Return of the Native
Kurt Heasly's Lilys pop into the Khyber Pass - October 26, 1996

MATT HOUSER
Temple News


The Philadelphia area has spit out some interesting musical exports in its day, from the loopy Strapping Fieldhands to the deranged Dead Milkmen. But the City of Brotherly Shoves may have spit too hard on pop noodler and leader of the Lilys Kurt Heasly, because he doesn't live here anymore.

"I love Philadelphia shamelessly," Heasly says, oozing with sincerity. "It's probably my favorite place to live." Quite a compliment, considering that Kurt has spent considerable time residing in Louisville, KY; Denver, CO; Washington, D.C.; and current home, Boston, MA. "I'm stuck up in 'Boston now because I'm, once again, out of money," explains Heasly, almost apologetically. It seems that Mr. Heasly would pull up stakes every week to satisfy his short attention span and itinerant soul.

But tonight he's stuck in the Khyber Pass, a claustrophobe's nightmare. Droves of people have packed into the suffocated confines of the Khyber, eager to see the prodigal son prove his worth. Kurt Heasly, leader of the revolving-door pop combo the Lilys, is back in town promoting his latest rock'n'roll incarnation as Ray Davies's bastard child. The third full-length album, Better Can't Make Your Life Better, is a heady stew of all things Kinks, Beatles, and Beach Boys. With an unmistakably 1960s feel, Heasly ventures into retro shimmy-rock territory with an energetic but polished sound and quirky melodies that separate the creative men from the derivative boys.

The translation from studio to stage is seamless, as the Lilys' Aaron Sperske (drums), Thom Monahan (bass), Torben Pastore (guitar), and Timothy Foote (organ and percussion) deliver the goods like they've been playing with Heasly forever. And Heasly himself is in fine form, sailing his falsetto to Tiny Tim peaks and jangling his guitar with precision and passion. Heasly's on-stage presence is as disarming as his warmly bizarre personality; towering above the audience like a mop-topped Jack Skellington, Heasly's handsome eyes gaze slightly upwards as he sings with childish glee and enigmatic beauty. Between songs, Heasly alternately brags about the exclusively man-made fabric of his outfit and makes good-natured fun of hecklers.

And there isn't any shortage of heckling. Because of the distinctive shift in musical style and band line-up since the Lilys' last album, there's an obvious tug-o-war between the new Lilys and an audience that wants to hear older Lilys standards. Eventually, Heasly gives into the pressure, remarking, "that's a valid request," and kicking into "Ginger" when persistent fans screech the song title. But it's obvious Kurt wants to leave the past behind.

Watching Heasly hold court after the set is a whole other show altogether. Hobnobbing with prominent Philly scenesters and entertaining everyone with his opinions on The Monkees, butter, that new Tom Hanks movie, and Ray Davies (rumors spread that the in-town Kink checked out the show), Heasly never really leaves the spotlight. A steady stream of old friends congratulate the lanky frontman on a job well done while Heasly offhandedly hints at returning to Philadelphia for good. But don't count on it--I hear airfares to Albuquerque are dirt cheap.
This article was published on Thursday, October 31, 1996

Copyright 1996, the Temple News. All rights reserved.

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