Manic performances part of Les Savy Fav's mission of fun

January 30, 2009


When Brooklyn art-punks Les Savy Fav appeared at the first Intonation Music Festival in 2005, the crowd nearly surged out of control, thanks as much to the amphetamine overdrive of the music as to the wild antics of vocalist Tim Harrington, who spent much of the show naked and running through the crowd.

It seemed like a hard act to top, but the group didn't disappoint when it returned to the rechristened Pitchfork Music Festival last summer. This time, Harrington rolled in the mud and hopped inside a garbage barrel that fans hoisted up and passed through the crowd. For the climax, he donned a flesh-colored body suit with his internal organs drawn on it and led the crowd in a chant of "This is my body/This is what it does/I try to make it better/But I know it's gonna bust."

All of this was more effective for the fact that Harrington is a pudgy, bald, bearded and otherwise delightfully mild-mannered fellow who looks more like a mathematics professor than a punk-rock frontman. In fact, he holds two day jobs, one as a graphic artist for VH1 and the other as co-founder with his wife of the way-cooler-than-Ikea home-design company Deadly Squire.

"No one ever thinks about all my day jobs," Harrington says with a gentle chuckle. "If I wasn't able to cut loose onstage, I'd be cutting loose everywhere else, and it would be a complete disaster. People are always like, 'Don't you go crazy all the time?' But I don't need to go crazy all the time; I don't have to, like, yell real loud at dinner parties, because I have this other place to yell."

Les Savy Fav first came together in the mid-'90s, when Harrington was attending the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design along with the band's other key members, bassist Syd Butler, who owns the independent French Kiss record label, and guitarist Seth Jabour, a successful illustrator. (The current group is completed by drummer Harrison Haynes and second guitarist Andrew Reuland.)

"I'm pretty bad musically -- our guitar player is the musical genius of the band -- and I think I got picked to be in the group because I had been in this other short-lived little band in Providence," Harrington recalls. "I wasn't bald yet, but I had shaved my head bald like the balding that I have now, and I was ... a little bit crazy.

"I was always into doing that kind of performance. I really liked Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, and there was something about that hard-core era of bands that I used to see on VHS tapes where it was just gonzo performance. It was neither cool nor aggressive; it was just kind of strange. And obviously I love David Yow [of Chicago's Jesus Lizard]; his stage presence has this kind of scariness to it, and a testosterone level. I always really liked intense performance like that, but never felt that I could pull off that kind of intimidating manliness."

There's no denying that Harrington does something just as impressive, though in the end, beyond the spontaneous insanity of the group's shows, the most impressive thing about Les Savy Fav may be the way it operates. After early releases such as "The Cat and the Cobra" (1999) and "Go Forth" (2001) generated considerable underground buzz on the national music scene, resulting in offers for ever more lucrative gigs and longer tours, the group pulled back and took what essentially was a five-year hiatus.

"The members of the band have always had the same vision for what we expected from the band, in terms of professionally and what we want the band to be about ... and that's that the band is a pleasure and something we do because we really love doing it."

The group was determined not to let the band become a job -- the official motto on its Web site is "Missing out on cashing in for more than a decade" -- and since its return to the scene with "Let's Stay Friends" (2007), it basically has chosen gigs based on how much fun they're likely to be.

"You know, if you go to the same place three times a year, even if we stay psyched, the audience can be like, 'Yeah, we know what to expect, and you'll be back,'" Harrington says. "For a band like us, where the live atmosphere is so important, to stop having it be so regular just makes the live shows much more fun."

And, needless to say, just about anything can happen.