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THE COCKTAIL HOUR / The lounge lizards of Combustible Edison bring


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,

you're doomed."

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.

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