It's difficult for me to think of the Portand, Oregon band The Nice Boys without another band coming to mind. Listening to their self-titled debut album one can pick up on their potent influences, which include classic early 1970's British glam rock bands like Mud, Marc Bolan, Slade, The Bay City Rollers and Gary Glitter. Those bands and the armies of fans they commanded celebrated with rousing straightforward melodies set to a four on the floor backbeat. Soaring vocals referenced doo wop's sweet high-register harmonies, tackling classic rock'n'roll themes and fusing them to far-flung psychedelic poetry. Glam gave way (and almost certainly made possible) punk, pub rock and power pop in the second half of the '70s; potent musical styles that each figure largely in The Nice Boys' sound.
Their collective record collection, I imagine, includes healthy doses of rock's heavyweight champions -- The Stones, Beatles, Yardbirds, The Clash -- mixed in with great one-hit wonders and obscure underground singles. Despite wearing their own favorites on their sleeves and in a few nicked riffs, The Nice Boys pack a punch that is all their own. The greatest rock music is not necessarily innovative. Instead, rock is regenerated by the raw emotional truth furnished by the musicians playing it (sort of analogous to a vampire needing human blood to survive). To understand what I mean, listen to anything by The Ramones -- rock'n'roll so simple it's genius.
The one band that comes to mind when I think about The Nice Boys is not any of the great groups just mentioned, but another, incredible, short-lived band also from Portland -- The Exploding Hearts.
Formed in 2001 by Adam Cox, Jeremy Gage, Matt Fitzgerald and Terry Six, friends since high school, The Exploding Hearts were the culmination of years of companionship and various amateur musical projects. Inspired by obscure punk, kitschy new wave and the unsung power pop of heroes like The Raspberries, they instantly won over their hometown and formed fast alliances with like-minded bands throughout the Northwest.
In 2002, they released a vinyl single named after one of their earlier incarnations "(Making) Teenage Faces." In 2003 the band signed to local indie label Dirtnap Records, home to pals The Briefs and The Epoxies, with which they released their debut album, "Guitar Romantic." From the opener, "Modern Kicks" with its commanding distorto lead guitar melody to the teenage lovelorn lament, "My heart is gonna pay the price" of the Clash-inspired ballad "Rumors In Town," the album is short, sharp and unforgettable. It's also over in less than half an hour, after rumbling through the sweet angst of "Still Crazy." "Guitar Romantic" was an unexpected underground smash, even attracting the attention of major labels and finding champions with the finicky indie music site Pitchfork, as well as garnering praise from other likely and unlikely places. The band were playing more regularly along the west coast and had even been flown to New England to perform at the request of The Harvard Lampoon.
Then in the early morning hours of July 20, 2003, just north of Eugene, Oregon, while driving home from a pair of successful San Francisco shows, The Exploding Hearts' van veered out of control and rolled over on Interstate 5 taking the lives of Adam, Jeremy and Matthew. Incredibly, Terry and band manager Rachelle Ramos survived with only minor injuries. The Exploding Hearts' promising future and the lives of three talented young men were brutally cut short.
In early 2004, Terry Six formed The Nice Boys with friends and local Portland music scene veterans. Wearing their influences once again on their sleeves, but like their predecessors managing to match or in some cases better them, The Nice Boys set out, not to carry on where The Exploding Hearts left off, but to tell their own new story. Listening to their self-titled album released this August on Bay Area label Birdman Records, I feel they have succeeded. The Nice Boys celebrate the brilliant, brief story of The Exploding Hearts not by paying tribute or lingering over the tragedy but by contributing to the rejuvenation of rock'n'roll with everything they can muster.
One final note: this month Dirtnap Records released all of The Exploding Hearts' outtakes, singles and other rarities in a collection entitled "Shattered," which includes video footage of one of their last performances at The Bottom Of The Hill in San Francisco from July 2003.