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Venice Gas House Trolley sets poetry to song
Venice Gas House Trolley: Spoken words and music.
Venice Gas House Trolley: Spoken words and music.

Back in 2005, the poetic blues-grunge of Stone Float was one of the most salient sounds spreading out across the Madison music scene. The band featured the freaky beat poetry of UW-Madison graduate student Adam Gregory Pergament. His verses were embedded in the frequently improvised hard rock of Tate McLane.

When McLane moved to Prairie du Chien in 2006, Pergament lost a musical companion. Determined to move forward, he formed Venice Gas House Trolley soon after. The group's 2007 debut CD was heavy on spoken word, lean on song.

That's all changed.

Pergament revamped the Trolley last summer to strengthen its musical voice. He's teamed up with bass guitarist Kevin Knapp and drummer Johnny Danielson to forge a sound that doesn't shrivel when the meters swell into a rant.

"My first show with Kevin was in Stevens Point last May," says Pergament. "He knew about 10 of the songs back then, and we had to play for two hours. That night, no matter what direction I took musically, Kevin was right there with me."

Pergament has always been most confident performing his poetry over the sound of a band. "We're ambient now in a way that fills out the space of our songs more," he says. "We groove. We're able to get people dancing a little more."

Last month, Venice Gas House Trolley released a six-song EP titled You Don't Sound Like We Do. "The EP was a daily effort," says Knapp, who graduated from UW-Madison last spring with a degree in music composition. "We spent a lot of time picking apart the songs, and it was fun."

The opening vibe of the album is gritty. "Detroit Pounder" wallows in the dirty industrial landscape of an urban train station. A growling hard-rock riff mimics the ferocity of the engine lumbering down the tracks.

Electric jazz piano relaxes the mood on "Ezekiel," even as Pergament's poetry becomes more sparse and abstract: "Ezekiel saw the wheel / Who do I care what he means?"

On the final track, Pergament fights the rejection sometimes experienced by unconventional artists. "Mr. Walker" laments a club that makes alternative musicians feel like outcasts:

At Mr. Walker's they don't care
About war and all the poor
They're too busy drinking rail
And eating stringy cheese
At Mr. Walker's they don't care
We'd like to let you in,
but you don't sound like we do

Pergament frequently describes Venice Gas House Trolley as a "beat freak trio." And the truth is, they do things that are humorously off the wall. Recently they've begun introducing their drummer as Babakuzar. "We're not sure why," says Knapp. "But one night at a show Johnny said, 'I've always wanted my stage name to be Babakuzar.'" And so it was.

Pergament proudly brands himself a freak. "It's a way of saying there is something different and something weird about us," he says. "Hopefully it means people will see a band expressing themselves in a way that's true to who they are."

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