Articles and Reviews
They Love the Nightlife: Conceptualizing Cobra Verde
Cleveland Free Times
By Ken Advent
The greatest rock and roll icons are part image, part music and largely myth. As music fans we respect them for their art, but we love them for what they represent. Springsteen is our blue-collar buddy on the assembly line. The Rolling Stones are the eternal 19-year-olds. David Bowie is the Chameleon. We buy into the myth because we want to, because we need to. We need heroes, gods, immortal men and women who are everything we aspire to be. And if they can write a catchy tune as well, then all the better.
John Petkovic understands this. He's the voice behind Cobra Verde, one of Cleveland's more unique bands. In reality, Cobra Verde is more of a musical movement than a band. Granted the movement consists mainly of Cobra Verde, but it represents something different from the average indie garage band. In a way, they're taking the classic activist approach - acting locally, but thinking globally. Based in Cleveland, Cobra Verde plays as many shows out of town as they do here. They focus on a broader scale than simply the North Coast, and that approach has paid off.
Cobra Verde started in 1994 as a studio project - a side project for Petkovic and a small cadre of like-minded musicians and friends, each with other projects occupying the majority of their time. The band released two albums over the course of a couple years, and the side project that was Cobra Verde eventually moved to center stage. Along with Petkovic, Cobra Verde's current lineup includes keyboardist Chas Smith, drummer Mark Klein, guitarist Frank Vazzano and bassist Dave Hill - all of whom continue to pursue other interests: Vazzano plays in a side project called Quasi Modo, and Smith is a rock and roll history professor at CSU.
Cobra Verde has just released their third full-length disc, Nightlife, nearly a year after turning it over to their label, Motel Records. The disc blends chunky riffs, esoteric synths and impassioned vocals within a surprisingly angst-free, yet no less urgent, mixture. It's rhythmic and approachable without being easily pigeonholed.
The relative longevity of a band that began as a side project may be due in part to the relative vacuum in which they've been working for the last five years. Bucking trends and following their own direction, the band has garnered national attention by working as a back-up band of sorts with Guided By Voices on Mag Earwhig!. They've made ink in Rolling Stone, Billboard, Entertainment Weekly and The Village Voice among many others, and they've gigged from New York City to Minneapolis and just about everywhere in between.
By Petkovic's estimation, the band's strength lies in its approach - the presentation, the concept behind the music. His bandmates' finely tuned chops don't hurt, of course, but he feels there's virtue to be found in giving people what they want.
"The best music has always been made by conceptualists, not musicians," Petkovic explains, although he's not very specific when discussing exactly what the Cobra Verde concept is. "I think musical ability is a bonus and it's a great thing. And this is a band where we're very concept-heavy on the whole thing. From the presentation of the thing to kind of the aesthetics of it all to the way that we interact with the audience. I think one of the things we really wanted to do when we started this thing was to put on a show for people."
Petkovic is excited about being able to focus on Cobra Verde now with the release of their new album. "I think that has to do with everyone here," he says. "Everyone seems to have an understanding about what we're about. The biggest problems with Cleveland bands, and bands in general, is that they drive by looking in the rearview mirror. They see what's kind of popular on the radio today, and they try to gauge themselves based on that. With us, everyone has their own sensibilities, and no one cares what everyone else thinks. And that's a good way to go forward."
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