Eating the Invaders attack

by Jordan Green

I can’t decide whether Eating the Invaders are improbable or inevitable. Ardent originalists, they play music in a town deluged with cover acts that keep a second-hand past on terminal resuscitation. Flippant and disaffected in personal demeanor, they play songbased rock and roll with utter conviction and commitment. Dressed in a collective ensemble that includes suit jackets, plaid pants, a Russian fur-lined hat and a hockey shirt, they harbor what has become a somewhat unique aspiration to play their own music for a wider audience so they can quit their day jobs. They’re making a record. One of their guitarists quips about playing Shea Stadium; headlining the Cat’s Cradle someday would probably not be too ambitious. Tonight, they’re playing in the middle of an eclectic bill that includes a jazz ensemble, a pop pianist and vocalist and a couple punk-rock bands. A benefit for a Ugandan orphanage, the venue is a community church housed at the former location of the defunct low-income housing nonprofit Project Homestead. It’s a showcase for the nascent Marcus C. Rizzo Center for Musician Enrichment, which will eventually provide youth development services out of the community church here on South Elm Street. The benefit has been organized by a couple of Northwest High School students and, as might be expected from a cohort that is largely pre-voting age, the audience at this no-alcohol event brims with excess energy and exhibits clannish behavior. Following Eating the Invaders’ set, a couple high school boys chant in the hallway: “U-GAN-da! U-GAN-da!” The six members of Eating the Invaders — denizens of the downtown boho scene — gamely ply their tunes, garnering the occasional raucous expression of appreciation from elders in the crowd and a respectful listen from the youth. Midway through their set, they perform “The Jello Song,” which I consider to be quintessential Eating the Invaders. The sound is battered country-honk in the style of “Dead Flowers” laced with heavy doses of irony. “I can’t play drums when I’m drunk, but I do it all night long,” Matty Sheets sings in the exposition. Then comes the key verse: “I fell in love with a Mexican porn star/ And I still miss Robbie Perkins so bad/ And I can’t do nothing to lift Robbie Perkins’ spirits/ He just walks around and lies.”

Sheets added the reference to the city pol as a substitution, following an incident last April Fool’s Day in which Sheets says that Perkins falsely characterized the arts advocacy website as pornography. During the public comment period of a Greensboro City Council meeting, a speaker from the floor made a public plea for people to save the so-called “monkeywhale” and Sheets and fellow Eating the Invaders guitarist/vocalist Marshall Owen stood up in the meeting and played kazoos to draw additional attention to the ruse — all an effort to publicize a website promoting the arts in Greensboro. Sheets guesses that Perkins remains unaware of the group’s back-handed tribute, although the councilman’s wife is a huge fan of the Avett Brothers and the everybodyfields, so that assumption could be wrong. This is Eating the Invaders’ first allacoustic set, and they tackle it with aplomb, with a trio of guitars, usually two romping through the chords in unison, while a thirds plucks out the sweet melodic line. Barry Staples’ drums kick the rhythm forward, while Mikey Roohan’s bass playing drives it home. The vocals, harmonized between Sheets and Owen, veer from nasty to achy. The two shout, cry and hum. The instrumental arrangements are raw, but precise. Most of the members matriculated from the weekly open mic at the Flatiron in Greensboro, and the band still plays there from time to time. Sheets, Roohan and guitarist Jason Voss formed the core of the open mic roster when it started about seven years, and now it has blossomed to about 20 participants. Sheets and Roohan are longtime collaborators and have each played in too many bands to mention. High Pointer Marshall Owen, the group’s youngest member at 22, met the others at the open mic. The members of Eating the Invaders are have also collaborated with filmmaker Harvey Robinson, a driving force behind the new media project. Eating the Invaders performed in Robinson’s kitchen last year for a video that received widespread acclaim. And Sheets, Owen and Staples performed music for a video produced by Robinson to recruit volunteers to come to North Carolina to work on the Obama campaign. Bracketing the age range at the other end from Owen is harmonica player David Driveway Moore, who acknowledges his participation in the thriving but small folk scene on Tate Street in the 1970s. Sheets was intent on recruiting Driveway to join Eating the Invaders, and Driveway liked what he heard. “I’m a little older than Jason,” Driveways says. “That’s all.” “Even I don’t know how old he is,” Voss says, as Driveway disappears into the night.

Eating the Invaders played at the Spring Garden Community Church in Greensboro on Jan. 16. (photo by Cheryl Daniels)

Eatingthe Invaders perform with Asheville’s Sirius B at the Flatiron, at 221Summit Ave. in Greensboro, on Jan. 31. Call 336.272.7774 for moreinformation about the show. Eating the Invaders’ debut album isexpected in February.