Kaspar Hauser started in Iowa City and then moved to Chicago, but they’re back once or twice a year for shows at the Mill. They play guitar-based pop music, with no grand pretensions or sonic gimmicks. If you see them live, they look like they just finished a shift at the tire store, so flashy looks aren’t a factor either. These are regular guys, playing regular guy rock music, which means that the only thing they have going for them is songwriting, singing and playing. Lucky for us they can write, sing and play.
If you want the whole Kaspar Hauser experience in 5 minutes, skip forward to “Baby Vampire.” This sounds like a Cheap Trick song, but Tom Comerford’s baritone drawl gives it a whole different atmosphere. When you get to the falsetto “Ooh Ooh” chorus you’re into Pavement territory, but they follow it up with an extended instrumental bridge, which leads to a verse with octave-doubled vocals, anchored by pummeled floor tom drumming. They follow that with an extended guitar outro that builds, layer on layer into something orchestral, crashing to a close overlaid with the sound of a radio being dialed between stations. That’s a lot to put into one working man’s rock song, and to top it off, the lyric is funny without being jokey.
The album closer “Time Machine” sounds a lot like Lou Reed, with a laconic two note verse centered on a constant pedal tone. If you’re like me and think the last good thing Lou Reed did was “Metal Machine Music” it’s exciting to hear someone take a run at his formula and make music this simple, lucid and tough. The remarkable thing about Kaspar Hauser is that they’re not that remarkable, yet they make music that’s attractive, interesting and satisfying. Their trick is there’s no trick.