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Artist Spotlight: Tribe

If you play the game Rock Band fairly regularly, then amongst all the classic and modern rock hits contained in the game, you may have come across a bonus track called "Outside" by Tribe. My coworkers and I happened upon it whilst playing the game during a break one day, and though we failed miserably during our first attempt to get through it, I was sufficiently intrigued by the song to seek out some more information about Tribe.

Knowing that many of the bonus tracks in the game were done by employees of Harmonix, the company that developed Rock Band (and also Guitar Hero), I was prepared not to find much about them; a download of "Outside" would honestly have satisfied me. What I found instead was a very pleasant surprise. The history of Tribe is an interesting one: they formed in the 1980s and released 3 albums in the 1990s, before disbanding in 1994. Three of the band members (Terri and Eric Brosius, who married after the band split up, and Greg LoPiccolo) entered the video game industry, eventually becoming founding members of Harmonix, which explains Tribe's presence in Rock Band.

Even more surprising, a LOT of Tribe's music can be downloaded for free from their fan site; these downloads are split into 2 pages: studio mp3's and live mp3's. Studios mp3's include their entire first album, Here at the Home (which is now out of print), their initial demos from 1987, the demos they were working on before disbanding in 1994, and some B-sides and alternate takes. Live mp3's include a few audience recordings (including their final show), a few radio broadcasts, and a collection of miscellaneous live tracks.

Here at the Home is an excellent album. "Outside" is an obvious highlight; with its delayed guitars, driving drum beat, and soaring vocals, it's probably the best song U2 never wrote for The Joshua Tree. Speaking of vocals, lead vocalist Janet LaValley consistently turns in captivating performances: a couple of other highlights are "Abort", which has her singing some Patti Smith-like phrases over an eclectic musical backdrop that fans of David Bowie would appreciate, and the rocker "Jakpot", which keeps building in intensity throughout.

The 1994 demos are also very good. "Shining Shining" and "Hope it's Not a Storm" are both quite beautiful, with the latter once again featuring LaValley's soaring vocals before adopting a somewhat heavier feeling near the end. "Dirigible" continues the heavy vibe, perhaps a reflection of the grunge and alternative rock movements that were popular at the time. Listening to these demos, it seems a real shame that Tribe split up before getting a chance to become more popular. 1994 saw some incredibly strong albums released by a number of artists (with my favourites from Dream Theater, Megadeth, Soundgarden, and Pink Floyd, and near-favourites from Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, and others all being released that year - seriously, was there something in the water that year?); on the strength of the demos, I think that Tribe's unfinished album could easily have been one of those albums.

On the live mp3 side of things, there are basically a few radio broadcasts and a few audience-recorded bootlegs. The quality of all of the full concerts is quite good - even the bootlegs sound very good to my ears. There is a wide selection of music from all of Tribe's albums (including the 1994 demos) on these recordings. The sound of the performances, and the way the audiences respond to them, give me the impression that Tribe would have been an awesome band to see live; for a great example, listen to the performance of "Jakpot" from their final show: the song is played with a ferocious intensity, and the crowd absolutely erupts with applause at the end of it. As the final song of that show, this unfortunately ended up being the last song they ever played live, but at least they went out with a huge bang. There are also a few unreleased tracks to be found amongst the live mp3s (and I don't just mean the songs from the 1994 demos). "Go", which can be found on a couple of the old radio broadcasts, is absolutely excellent, and "Stevie", from the 1988 radio broadcast, is a fun rocker to listen to.

Now that Rock Band has allowed Tribe's music (well, one song, anyway) to be heard by a wider audience than ever before, this would be a great time for the band to do something new. If any of the band members are reading this, how about it? Even something like a new single (and corresponding Rock Band downloadable content :D) would be awesome. To everyone else: if you enjoy Tribe's music and would like to hear something new from them, please leave a comment here so I can know how many people feel the same way about them; if you haven't heard much of Tribe's music yet, then I won't keep you waiting any longer - go now and check it out, then come back here and leave a comment if you like what you hear.

Happy listening!



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Michael Grier (Sr.) said...

Tribe was an amazing band to see live in the 80s. Their sound was always great even when playing dinky little bars in the greater Boston area with only 6 people in the audience. These are memories I truly treasure.

My most memorable show of all time was a triple bill of Tribe, My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. headlining at the Axis on Landsdowne St. in Boston. Well it might have been the other club next to Axis which kept changing its name... Venus de Milo? Anyhow... Wow.

There were a number of really amazing bands coming out of Boston at the time and really none of them went much further, it's a shame!

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