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Rock 'n' Roll: MOTO's powerfully puerile pop

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"I think you have it," Beck is saying.

"I don't think so," says Paul.

"I'm sure you have it," she says.

"No, I didn't take it home."

"I really remember that we talked about it and you said that you wanted to take it so it would be safe."

"I don't think I have it," Paul repeats.

"Well, it's not here, I'm sure of it," Beck says.

Beck (Dudley) and Paul (Caporino) are talking about the only test pressing that exists of their first album. The record is called This Corpse Is a Warning. Their band is called the Masters of the Obvious, or MOTO for short, a name that Paul came up with and then nearly rejected once he noticed the acronym was so close to Toto. Dudley plays drums, Caporino guitar.

Caporino also sings and is the prolific writer of the band's mostly astonishing songs, which now number in the hundreds. Caporino is a budding pop genius: he writes soaring anthems, pop epics, love themes, efficient twists, and thrash workouts, and is headily proficient in each genre. He can do Barry White ("Music to Make You Love") and Highway 61-period Dylan ("The Turd That Came to Life"). He can do Freddie & the Dreamers ("Hey Little Girl"), Little Richard ("Dingleberry Rock"), and the Ramones ("It's So Big It's Fluorescent").

There's only one problem--well, there are actually several problems, but the biggie is Caporino's choice of subject matter, which is a little, um, adolescent, as may be discerned from several song titles. In plain point of fact, Caporino wanders among the fields of sexual juvenilia and schoolyard scatology with an expert's eye; human genitalia and bodily functions are to him what haystacks were to Monet.

You might say he's Chicago's answer to 2 Live Crew. Like Luther Campbell's rap group, he takes the omnipresent sexual suggestiveness of rock and with nursery-rhyme immediacy and street-kid energy turns it into gold.

Well, not quite gold. There are other problems as well; one-guitar/one- drummer rock bands aren't exactly the rage these days. And while Dudley is energetic both onstage and off (she serves as the band's manager and promoter), Caporino seems to be a little laid back on big things like keeping track of where the band's only test pressing of its new album is and on little things like tuning his guitar. And then there's the band's recording technique, which includes recording drums through a set of headphones.

"Didn't you know that?" asks Caporino. "You can just put them into the microphone jack and they'll act like a microphone. It's not what you'd call a state-of-the-art drum sound, but it's pretty effective."

And it must be said that it does work, though the result makes the Ramones sound like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. On a typical MOTO song, Caporino records the drums, his guitar, and his protean and extravagant vocal stylings at the same time, and then throws on about half a dozen more guitar rhythm tracks, a furious, continuing solo, a variety of backing vocals, and various fillips on everything from keyboards to kazoos. The result is MOTO sound: a rather distant-sounding barrage of some of the weirdest great pop songs you'll ever hear.

Caporino grew up in New Orleans and went to Southeastern Louisiana University; he was in bands in high school and college: "In high school we were playing Top 40 stuff, really mawkish stuff like Firefall's "You Are the Woman.' The most annoying song was "Magic' by Pilot. But the most disappointing thing was the lead singer; my little guitar solo was a really important thing to me, but he was the kind of guy who'd stand over you with the microphone, doing a Freddie Mercury thing while you were playing. It was really hard for me to deal with."

Later, he started making his own tapes under the name MOTO, and sending them off to fanzines like Berkeley's Maximum Rock n Roll. Through it, he met a Chicago musician named Ken Kurson, who would later play bass with Chicago's own Green.

Meanwhile, Beck Dudley was going to the University of New Hampshire; she booked bands in town, and in the process met Green, who'd travel around singing MOTO songs in their van. Dudley and Caporino began corresponding; later, after she moved to Boston, she convinced him that the music scene there might be a better forum for his talents, and he took her up on it. The pair moved to Chicago a little more than a year ago.

How does Dudley feel about Caporino's personal lyrical leitmotiv? "I like it just fine," she says. "My family doesn't like it much. My sister thinks it's obscene and lewd, but my parents have a pretty good attitude toward it. I gave my grandma a pared-down selection and she likes them too."

Does she see Paul's songwriting maturing? "Gosh, no, not at all. I think he's amazingly consistent, actually."

In Boston, the pair released a couple of seven-inch EPs, Hammeroid! and I've Shot My Load . . . and I'm Ready for the Grave. The former includes the timeless "It's So Big It's Fluorescent," the latter a bruising classic called "Dick About It" (as in, "you don't have to be a"). Their new record (the pair finally found the pressing--it was at Dudley's house, under the Ds, next to Dire Straits, because the only other entirely blank album jacket she had was a promotional copy of a Mark Knopfler solo album), while it sounds like it was recorded through a pair of headphones, is simply breathtaking; melodies, hooks, and humor just burst off the record on song after song. "Music to Make You Love" is relatively clean; it's Caporino's tribute to the legendary "punk rock" episode of Quincy (in the show's last scene, an unctuous Jack Klugman dances to pathetic music in a bar, he asks his partner: "Why do people listen to music to make you hate, when they can listen to music that makes you love?"). "MOTO Love" is an anthem, and "Dingleberry Rock" starts where "Long Tall Sally" leaves off, and heads right into the toilet from there. On CD, you get the weirdest MOTO song of all, a ten-minute instrumental called "For Marge," just a lilting electric- piano line and distant sleighbells--that is to say, just piano, sleighbells, and, about five minutes into the song, a huge crash!

It was just the headphones hitting the floor.

MOTO's album-release party is Saturday night at the Edge of the Lookingglass (939-4017), 62 E. 13th. Tickets are $5; the show starts at 10:30. Big Trouble House opens.

Milly's Blue Period: Speaking of orifices, connoisseurs shouldn't miss Blue Man, the New York performance art outfit. Blue Man is actually three blue men, and I mean blue. Orifices people are born with--ears, mouths, noses--and others they aren't are Blue Man's tools; their palette includes paint, jello, Cap'n Crunch, ropes, and drums. In their performances--from a tone poem on digestion to a symphony of Cap'n Crunching--they let their bodies do the talking and, um, oozing.

The group came together in the early 80s in Manhattan; their pieces (beauty intrudes as well) thematically dissect consumerist culture and the corresponding depletion of the value of art--Blue Man spits paint on a canvas and then slaps a price tag on it. Their appearance at Milly's Orchid Show on Wednesday, October 31, is their first and only Chicago performance; they'll do three bits over the course of the evening. The show is Milly's Halloween gala, featuring a set by Nancy Bardawil and Matthew Owens. It's $7 at Park West, 322 W. Armitage (929-5959), starting at 8:30 PM.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Charles Eshelman, Juliet Lofaro.

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