Human Switchboard

Coffee Break!

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Coffee Break! Review

by Mark Deming

Human Switchboard only released one studio album during their too-short career, Who's Landing in My Hangar?, and while it captures the nervous smarts of Bob Pfeifer's songwriting (as well as Myrna Marcarian's more measured but equally cynical tunes), it doesn't quite get the wired energy and emotional tension of the band's superb live shows on tape. So it's a good thing ROIR arranged for this cassette-only release of the band's November 8, 1981, live at Cleveland's Agora club, as broadcast on local FM radio outlet WMMS. While the live mix is a bit shaky in spots, and the band seems to be racing furiously through the songs in order to pack as much as possible into the allotted time, this performance is a solid 30-minute caffeine rush, and anyone who pegged Human Switchboard as just another Midwestern new wave band will get a clear picture of just how strong they could be on stage from Coffee Break!. Pfeifer's clipped, edgy vocals and bare-wire guitar work are buffered by the more inviting but no less urgent buzz of Marcarian's Farfisa organ and passionate vocals, and drummer Ron Metz and bassist Steve Calabaria were one hell of a rhythm section, able to hit hard and still swing while still keeping up with their bandmates. Coffee Break! also features several fine songs that didn't appear on Who's Landing In My Hangar?, making it all the more valuable as a portrait of a vital band who never received the hearing they deserved. Who's Landing remains the definitive Human Switchboard document, but Coffee Break! serves as a powerful reminder of their strengths as a live act. So when is someone going to put a decent Human Switchboard anthology on the market? It's not as if they don't deserve one.

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