Review of Brute Force and Daughter of Force performance at SXSW by the San Antonio Express News.
Hector Saldaña: I, Brute Force is the real weirdness at SXSW 2007
So the Stooges brought “The Weirdness” to Stubb’s on Saturday. That wasn’t where the real weirdness was at on this last full night at South By Southwest Music & Media Conference 2007.
Or should I say the loveable-ness, too.
The Creekside EMC at Hilton Garden Inn was that place, with the truly entertaining, if eccentric and delightfully bizarre father-daughter act, Brute Force & Daughter of Force.
Why was I there? Equal parts Beatles conspiracy theory and just dumb luck.
I ran into Daughter of Force — a very lovely and talented woman I would come to learn, whose name is Lilah (she refused to divulge any further information of that variety) — while in line for the Rickie Lee Jones concert at the Parrish II on Friday.
In fact, she was stylishly dressed more like Jones than Jones, in what I would describe as that old Annie Hall look. She invited me to see her dad at their official SXSW 2007 showcase.
Her soft-sell pitch was strong: she was cute and her dad might be legendary.
You see, um, her 66-year-old dad claims to have made the most collectible and rarest Apple Record single, “King of Fuh.”
If the legend is true, it goes like this: Back in the late ’60s, Brute Force managed to get a demo recording of his naughty track about the land of Fuh (whose lyrics plead “all hail the Fuh King, the mighty Fuh King”) to the Beatles’ George Harrison.
Harrison is said to have dug it enough to have slapped some London Philharmonic strings on the master tape and re-mixed it.
When EMI and Capitol refused to release it, Apple pressed a small run of 45 rpm vinyl records because Harrison and John Lennon liked the subversive joke, which today on the collector’s market goes for $900 to $1,200. The B-side was the girl group the Chiffon’s song, “Nobody Knows What’s Goin’ On (In My Mind But Me).”
In his erratic career, Brute Force also toured with the Tokens, recorded the album, “I, Brute Force — Confections of Love” on Columbia Records and worked as prop comic under his given name, Stephen Friedland.
Fast forward from 1968 to SXSW 2007, and there is the dapper Brute Force in a suit and tie walking up to the lone upright piano onstage, followed by Daughter of Force, who has transformed into a vision of loveliness in a sweet dress.
Only the barely visible tattoos on her elbows of the words “thunder” (on her left) and “lightning” (on the other), and the feeling that Brute Force might have walked out of “The Shining” for real, offers any hint that this might be strange — and fun.
No one was disappointed.
The duo, which plays onstage like the Smothers Brothers of old with Daughter of Force playing the straight man to her quirky father working his out-of-control James Mason eyebrows to full comedic effect, opened with the simple, welcoming song, “Hello.”
Anyone within earshot couldn’t help but smile during “Let’s Put Them All Together,” a song whose twisted hook is a catchy, irreverent litany of the major religious prophets.
The patter between father and daughter was cute: pop comes across as a wild man and Lilah, an installation artist in New York, looks sort of protective and befuddled. Make that fuddled, because she’s a character, too.
She throws in ironic lines like, “On a lighter note,” before presenting the song, “We’re On a Collision Course with Doom.” The song offers a stuttering “My Generation” moment when the word “collision” is transformed into “cocoa, cocoa, cocoa-collision.”
Maybe their act is a cosmic joke, an act of sugary defiance and confrontation the way that Frank Zappa and Andy Kaufman once worked. But Brute Force & Daughter of Force was hardly testing the limits of their audience.
Rather, they arrested and engaged them — a rarity at SXSW 2007.
“Love Saves” veered toward traditional blues and was perhaps the closest thing to pop in their repertoire. “Space Mission” fractured that assessment with its silly falsetto vocal, as did “To Sit On a Sandwich,” which reminds that there’s nothing better than sitting on a sandwich or skipping through the coleslaw.
But it should be noted that the lovable duo, who have been performing together for 10 years, do harmonize and sing unison beautifully. He is a talented pianist.
Between numbers, Brute Force would stand up and bow oddly and drawl like John Wayne whenever he said, “Thank you.”
And just when I thought this night would pass into history without a unicorn reference, I learned it was probably inevitable when the pair sang “Golden Unicorn.” “The unicorn lives, even though he loses his horn,” Brute Force said, explaining the lyrics. “It’s like deers and antlers.”
Before closing with the requisite “King of Fuh,” the two did deliver an absolutely amazing gem, a song that Brute Force wrote back in the ’60s called “Stones.” With its “roll them stones” double entendre lyrics, this one was a genuine, timeless R&B tune. It should have been a hit.
After the gig, his first ever at SXSW, Brute Force talked about his odd career.
“I always played on the black keys,” said Brute Force, recalling how he first learned on the family piano as a child and make up melodies. He took lessons, but the basement was where he learned to create.
The New York native said that he quit college in his 20s, but that luckily “my family was able to tolerate me.”
He can’t remember if he was stoned when he wrote “King of Fuh.” He might have been high, he admitted, because he recalled it was inspired by a story or poem about a furry king. He heard it wrong, he said.
He kicks himself for not hanging on to more copies of his rare Apple Records record. He only has one copy. “It’s the rarest 45 ever,” he likes to say.
“I was a censored artist,” he added. “I dug down deeply into language taboo.”
About the possibility of fame and fortune in the 1960s because of the Beatles connection: “It was all ripped away from me at the age of 28, can you imagine?”
But Brute Force is happy and resigned to his cult status. He’s survived with a bigger-than-life personality and a sense of humor, albeit strange, weird and sweet. This ’60s casualty is articulate and sly — and has a growing legion of fans thanks to the Internet and MySpace.com.
Brute Force & Daughter of Force definitely passed the Sandy’s ice cream cone test (they’re every bit as pleasurable) and it’ll be worth seeking them out next time in New York. They’ve got a good thing going at the Player’s Club on East 20th Street.
Does he have big plans? There’s an off-Broadway musical, a one-man show and comedy act.
Oh yeah, and he’s trying to change the pledge of allegiance. His goes like this: “I pledge allegiance to my planet and to the universe all around and within me, one spirit indivisible with eternity for all.”