This threesome is noted for their live shows that have electrified East Coast audiences for the past four years or so. They first garnered attention beyond their lucky hometown fans when they blew away everybody at the 1991 Lotsa Pop Losers festival organized by Teen Beat, Simple Machines, and Slumberland in Washington, DC. That show was the culmination of the fruitful Providence/DC axis that also produced Velocity Girl and Tsunami. They further cemented their position as "America's greatest undiscovered live band" at the Providence Indie Rock Festival the following year, a short tour of England with Heavenly, and many, many happy gigs up and down the Northeast.
While others of those bands were perhaps more successful, at first, in capturing their sounds on vinyl, their first single "Suggestions" gives a hint of the band's appeal, with it's joyful jangly pop banging and perceptive, emotionally direct lyrics. They have since grown more comfortable in the studio, and more confident and relaxed in their playing; the brand-new lp, _For If You Cannot Fly_ is more mature, perhaps, but still enthusiastic and driving, with the added textures of Dave's developing guitar skills.
But it is the live shows that have their audiences grinning madly, all singing along, and bouncing up and down with abandon. When they play, they world stops, and your heart expands in your chest with happiness, love, and pop excitement. I've never seen a band with a bigger aura of anticipation beforehand, or electric togetherness during, or a more natural rapport with their audience. Basically, if you can't have fun at a Small Factory show, you probably ought to give up trying.
They initially were a semi-acoustic band, though they absolutely rocked the house; no folkies here. Alex played a huge Martin acoustic bass guitar (the kind Mariachi bands use, only plugged in), and threw himself so into his his singing that one sometimes feared his head would fly off; Dave strummed feverishly on his acoustic/electric guitar, and Phoebe, who is easily the most charming and delightful pop goddess ever, not only drummed with grace, passion, and obvious delight, but worked overtime keeping her easily-distracted bandmates in line. Alex, in particular, would often get wrapped up in bantering with the audience and forget that he was supposed to start the next song; a few sharp words from Phoebe, though, and he'd be off again.
At their early Providence shows, they would often bring up a half-dozen or so of their friends to perform a hilariously inept choreographed dance-with-hand gestures to their theme song, "Suggestions". But for all the goofing around, they were, and are, incredibly tight. Playing without a setlist, they can play any of their songs on a moment's notice, and are adept enough to cope with any disaster. I've never seen a band handle such catastrophes as a broken string, a collapsing drum stand, or a wonky microphone with more panache.
Today, they sound a little different; they've "gone electric"! Alex finally gave up his beloved Martin, because it just didn't have the power and sustain he needed to fill the bottom. Dave switched to a real solid-body electric guitar, added a few pedals, and started to add some fuzzier and buzzier textures to his speedy jangle-pop sonic repertoire. Phoebe has a fully-functional drumkit unlike her old rattletraps. And they're not _quite_ as abandoned on stage. But their improved musicianship has allowed them to concentrate more on wringing the last drop of emotional expression out of their songs.
And unlike so many bands, who seem to exhaust themselves with their first album, or even their first single, Small Factory's songs are actually getting better. While there will always be a place in my heart for "Suggestions", "Scared of Love", "What To Want", "Happy To See", "If You Break My Heart", and all the others, and last year's wonderful "What About Love", "Junky On A Good Day", "I'm Not Giving Up", and the others off their first album _I Do Not Love You..._, the new songs have a deeper resonance in many ways. The childlike innocence has been replaced with a fuller expression of love and understanding. I think the fact that Alex is no longer romantically despondent has something to do with it, too! But if they're less innocent, they're still joyful and openhearted, never cynical.
Their first tour outside of the East Coast (excepting the short English tour) was in June 1992, with Fudge and The Dambuilders, as rotating headliners. They covered the entire US in the kind of booking nightmare familiar to all struggling indie bands, driving as much as 900 miles in a day. By the time they got to Seattle, where I saw them, it showed. They were tired, and though they wouldn't admit it, a little discouraged by the poor turnout in some cities. The indie grapevine hadn't really got the word out yet, and Seattle in particular was too absorbed in its own pathetic "scene" to pay much notice. When Small Factory took the stage at the Crocodile Cafe that night, there were perhaps four paying customers watching, while the trendoid bar attached to the club was full. Still, it was a fun night, even if the only mention they received in any media was a gratuitous slam ("Things we could do with less of: Fudge, the Dambuilders, Small Factory") in the local fanzine _Feminist Baseball_.
This year's tour has been a different story. While they are still struggling to keep to a punishing schedule, they're obviously having more fun, and the crowds are much better, and more enthusiastic. Some of the locals have heard the records, and like them, too. At the Crocodile Cafe again on November 3rd, with Seattle punk-poppers 66 Saints headlining and Australia's Swirl opening, there were 58! paying guests, and we liked them! I was slightly amazed to hear how developed Dave's guitar playing has gotten, and the whole band was tight and comfortable. And the new songs were wonderful. There still isn't quite the electricity in the air that still permeates their Providence and Boston shows, but they were honestly a great band that night.
And as always, they were a joy to talk to and hang out with. I don't know them really well, and I haven't lived anywhere near Providence in two years, but they are so naturally friendly and fun to be with that I've felt close to them all since the day I met them. Of course, like anyone with half a brain in his head (exactly half in my case), I have a terrific crush on Phoebe, but that's not a problem! They're very hip and funny, but unlike a lot of hipsters, they're warm and open too. I'll never forget the night Alex sobbed heartbreakingly in my arms (!) after a show in Boston (the aforementioned romantic despondency, brought to a peak by the then-new "If You Break My Heart" ("I'll smash up your fucking car")). Or the first time I met Phoebe, when she startled me a little by relating a risque brassiere story. Or the show in Providence I saw once, the night I caught food poisoning (campylobacter, don't get it), followed by a week of 105-degree fever and constant diarrhea.......
They're my favorite band.