On browser-left is Kurt Wrobel, the band's Man in Black, wielding his big Gibson acoustic bass in the corner like a Mariachi From Beyond (the band does both electric and acoustic semi-plugged sets with equal panache). Amid the haze of strung lights and percussive implements is drummer Dave Ross, now usually incarnated in the form of serious new percussion man Edno, and up front are Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried, the husband and wife team that cores The Cucumbers, on vocals, cavorting, and knife-sharp jangly guitars.
A typical Cucumbers set, if there could be such a thing, concentrates on material from the new Total Vegetility CD, tastefully revisits their back catalog of delightful music (culled from three prior albums and a long-ago emergent EP), and looks brightly forward as well with the sweet new tunes which have been busting out mightily in recent months. They may stick to the known and unknown songs; they may also break at any moment into a musical pandemonium in which all four sing and play random thoughts and instrumental lines together in a sort of reverse John-Cage-esque clamor and din. They may be wacky, they may be staid; but they'll never be die-cut, and thank the Powers That Be for that.
The Cucumbers carry a lot of history. The energy in their shows rockets straight out of the gritty glory days of Max's Kansas City and CBGB's in the shine of the last non-corporate rock revolution; now, in the age of the coif, they are gloriously unkempt. This isn't any kind of nostalgia act, though -- it's a band with a past working toward the future in their own truly inimitable style, a cocktail mix of now and then.
How It Happened: Deena and Jon met in college at Brown University, after long years pursuing music in various forms. Deena is fond of saying that she began music early in life banging her head on the side of her crib, and that when she could sit she sat at the piano, belting out any tune she could think of. Speaking with her, you can believe it: she is a calm, rooted and determined presence, impossible to cage and with a quiet, reasonable, relentless will (we're her record label, so we know!), kind to a fault and brimming with inspiration and ideas.
Jon hails from a musical family generations back -- from the ancient Fried origins with a clan of Klezmer orchestrians in the Ukraine, to his father who composed music for early films of Stanley Kubrick and episodes of Star Trek (cool!) to his brother Joshua Fried, who is a New York City avant-garde composer, his family is awash in fine strains. When Jon gave Deena her first guitar in college, The Cucumbers were the inevitable outcome.
When the band first invented itself in the artistic hotbed of indie-rock Hoboken, the rhythm section was a different beast. Kurt (left) and Dave (above) joined when The Cucumbers re-formed in the early 90's to create "Where We Sleep Tonight" (Zero Hour Records), which featured -- for six-degrees trainspotters -- instrumental work by Jimmy "The Noise" Lee, who was for a time the guitar shaman with the band's label-mates Pawnshop. Kurt has a complex mythology involving attics, positive feelings and moshy thrash-rock which led him inexorably to the winsome quirk-pop he now ably grounds with what he describes as "bass, real bass, unstoppable bass, round bass, intuitive bass, vocal bass, growling bass." The less voluble Dave has simply allowed that he has a history of many bands, from New York to Switzerland to New Orleans to the the Tick Tock Diner on Route 3, all of which seasoned in various ways his big beat gumbo. He was looking for his musical soul mates. He found them.
Total Vegetility is a crisp, touching and triumphal record, balancing wise exuberance with the sensibilities of four musicians at the peak of their form. The record enjoyed airplay all over North America with a nation-wide college radio promotion program in the spring of '99, and the band is playing out regionally in ever-increasing arcs. We're looking forward to seeing you at the shows!
We are interested in hearing your Cucumbers memories, experiences and reviews for a future "Notes from the Garden" web page. Send them along! For booking, sales or other business information, please contact Home Office Records by email or call (718) 858-3174 -- but please remember that you probably wake up before we do.