Love on Wheels

The Capsules make music to swoon by

The grade school skating party is a cultural memory that spans different geographies and generations. A child of the '70s in Buffalo and a child today in Los Angeles can share memories of Ring Pops and mixed-soda "suicides;" spiky, thin-knotted carpets and scabbed knees; smelly brown skates and swirling lights. And for many, the skating rink holds the memory of that first wonderful, terrible brush with the opposite sex: the couple-skate. Clumsy enough in your swelling frame, even clumsier in the clunky skates (unless you were one of the gifted ones who could "shoot the duck" or backwards skate), you offered your shaky, sweaty palm to that other who seemed illuminated in the dark room. And the two of you traced looping ovals hand in hand while some song of love and devotion filled your ears.

Unless this happened to you very recently at a very hip skating rink, the song was not "Slideshow" by the Lawrence, Kansas, trio the Capsules. But it should have been. Singer/guitarist Julie Shields' vocals fly free and sweet over her fuzzy chords, and her husband Jason Shields' bass and drummer Kevin Trevino give your feet a gentle right-left shuffle but never interfere with the melody. But the lyrics hold a hint of something bitter, something lost -- as all great love songs do. Yes, if "Slideshow" had been playing when you held that person's hand out on the rink, you'd have sworn that it would be the song for the two of you together, forever.

The Capsules must realize their ever-so-slightly retro shoegazer sound and Julie's almost childishly pure vocals seem connected to the first bloom of life. The "Slideshow" video does in fact take place on the skating rink: The band plays in the center as faceless people skate around them. And the other video from their latest LP Someone for Everyone, "Light the Path," features a game of Galaga in a dingy arcade. But Jason Shields insists that the band had no master plan when filming the two videos.

Julie Shields of the Capsules -- as lush as Lush.
Julie Shields of the Capsules -- as lush as Lush.

Details

with the Maxtone Four
Off Broadway

"The roller-skating rink from the 'Slideshow' video, and the arcade from the 'Light the Path' video, are actually in the same place. We had come up with both concepts independently, but when we were looking for a roller-skating rink that would actually let us film there, we were pleasantly surprised to see they also had a delightfully tacky and outdated arcade... just what we were looking for. We just rented it out like we would for a skating party and showed up with a bunch of filming equipment."

Intentionally or not, Someone for Everyone is full of echoes. The guitars bounce and blur, and Julie's deceptively simple melodies are often overdubbed. And her lyrics, usually delivered in the second person, cough up fragments of relationships and remembered emotions. The album also recalls the discordant beauty of the shoegazer sound of the early '90s, but not so much the majesty of My Bloody Valentine (whose lead visionary Kevin shares the Shields' surname) so much as the lush sounds of, well, Lush.

"We really don't consciously try to sound like this or that," says Jason. "We grew up on bands like the Cure and the Jesus and Mary Chain, so I'm sure it seeped into us quite a bit along the way. But really we just write what comes out naturally and that ends up being our sound."

The Shields' ties to the decade-old shoegazer movement runs deep. They were the core of Shallow, whose mid-'90s work carried the genre's torch in the Midwest. Shallow played the second stage at Lollapalooza '94 and were once featured in Tiger Beat before disbanding in '99, leaving the Shieldses with a strong desire to pare down their sound. After meeting Trevino at a friend's wedding, the Capsules quickly rose from Shallow's ashes. Their first instinct was to tone down the noise, and their debut Reverser is softer and less noisy than its follow-up. In fact, their debut gig was opening up for the slowcore legend Low. Jason says this gives the band some options when playing live.

"Reverser was intentionally very mellow so when we play those songs live naturally they're still very mellow," says Jason. "Our new album is a bit more upbeat so I think the live show and crowd is changing a bit as we incorporate more and more rocking songs. Our live show is pretty dynamic -- we do our best to mix up the pretty, mellow stuff with the noisy, rocking stuff."

But even the noisiest Capsules song won't inspire any slam-dancing at Off Broadway this Saturday. In fact, if the folks at that fine venue are smart, they might want to clear away some of those tables and rent out skates at the door. There won't be any pushing or shoving, and while the audience may not want to play "Crack the Whip," there might be one or two lovelorn souls who are ready to gently collide to the Capsules, on wheels. Ring Pops and suicides strictly optional. Just a suggestion.

 
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