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Bishop Allen's 'Charm School'

Weekend Edition Saturday producer Charlie Mayer first heard Bishop Allen when their debut CD arrived at NPR earlier this year. He found their music to be "vibrant, vivid and refreshingly different." Mayer offers the following observations on the group, interviewed for the show by NPR's Scott Simon:

On Wednesday, May 7, Bishop Allen played a free show at the Velvet Lounge on U Street in Washington, D.C. The beer was also free.

You don't hear too much about free rock concerts anymore. A free rock concert with free beer seems like an impossibility. Such is the serendipity that is Bishop Allen.

The band's debut CD, Charm School, arrived at NPR a few months ago. As is the case with most of the hundreds of CDs sent to NPR every week, it was unsolicited and unannounced. It was bound for a pile of giveaway CDs when the cover caught my attention.

Two friendly looking guys are probably worth a listen, I thought. I peeled off the plastic wrapper, dropped the CD into my stereo and rocked out for the rest of the day. For the rest of the week. For the entire spring of 2003.

Everybody's saying

That I'm not so cool

So I'm going back to charm school

One member of Bishop Allen explained to Scott Simon that "We like to party with our shirts off." They also play music that is vibrant, vivid and refreshingly different. It's not what you might expect to hear on NPR, but we trust that you will like it anyway.

Bishop Allen is a group of four twenty-somethings from New York City. Lead singer Justin Rice and lead guitarist Christian Rudder met in college and started the band. Their first musical collaboration was on a punk band called The Pissed-Officers. In recalling their college days, Justin and Christian explained to Scott that they derived hours of enjoyment from hurling furniture off the roof of their apartment house in Cambridge, Mass. They lived at 66 Bishop Allen Drive.

Justin and Christian took a kind of sabbatical in Lynchburg, Va., where they lived in a huge house with no furniture. The songs on Bishop Allen's CD took shape in Lynchburg, where low rent allowed the musicians to concentrate on their craft.

Last summer, Bishop Allen expanded to include bassist Bonnie Karin and drummer Margaret Miller. Jack Woodhull joined the band just recently. "Multi Track Jack," as they call him, plays the glockenspiel, melodica and tambourine. When the band passed out free kazoos at a recent show, Multi Track Jack led the audience in kazooing a two-part chorus.

Scott asked the band if their music is set in a particular city. Justin responded that Bishop Allen plays its music for an imaginary community that appears late at night, after the bars and restaurants have closed. "The restless souls. The people singing to themselves on the subway... The people who are kind of insomniacs, pacing these city streets that are bright but lonely... That's the town where we play our music."

Last Saturday night, I stood with Bishop Allen on a quiet city street after they played the Galaxy Hut in Arlington, Va. It was both bright and a little lonely. The party continued inside the club, but another band had taken the stage and Bishop Allen was left to heft all of their gear into a van that they had borrowed from one of their fathers. They crashed at a friend's house that night and drove back to New York the next day.

Bishop Allen is hoping to have a summer tour. But before they do that, they need to get their own van. Their former means of conveyance died shortly after it rolled out of New York's Holland Tunnel on a trip back from Cleveland. And they need a booking agent. And an agent. And gigs. And groupies. And all of those other things that aspiring rock musicians need.

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