith, even the Archies; Ramones, ELO, Buzzcocks! BOC! BTO! (Huh?) Twin guitar leads? Aw yeah, it’s Thin Lizzy!
“We used to do a lot more of the twin lead stuff,” says Whalen. “When we first started doing it, it was cracking us up — ‘oh, we can’t do that’ — but it’s so weird how the things that started as jokes, how quickly you forget that it’s supposed to be funny.”
Whalen’s songs are the most brain-warping boiling pots of every classic rock sound from the ’60s and ’70s, but like the giants before him, he leaves the footsteps of his own eminence by smelting these influences down, so it never comes off as mere pastiche.
Stumbling out of the band’s cheapo rented maroon van — we’re talking intimate/stinky, not one of those Dolly Parton complete-with-bidet-type things — on one of their innumerable cross-country tours to drum up a little support for the glorious Band-Girls-Money, Whalen calls me from a skanky hotel room somewhere in exotic Canada. He’s eager to talk about this righteous rock & roll ragout we like to call Tsar, and the man is not at all jaded and bored and glum. You might say he’s a little too happy, considering he had to do all the driving today, from Baltimore all the way up to Ontario.
“You know,” he says, “when you’re in the van, and it’s just the band, you gotta split it up, regardless of how hung over or how much chicken you’ve eaten.”
No chauffeur, eh?
“We don’t have a liveryman as of yet, but, you know, this way we ‘keep it real’ — real tedious,” he laughs.
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