What on earth leads a grown man to start a song by howling “Motherfucker, titty sucker, two-balled bitch/ Your mama’s in the kitchen cooking red hot shit”? In the case of Obits’ frontman Rick Froberg, the curmudgeonly opening shouts of “No Fly List” stem from “a weird schoolyard rhyme” that either he or his friends devised in the third grade. “We used to pretend we were a rock band—banging on our lunch pails, etcetera—during recess or after school when we were waiting around to be picked up,” the guitarist/vocalist says via email. “I used [those lines] because I thought they were compelling. I was amazed that something like this could still be in my head. Now, it’s out there floating around.”
On a practical level, the Obits are a professional rock band, with the Brooklyn four-piece’s personnel having served in notable post-punk and post-hardcore acts—Hot Snakes, Edsel, Drive Like Jehu—since around the late ’80s. But what makes the Obits’ dependably crabby vibe so much fun is that it sounds like it’s being generated by a gang of ornery, rambunctious teens or, at the very least, a gang of ornery, rambunctious adults who remain devoutly young at heart. While the group’s average age has to be hovering around 40 (Froberg’s cagey response to a question of numbers: “That’s none of your business, Philadelphia. Everything still works.”), last year’s Moody, Standard and Poor rages and fights with insolent, juvenile passion.
Coming to terms with the truth about Obits’ current demographics (i.e., they aren’t an upstart garage band), the mental image of this group turns to one of Froberg as a white-collar worker, abused and malcontent, who just wants to go home and rock the fuck out . Only this picture doesn’t have much basis in reality. “I haven’t worked in an office since 2001, and that’s about the same for the rest of us,” Froberg says. “I have never been an office drone.” But this image provides an immensely satisfying visual of men still content to thunder toward oblivion even as they grow older. Nothing will—or should—stop them.
Obits’ music doesn’t reconfigure the rock game, and considering their competency with their chosen aesthetic, that’s OK. “I think this is mostly about fun and self expression. Rock ’n’ roll music can be, and is, many things to many people, but to me, a desire on the part of the musician to innovate seems to me to be a thing more likely to be driven by narcissism and ambition than by love,” Froberg says.
Although this is a band that doesn’t like to dawdle and stray (songs are succinct and “the quicker [recording] gets done the better”), there’s still a ready-for-anything je ne sais quoi about both their school of thought and form of sonic attack. “In my/our experience—and there is plenty in this band—it’s better to stay flexible,” Froberg says, offering sage-like advice from a source that usually comes across as a mischievous, half-mad live wire. “Inflexibility is for the young.”
Obits perform Thurs., March 15, 8pm. $12. With Fists + the Homophones. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. 215.739.9684. johnnybrendas.com
PW's Music Issue 2014