One of the pleasures of advanced age is being around long enough to experience the development of a musician or artist over the course of their creative life. Back in the 80’s and early 90’s when I was writing about music out and about in St. Louis for one of the two major newsprint publications and an local fanzine, I had numerous chances to see Joe Thebeau’s band The Finn’s play on numerous occasions. For a year or two, it felt like they were the band in the opening slot for some of the biggest draws, Big Fun or The Eyes (later Pale Divine). There’s something to be said for continuing to follow one’s artistic direction even when life’s realities ties you to a day job, so I was thrilled when I learned of the release by Finn’s Motel of 2017’s Jupiter Rex, followed quickly of Quinta Del Sol in ’18.
In an interview about the new project, Fireworks or Lightning, Thebeau told “Magnet” online music magazine that some years back he had started working on a more autobiographical concept album to be titled, “I Was a Teenage Alien,” so songs like the title track, “More Heat Than Light,” “Drive On Tomorrow” and “One Gone” have been with him for some time. The current band – Jack Petracek on drums, Steve Scariano on bass, Thebeau on guitar and vocals, and Scott Roever playing lead guitar – reworked the older material, and added new songs like the opening Cheap Trick-styled rocker “In A Cosmic Waiting Room” to flesh out the 9 track album. “Police Lights Suite” captures the excitement and paranoia of kids driving around with a six pack or two over the course of its 10 plus minutes, and several musical themes.
Thebeau’s breadth of influences are revealed in the acoustic folk harmonies of “Empty Hearts Returning Triumphant” and the simmering slow opening of “Sparkler Bombs” which builds steadily to its climax. Other straight-ahead rockers like “More Heat Than Light” erupts with a great solo, while honoring seminal power pop and hard rock sounds. It’s driven by a narrative of growing up in America’s suburban countryside, and seeking meaning in the common experiences of life, from the view of someone who’s lived well and long enough to tell the tale with something other than rose colored glasses.
Key Tracks: “In A Cosmic Waiting Room” / “Fireworks or Lightning” / “More Heat Than Light”
Artists With Similar Fire: Cheap Trick / R.E.M. / The Church
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb