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Hear, there be tigers!
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The first and only time that Atlanta’s Tiger! Tiger! played Savannah, they were only a few months old.

Fresh off a high-profile hometown opening slot for the reformed Rocket From The Tombs (featuring Dead Boy Cheetah Chrome, Television’s Richard Lloyd, and Pere Ubu’s David Thomas), the band was just beginning to win over notoriously fickle rock scribes like Stomp and Stammer’s resident curmudgeon Jeff Clark with their innocent charm, instantly hummable garage-pop gems, and refreshingly humble – but intense– stage demeanor.

I caught that RFTT show (at the sadly defunct Echo Lounge) and saw a quirky group with loads of potential hold their own against a powderkeg of underground music heavyweights with enough war stories between them to fill The Albert Hall, and almost three decades worth of hopes and expectations riding in their rental van with them.

It’s been almost a year and a half since Savannah was last graced with a visit from Tiger! Tiger!, and much has changed for the quintet in that time.

They’ve continued to gig and improve as a unit – their live show is now routinely being touted as one of the best in Atlanta – and they recently completed a series of well-received East Coast dates supporting longtime friends The Woggles, who, after nearly two decades on the front lines of what’s finally being called the “garage rock revival” are starting to be treated as elder statesmen of the genre.

Perhaps most importantly, the band (consisting of vocalist and rhythm guitarist Buffi Aguero, drummer Mike Poteet, keyboardist Sam Leyja, bassist and cellist Deisha Oliver, and lead guitarist and saxophonist Shane Pringle) will soon release their debut album.

Tracked primarily over a period of two weeks (“too long,” notes Aguero) on glorious old-school analog gear at the increasingly popular Zero Return Studios in Atlanta, Collisions is a sixteen-song pileup of barnstorming rave-ups, minor-key laments, blistering kiss-offs and menacing, icy, bitch sessions – all of which are punctuated by piercing blasts of vintage combo organ, squonky, James White-esque no-wave sax and flippant vocal asides.

Initially rejected by many of the well-known garage-rock specialty labels who were already familiar with Aguero from her continuing gig as drummer for the Velvet Underground-inspired Subsonics (apparently due to the band’s refusal to “color inside the lines”), the CD has now found a welcome home at the tiny Austin, Texas imprint Chicken Ranch Records, home to such critically-lauded indie outfits as the “psychedelic rockabilly” buzz group Starlings, TN, modern-day honky-tonk hero Willie Heath Neal, and Detroit-style pre-punks The Forty-Fives.

Interestingly enough, label head Mike Dickinson says that part of what drew him to the album in the first place was its refusal to play by rules.

“I think that’s the great thing about ‘em,” he says. “You know, they’re not just slaves to the whole retro, garage sound... They’re doing their own thing with it.”

Pringle says that insistence on doing their own thing has already made things a little rougher for the band than perhaps they could be.

“Many garage-rock purists can't stand a lot of what we do,” he explains.

“We sent the CD off to some garage labels and they were like, ‘We love half of it, but what's up with the cello and saxophone stuff?’ We just try and make music and try to have as little of a preconceived notion about it as possible. That it comes out sounding retro was never planned or talked about one way or the other. That and the fact that we can't afford nice new shiny equipment, so we try and look cool with our old crappy stuff. (laughs)”

“It doesn't seem like we fit into a

genre does it,” Oliver wonders out loud. “I guess in the end, we are who we are.”

So, who are they?

While none of the bandmembers are yet able to quit their day jobs and do the band thing full-time, only a few were forthcoming when asked what keeps them afloat.

“I’m a graphic designer,” says Aguero.

“I run a small theatre company here in Atlanta,” says Oliver. “And I also am the Technical Director and Internship Coordinator for a comedy improv group.”

“I'm an animator at Turner Studios in Atlanta,” offers Leyja.

Adds Oliver, “We stay busy. We have always stayed busy.”

Those myriad of responsibilities are the main reason the band opted to license their finished album to an established label (albeit a tiny one) rather than deal with the headaches of selling and distributing the CDs themselves – even though they could have kept much more of the money if they’d taken that completely independent route.

“I already don’t have any time,” says Aguero, and you can tell by her tone that she means it.

“Putting out a record, promoting it, distributing it, etc. takes a lot of time and money if done right. If I had the time and money, yes, I would put it out myself, but for us, right now, this is the way to go.”

Mike Poteet echoes those sentiments and makes another valid point that cannot be underestimated.

“I think when someone else wants to invest money into your band it gives it some sort of validity,” opines the drummer.

For his part, Dickinson doesn’t seem too worried about Collisions’ potential.

“I just feel like if the band gets out there and plays a lot and lets people see what they’re all about, the record will kind of sell itself.”

Still, he admits he would be rather disappointed if the album is not ultimately received in the way he feels it ought to be.

“You always hope for the best from a new album – especially when you feel very strongly about its worth.”

He should know. he signed the band without ever seeing them play live.

“I liked the record a lot from the moment I heard it,” Dickinson continues, growing more animated. “Plus, I knew they had made a good name for themselves around Atlanta. So, I basically just offered them a handshake deal. The first time I’ll actually get to see them live will be at their CD release show! I’m sure it’ll be fun.”

He’s right to be so sure.

Tiger! Tiger! shows are fun. For one thing, Buffi is a dynamic frontwoman whose infectious energy at singing and playing guitar cannot be denied. True to form, her percussionist tendencies shine through, and on more than one occasion her bandmates have stood by and watched as she inadvertently unplugs her guitar mid-gig with a flick of her hip or a twitch of her left leg.

And then there are the songs.

They rush by fast and furiously, with barely a moment to rest in between salvos. Angular, jagged electric guitar lines cascade off straight-ahead, bare-bones drumbeats (both Aguero and Poteet are avowed Charlie Watts fanatics), and there’s no shortage of thinly-veiled references to the bandmembers’ influences. Astute listeners with decent record collections will hear plenty of casual allusions to seminal acts such as Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Suicide, and early Blondie in the band’s repertoire (it’s fun to note that the opening track on their CD, “Jealous Lovers” comes awfully close to nicking the guitar hook in the Pixies’ “Debaser,” for instance).

All of which – in a perfect world – would make them quite an easy sell. But then again, that’s if one pretends that Richard Hell and pre-fame Blondie are somehow indicative of what the general public wants to hear on their radios these days.

Pringle says that’s why it’s so important this band not get bogged down in the purist fetishism which can sometimes stifle creativity, while boosting record sales.

“I think anytime you actively accept and/or embrace a label or genre you've just narrowed your creative options about ninety-nine percent. We might use the same instruments as garage bands and have many of the affectations, but I

think it's obvious we didn't stop listening to any music made after the sixties. We are a little more experimental and open minded than your average garage band.”

“That being said, I don't know how a label would market us. I guess our market is probably somethin’ like: “Music For Garage Dorks’ Much Cooler Arty Girlfriends.” I'm not sure if they have a section for that at the local Tower Records or not...”

Aguero agrees.

“I never think of our sound as retro, although I guess it could be considered that. Most of the music I listen to is old, but to me, good music is never

really retro, it’s just good music. I used to be more of a garage Nazi when I was younger. But then after listening to Exile on Main Street about a thousand times on my little mono record player, I heard it in a bar and realized that it had horns on it! I guess the recording was panned really hard so when I was playing it at home on my mono record player I never heard them. It blew my mind. I’ve been listening to more and more modern music ever since... And I bought a stereo record player.”

Tiger! Tiger! opens for Superhorse at The Jinx Saturday night at 10:30 pm.