Drunken elephant walk

Mar 8, 2000 at 12:00 am

Detroit’s own Fez seems to understand that the lines between musical boundaries start to blur after that first fifth of gin. The quartet also knows that the devil’s music didn’t start with rock ’n’ roll. It oozed up from the swamp blues, the beer-garden polkas, the gypsy dances, backwoods honky-tonks, juke joints and ragtime jazz. Every generation’s sinnin’ needs a sound track.

Fez celebrates all the good times gone bad in one late-night carnival of lost souls. Combining an array of underused instruments such as the pump organ, banjo, glockenspiel and Theremin with the garage-stomp aesthetic, Fez somehow turns the traditional into something strikingly original.

Milquetoast is a world where Tom Waits and Tod Browning meet on a midway full of leering carnies running rigged games, happy drunks pissing away paychecks on homely girls, and ugly children sick on cotton candy: a three-penny opera of evil clowns and pink elephants.

Fez’s true skill is in making music that makes an ugly world as new and exciting as it is unsettlingly familiar. It’s a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl after one too many, a drunken waltz through Dante’s Inferno.