The Anniversary’s Josh Berwanger Exorcises Some More Demons

by delarue

Josh Berwanger of the Anniversary writes catchy powerpop songs like it was the late 70s and his life – as well as the deed to his UK castle, his addiction to rare bordeaux, and his ex-wives’ alimony – depended on it. If this was 1979, he would rule the airwaves. That’s a compliment, not a dis. In 2016 terms, that means that every powerpop blog will go crazy over Berwanger‘s forthcoming album Exorcism Rock, he and the band will make a modest killing on the road, and it’ll get plenty of college radio airplay. An album like this could move ten thousand units if he puts it out on vinyl – a smash hit by this decade’s standards. The Anniversary was a serviceable powerpop band, but in the years since the group’s early zeros heyday, Berwanger has become a brilliant songwriter. Most recently, he’s doing an Anniversary tour (ok, bad pun) that’s hitting the Bell House tonight,  September 11 starting at around 8. It’s a weird bill: the excellent, hazily female-fronted dub reggae band Extra Classic, then a generic singer-songwriter, then the Anniversary. Advance tix are gone, so it’s $25 at the door.

Berwanger’s forthcoming record was ostensibly recorded in a marathon weeklong session fueled by equal parts red wine and tequila. It revolves around a familiar Berwanger theme, the evil that femmes fatales do. A surreal gothic choir kicks off the album’s opening title track, a backbeat numberin the hallowed tradition of Badfinger and Cheap Trick.

I heard you on the radio
They say you’re the new sensation
It’s so easy to fool this nation,

the frontman intones. A rapidfire blast of blues riffage and a brief twin-lead guitar passage between Ricky Salthouse and Berwanger completes the period-perfect 70s picture.

Rats & Cats swayss slowly over Scott Schoenbeck’s snappy bass, a twisted mashup of the Knack and Alladdin Sane-era Bowie “You move like a cat, taste like a cat..blow like the wind…” We get the picture.

Booty Shake is a dead ringer for Chuck Prophet, a Nashville gothic tune disguised as scampering early Tom Petty powerpop. Black Sun, a kiss-off number, is early 80s CBGB style punk-pop tune with a wicked hook and another savagely purposeful Salthouse guitar solo. Guess You Weren’t Wrong blends twelve-string jangle and spare piano over a lush bed of acoustic guitars, like a late Elliott Smith ballad. Then Berwanger flips the script with I Want You Bad, a minute fifty seconds of period-perfect 1979 punk-pop bliss, acidic sheets of guitar over a wickedly catchy tune propelled by drummer Jonny Phillip’s frantic pulse.

Slutty Skin – Berwanger’s titles leave nothing to the imagination – is Social Distortion as the Star Spangles might have done it, with starry washes from Brian Klein’s synth. Banks of distorted broken chords anchor Forever, bass hovering overhead before kicking in with the drums on the verse. “It won’t last forever,” Berwanger warns. Warm sheets of synth give way to a dual guitar break, Berwanger running the riff as Salthouse plays acidic noise. The girls in the chorus complete the picture at the end, closer to the Jayhawks than ELO. It’s the best song on the album.

Spirit King is a more straightforward, crunchy take on Adam Ant: “We’re lost in the underground,” Berwanger whispers. The acoustic Led Zep interlude, and the fuzztone glam crescendo after that, might seem completely out of place, but Berwanger makes it all work, right up to Salthouse’s long, searing solo out. The final cut is Space & Time, rising from a starry, Lynchian acoustic intro to fuzztone desperation and then back. “I think of you at night when I’m all alone, so I think of you all the time,” Berwanger explains. It all makes sense now. Last time Berwanger led a current project on tour, he and the band played the Mercury; this time, they’re scheduled to hit Cake Shop on November 4.