The Frogs At The Roxy With With Jesika Von Rabbit, Wednesday February 19th 2020
I didn’t know anything about the Frogs, a sibling band (consisting of Dennis and Jimmy Flemion) founded in the ‘80s in Milwaukee Wisconsin, but especially venerated by plenty of famous bands including Nirvana, Pearl Jam or the Smashing Pumpkins… I had no idea Beck actually sampled the Frogs in his famous ‘Odelay’ hit ‘Where It’s At’, and I didn’t know that the Frogs had entertained a close relationship with Kurt Cobain, Billy Corgan, Eddie Vedder. The Frogs story is actually intertwined with plenty of famous bands of the ‘90s and still, they never became a house name? Is it because of tragedy? In 2012, Dennis Flemion accidentally drowned in a lake at the age of 57… or is it because of their unique and quirky sense of humor? Their bio is crowded with hilarious anecdotes, their stage antics were chaotic and legendary, and their unique and scandalous sense of humor is all over their music. They have drawn the most extreme reactions from love to hate and on one of their EP, ‘Starjob’, in a full rockstar mode, they were singing about how much they hated their fans, without never getting close to this star status by any means.
Nothing was off-limit for the Frogs, they have taken the persona of gay folksingers, they have sung about rape, they have claimed to be playing for money, while one of their most controversial songs mentions ‘fucking a fetus’, and one of the brothers posed in blackface for the cover of their 2000 release, ‘Racially Yours’, the self-proclaimed ‘most controversial album of all time’, … like for many other Frogs-related things, they would not get away with any of this these days.
Since 2012, The Frogs were no more, because of Dennis’ death, but at the end of last year, the Frogs announced a short tour with Jimmy Flemion on guitar and Evan Dando (The Lemonheads) on drums,… and occasionally on guitar too.
I got the chance to see one show of this tour at the Roxy on Wednesday night, and it was unlike anything I have seen before. The Frogs are for an educated audience, not the type that gets offended for some ridiculous nonsense, they are more than ever an underground band with a hilarious take on social satire, and god knows if satire is misunderstood in 2020!
Jesika Von Rabbit and her band opened the show, playing songs from her ‘Dessert Rock’ album and beyond. Jesika’s strong and powerful croon resonated with a commanding tone over grating guitars, psychedelic keyboard, and plenty of infectious tempos. From their ‘Children of the Dust’ to their ‘Mushroom Haired Girl’, the queen of the high desert brought her usual swagger into their bizarro-western soundscapes where red rabbits or white poodles become go-go dancers. Their show is always a unique vision, with hypnotic dancefloors, high desert hallucinations, that works like a film noir on psychedelics, or a sonic collage of whipped electronica dancefloors.
Standing behind her keyboard, her face lightened by her crystal ball, whether she had her rabbit dancers or not, it was impossible to not notice Jesika Von Rabbit, and if the title of her album is a play of words on the macho desert rock scene, the band was blending genres and styles you would not expect from the desert scene. With her commanding powerhouse and its own Nina Hagen shades, her unapologetic synth with the band’s creative guitars and rhythm section even ended up covering Rush’s ‘Tom Sawyer.’
The Frogs opened with Jimmy Flemion on guitar doing a poignant and overly sincere cover of Harry Nilsson’s ‘One’, while wearing an impressive black feather headband. But soon it was chaos and distortion with ‘Reelin’ & Rockin’ #1’ and its heavy load of sexual-jokes. Evan Dando was sitting on one side of the stage behind his drumset, trying to follow the madness, whether Flemion was singing-speaking during the almost Spanish instrumental-guitar of ‘Closed Casket’ or getting into the meandrous drug-induced rambles of ‘I’ve Got Drugs (Out of the Mist)’. Flemion was a restless entertainer, a bit Monty Python, a bit human jukebox, and I presume that anyone not familiar with the material would surely have been a bit puzzled by the show. There was the chaotic gallop of ‘Whether U Like It or Not I Love U’, the mashup of the Bowie cover with ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, and from ‘Lord Grunge’ to the next one, everything sounded like a joke while Jimmy the human jukebox was jumping from one of his gay-joke song‘ Rosy Jack World’ to The Doors’ ‘Touch Me’, to the Smiths’ How Soon is Now’, and who knows what else?
Dando got replaced by a friend on drums for a few songs and played guitar along Jimmy Flemion, he even sang a few songs, like the Lemonheads cover ‘It’s a Shame About Ray’, or a surprising cover of Christina Aguilera (‘Beautiful’), but it was more or less a one-man Jimmy show
But besides the humor, there were a few poignant moments, especially when Jimmy said ‘this one is for Dennis’ before singing the intensely dark ‘F’D Over Jesus’ which sounded like a candelabra-light vampire movie turning metal in intense outbursts of energy. ‘I do honor everyone who is in heaven tonight,’ he also said and there was another cover, a T. Rex song, ‘Catblack (The Wizard’s Hat)’ which he dedicated to Marc Bolan.
The Frogs were (and still are) a cult band with multi-influences, killer hooks, and high-profile fans. Their lyrics are a long list of offenses against millennials but don’t get me wrong, there were already offensive at the time! They were shrouded in controversy and they were loving it, touching all the touchy subjects from race to sexuality and religion, parodying the rock star way of life and even pissing off the gay community with outrage and provocation. The songs are an amazing collection of characters, more than you ever wish to see in a good movie, while everything is delivered with comedy.
During the encore, people gathered around Jimmy who had jumped from the stage in a very ‘Gather’ Round For Savior’ move, and they were shouting titles of songs, making requests like a very aware audience. Nevertheless, Jimmy Flemion continued his comedy number
But you would not put the performance of last night into the comedy category, it was music that was first fueling the energy of the show, from the numerous hooks to the series of covers, including an appropriate Kinks cover ‘Celluloid Heroes’… ‘I started writing songs because of Ray Davis’, said Jimmy, while the rest of the encore (out of setlist) included a snippet of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ followed by ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’
After meeting Cobain in 1993, The Frogs made him a videotape entitled ‘Toy Porno,’ featuring animated toys as sexually promiscuous characters in various short sketches. The legend says that the tape was in heavy rotation in Nirvana’s tour bus… which proves one more time that Cobain had a great sense of humor. And according to the Frogs, humor has to be the greatest tool for survival.
One (Harry Nilsson cover)
Reelin’ & Rockin’ #1
I’ve Got Drugs (Out of the Mist)
Whether U Like It or Not I Love U
Starman/Somewhere Over the Rainbow (David Bowie cover)
Rosy Jack World
It’s a Shame About Ray (The Lemonheads cover sung by Evan Dando)
Gather ‘Round for Savior #2
F’D Over Jesus
Catblack (The Wizard’s Hat) (T. Rex cover)
Superjerk, Superstar, Supertears
Into Your Arms (The Lemonheads cover sung by Evan Dando)
I Only Play 4 Money
And a few more including Purple Rain and Sometimes It Snows In April (Prince Cover)