Atom and his Package
The Hardback Café, Gainesville • 4.29.98
Atom is a chubby, punk-rock “always-often-pooping-Jew” from the suburbs of Philly, or so he says, anyway. He programs songs into the “Package,” which is a Yamaha QY 700 Sequencer, so an A&HP show consists mainly of Atom pressing buttons to start his songs and then screaming in a fairly high voice on top of the music the package plays over the PA. It certainly doesn’t sound like the kind of show that Gainesville’s Hardback Cafe, home of high-energy acts like Less Than Jake and Hot Water Music, would be all that into. I’ve been beat up in Gainesville just for walking down the street behind the wrong set of frat-guys. I had no idea how Atom would fare, dancing around on stage, stealing lyrics and melodies from the likes of Eddie Money and AC/DC, but I was willing to drive the two hours from Orlando to the show to find out, regardless of the following days’ Statistics Exam.
When we got to the show, it was easy to spot Atom. He had a big curly mess of hair under his hat and a large hockey jersey for a shirt. For some reason, those northern rockers can get away with sports fanaticism without losing any ever-important street credibility. The venue was far more crowded than anticipated, due to headliner Radon being there, as well as an opener, Anklebiter. Wedged right in the middle of two standard (lineup) punk-rock acts (drums, guitars and bass) was Atom, as well as his Package.
I gained a position near the front after the dense crowd thinned between sets, right behind a group of guys reminiscent of those who beat me up on a previous visit to Gainesville. The girls in front of them repeatedly turned around and told them to stop touching them, or so I gathered, but before I could get to the phone-booth to change clothes and save the day, Atom got started and things seemed to clear up. Atom’s first song was new (meaning not on either of his previous two albums), and was called “Hats off to Halford” in reference to the Judas Priest frontman who recently came out of the closet. In the middle of Atom’s explanation of the not-so-underlying tone of homosexuality in the world or Heavy Metal, he broke into the chorus from Screeching Weasel’s “I Want to Be a Homosexual”, to which the guys in front of me yelled “Fuck You” and gave him the finger. The majority of the crowd, however, was very receptive, and at least, entertained. Power-packed original numbers like “Punk Rock Academy” and “Me and My Black Metal Friends” were performed with Atom screaming and posing on the stage and chatting with the crowd between songs.
About 25% of Atom’s material consists of songs made for or about his friends, though they are usually explained well enough to keep them from being too “inside-joke-like” to be appreciated. At the show, however, none of these songs were played, presumably to avoid losing the 95% of the audience who had no idea what was going on.
Another 25% consists of cover versions of songs, most of which were never intended to be played on synthesized instruments. Fugazi, Youth of Today, the Misfits, and even a verse of Pavement are represented, and the results fit in well with Atom’s sound. At this particular show, the cover of choice was the Ghetto-Boyz “My Mindz Playing Tricks on Me,” off Atom’s first, self-titled album. Atom’s strongest material is still his originals, though, with the music always maintaining the spirit of rock while its instrumentation is unfamiliar to the genre. Someone in the crowd yelled out “It’s like a Milli-Vanilli concert”, which conveyed the odd nature of the show, but I can assure you that all vocals are distinctly Atom’s. Though he was a bit hoarse at the show, he still managed to hit most of the notes, which is about how he does on the albums anyway.
Atom wasn’t always a solo-artist. He used to play guitar in the band Fracture, whose seven-inches and LPs made it down to this part of the country in their hey-day. He even includes one of their songs on his latest album. He showcased this legendary guitar ability on a “revolutionary song about the metric system” that he played, complete with a flaming solo to send his heartfelt message home.
Nearing the end of the set, he played a couple of songs, each about 3 seconds long, which were from his first album. Actually, they were all the same song played by the Package, with Atom growling out different lyrics in an Assuck-esque (isn’t that an Erasure album?) fashion. The last song Atom played was “She’s in the Bathroom,” off the first album, requested by an audience member. One of the guys in front of me had made his way to the front of the “stage” (or section of the room, anyway) and was making a drunken attempt at heckling Atom. Halfway through the song, it becomes “You Shook Me All Night Long”, so at that point Atom put his hand on the heckler’s shoulder and sang the song straight to him. Atom’s charisma won out, at least for a bit, and the two of them sang along up until the guy remembered that he didn’t want to like Atom and wandered off towards the back of the stage. Atom’s set ended with the completion of that song, and he packed away the Package for the night. I left for home immediately thereafter, getting to my apartment around 4 am. 4 hours later I didn’t do well enough on my exam to bring my grade up to an A, but I didn’t expect one anyway.
Hearing Atom’s songs, your mind wants to pigeon-hole him as a novelty act, or a punk-rock “Weird Al”, but his songs are catchy and his lyrics are funny, but with honesty and sincerity, coming across as someone who is creative, but not pretentious. His heart is in what he does, and his performance is not contrived, it’s just him. He’s Atom, there’s the Package, enjoy the show.
For sale at the show was a new Atom 7” with his metric system song on it and a cover of the Dead Milkmen song “Nutrition.” His first album is a rare find, but his newest, A Society of People Named Elihu, can be obtained from Mountain/Suzuki Beane, P.O. Box 220320, Greenpoint P.O. Brooklyn, NY 11222-9997 USA for a paltry $6. ◼