Romeo Void

  • Romeo Void
  • Its a Condition (415) 1981 
  • Benefactor (415/Columbia) 1982 
  • Never Say Never (415/Columbia) 1982 
  • Instincts (415/Columbia) 1984 
  • Warm, in Your Coat (Columbia / Legacy) 1992 
  • Live From Mabuhay Garden: November 14, 1980 (Liberation Hall) 2023 
  • Debora Iyall
  • Strange Language (415/Columbia) 1986 

Walloping big-beat riffs with snaky sax and darkly intelligent lyrics characterized this San Francisco area dance/think combo. Native American artist-and-poet-turned- vocalist Debora Iyall uses her smoky, conversational voice to wax reflective on love and lust in these modern times; consistent with the band’s name, she sings not only of situations where love is absent, but also of when it should be absent.

Its a Condition introduced Romeo Void’s unique blend of jazz, funk, rock and confrontational poetry in its formative stages, the music a bit tentative and unfocused, especially in contrast with Iyall’s hard-edged lyrics. Never Say Never, a four-song EP co-produced by Ric Ocasek, gained the group significant airplay and sales, leading to the link between San Francisco independent 415 and the CBS megalith. It’s consequently no surprise that a truncated version of “Never Say Never” opens up Benefactor; as it turns out, that song proved to be more of a stylistic mold than might be considered healthy.

The most fully realized record of the bunch, Instincts boasts David Kahne’s rich, full-blooded production, top-notch playing and reprises of various stylistic avenues. “Just Too Easy” resembles “Never Say Never” and pairs Ben Bossi’s ace sax work with Iyall’s sardonic, spoken monologue; “A Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing)” touches a poppier, more melodic side; “Six Days and One” reverts to a spare, mainly rhythmic approach. Mixing strength with beauty, Romeo Void makes very special dance music for the mind.

A strange blend of unlikely people creating rather unsurprising music, Iyall’s solo album was produced by Pat Irwin, once a Lydia Lunch collaborator in 8 Eyed Spy and later a Raybeat. The cast includes Irwin (clarinet, sax, guitar, synth), Richard Sohl (pianist in the original Patti Smith Group) and others; Ben Bossi (sax) and Aaron Smith (drums) of Romeo Void also participate. Iyall obviously takes her poetry seriously; unfortunately, Irwin (co-writer of six tunes here) leads the musicians through underwhelming, blandly faceless rock backing that pointedly lacks Romeo Void’s atmospherics.

[Robert Payes]