It's not easy to understand Brave Combo, even after several sessions with the Denton, Texas-based band's latest album, "The Exotic Rocking Life," a survey of its 30-year career of thriving on the periphery of mainstream listeners. Among the act's contradictions is that despite life on the fringes, it has still managed to score two Grammy awards and an appearance on "The Simpsons."
One guess: The five-piece group plays world music meant to be enjoyed, rather than tolerated. But even that is too limiting a description, because distinctly American influences like jazz seep into the music, wrapped up in an immediately accessible pop package that founding member Carl Finch calls a "rock aesthetic."
So Brave Combo is an adventurous band without borders whose only unifying quality is the sheer glee it approaches each song with, making track after track hit the palate like an airy dessert, rather than the bland salad course of typical world music.
VARIETY OF INFLUENCES
To show the variety of influences, one must simply look to "The Exotic Rocking Life," a delightfully eccentric album with sleepy bossa nova, a cha-cha version of "Louie Louie" and an intriguingly dark Greek dance/war song, "The Tsamikos." It's all fun, and the disc is all over the place, both stylistically and geographically.
Finch said Brave Combo's initial plan 30 years ago was to make polka music accessible to the general public by infusing it with a rock 'n' roll sensibility. From there, he said the band quickly launched into Latin and African music, and sonically ventured as far as Japan to find unusual sounds to explore and adopt.
The group, which performs 10 p.m. Saturday at VZD's Restaurant & Club, formed in the late '70s and early '80s " a moment in time when Finch said musicians and audiences were beginning to look beyond the traditional rock, pop and country to find new sounds. But he said even then, busting out an accordion onstage was considered an act of courage.
"The people of today are a lot more savvy in the world music department, and we find that younger people have less prejudice that polka is square or accordions are square," he said. "They haven't had that idea crammed down their throats like it was in my generation. The kids today are a lot more hip to the diversity of sound."
Finch said younger audiences have proven more open to once-scorned styles of music, which has made it easier for Brave Combo to continue exploring and defying categorization.
"As our audience has grown, we've seen their ability to accept new and different things grow with us. Our audience is very tolerant, but have also contributed to us going all over the map, and that's fun," he said. "That has been a problem, though, because there is no place to put us in record store bins. On one hand, it has been a good thing and it has helped us last this long, but on the other hand, we will probably not have the big pop hit record like I'd hoped for."
That daring approach has garnered die-hard fans across generations, including "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening and Talking Heads leader David Byrne, who hired Brave Combo to play his wedding.
"I have no idea how we get to do those kinds of things," Finch said, with a laugh. "They were both cool and mind-blowing, but nothing really tops being on 'The Simpsons.' To know we were being seen worldwide and immortalized was really cool."
Such choice gigs haven't ever propelled the act into the musical stratosphere, but Finch said that being perpetually off the mainstream radar might have helped the band in the long run.
"If something significant had happened to have us better known by the general public, we could have easily burned out, not had much impact and our thing would have been over by now," he said. "Because we've always been bubbling under the surface, people like to come out and support our oddball band that is making a sound that is still significant and relevant."
Brave Combo performs at 10 p.m. Saturday at VZD's Restaurant and Club, 4200 N. Western. "Charles Martin