COMBUSTIBLE EDISON'S guitarist and leader calls himself the
"Millionaire." He's Kojak bald and wears long, irridescent tailored
jackets that resemble lab coats. Large rings adorn his fingers. It's
hard to tell if he's a retro lounge lizard, circa 1961, or futuro
cocktail king circa 2020. And the way he describes the sounds on
Combustible Edison's latest record, "The Impossible World," pretty much
sums up his personal aesthetic.
"They're custom as opposed to off the rack," the Millionaire (real
name Michael Cudahy) says in a conversation about Combustible Edison's
show Thursday at Tom Conklin's Lush Life. "It sort of applies to almost
everything. And it's sort of one of my personal commandments."
Few would dare describe Combustible Edison's sound as off the rack.
The band began by parodying the swinging, easy-listening sounds of
late' 50s composers such as Esquivel, Martin Denny and Henry Mancini. In
keeping with the loungy, exotic sound of their songs, Combustible
Edison's first record, 1994's "I, Swinger," featured a cocktail recipe
on the CD sleeve.
The Millionaire and his bandmates - the lineup includes singer
Lily (Ms. Lily Banquette) Cox, bassist Nicholas Cudahy,
vibraphonist-keyboardist Brother Cleve and drummer Michael (Laughing
Boy) Connors - arrived at their sound after struggling to make it as a
noisy, psychedelic punk band called Christmas. In a fit of annoyance
with its lack of industry success, the Providence, R.I.,-based band
decided to commit career suicide and dabble in vibraphones, bongos and a
host of antiquated, often cheesy sounds.
Soon the band was a celebrated indie-rock phenomenom, and because it
had been included on a Pottery Barn cocktail music sample, its music was
inescapable in furniture and glassware stores across America. "I,
Swinger," was followed by "Schizophonic" in 1996, and Combustible Edison
became the forerunner of mostly instrumental bands such as Tortoise,
Love Jones and Friends of Dean Martinez.
"My life changed around the same time that this band started," the
Millionaire says. "You always have to trust the hand of fate, no matter
how perverse it might seem. If you're sensitive to it, you can always
tell the greasy fingerprints of the hand of fate. If you ignore it,
On "The Impossible World," Combustible Edison adds a new element to
its sound. British DJ Scanner provides suitably soothing electronic
burbles, samples and updated drum tracks. In places the result resembles
Stereolab's most recent work, with haunting melodies hung over hypnotic
As the group's sound has become more sophisticated, however, the
Millionaire has had to augment his vocabulary of punk rock guitar riffs
with classes at Boston's Berklee School of Music. Orchestrating
Combustible Edison's complex arrangements used to be an informal matter.
Now he tries to use charts to share his musical ideas with his
bandmates, most of whom have a classical music background.
"I had to go back - and forget relearn - I had to learn the
guitar," the Millionaire says. "I was just using two chords. In
retrospect, when I hear the songs [of earlier records] now, I realize
that I had more sophisticated ideas that were beyond my reach. In this
band, I still feel like I'm faking it."
But will a showcase of cocktail music flourish on Long Island, where
tastes tend to be less adventurous? The Millionaire thinks Lush Life
promoter Tom Conklin's efforts to bring back the age of sophisticated
cocktail lounges are worthwhile.
"That's what we need is more go-getters like that young fellow," the
Millionaire says. "If it's in your heart, it doesn't matter where you
are, Long Island or Rhode Island or Devil's Island."
COMBUSTIBLE EDISON. Thursday at 9 p.m. at Tom Conklin's Lush Life at
My Room Lounge, 5460 Merrick Rd., Massapequa, 516-799-5151. Admission is
$10 at the door.