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Friday, June 18, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Treepeople Stands Tall In Its Improved Live Act

Rock preview "Treepeople" with Crackerbash and Gorilla, at RKCNDY, 1812 Yale, tonight, 9 p.m. 623-0470. -------------------------------------------------------------------

Treepeople is one of those bands you need a scorecard to keep track of.

In the five years since Boise's State of Confusion became Treepeople and made Seattle home, guitarist and singer Scott Schmaljohn has remained the only constant. Two original members, Schmaljohn's brother Pat Brown and co-frontman Doug Martsch, have returned to Boise and started their own bands. Tony Reed, who "joined the band as a drummer, moved to bass after Brown left and switched to guitar and vocals after Martsch quit.

Surprisingly, the music hasn't changed much from its two-guitar, no-nonsense, honest, punk-pop origins. And now, Schmaljohn said that the latest line-up, heading a RKCNDY show tonight, is becoming something it's never been before: a great live band.

"I tend to get into the live part of the music more," Schmaljohn said. "The people who saw us in Boise last time (with the current line-up) said, compared to earlier shows we'd done, we blew those away. According to Schmaljohn, Martsch is more comfortable in the studio than he is on stage. Martsch left Treepeople because he disliked touring, and his new band, Built to Spill, rarely plays live.

"Doug prefers being in his bedroom with a four-track recorder," Schmaljohn said. "I like the unpredictability of a tour."

That's fortunate for them. Their latest album, "Just Kidding," has sold more than 10,000 copies since its February release on local label C/Z, and the band got enough exposure to do a national tour this past spring, mostly on their own name strength. They'll be back on the road next month to play at the New Music Seminar in New York, and they're planning a European tour in the fall. There's some major label interest as well, but Schmaljohn said that there's "no hurry" and they're happy with what C/Z's done for them.

Because the band is now based in Seattle, rock critics from other parts of the country classify them as grunge. One writer from Virginia's George Mason University went so far as to call the new album "everlasting grunge-tastic salvation."

But the grunge moniker is ridiculous. Treepeople arrived in Seattle before the grungecopter left the airport and never got lumped in with the movement by locals. Even now, Schmaljohn can't bring himself to say he's from Seattle.

"I still consider myself from Boise," he said. "When I see cops cracking down on the 12 o'clock curfew for teens in Boise, because the cops having nothing better to do, I'm reminded of why I left. But the music scene there is good; Boise's so isolated that bands don't really fall into a category there."

Because Treepeople one of the first Boise bands to approach "make it big" status, going home is a bit weird for Schmaljohn. "Last time we were there, kids recognized us on the street and said hi, and some people tried to give us the rock-star attitude stuff. But we're not into that."

Crackerbash is also scheduled to play RKCNDY tonight. The Portland trio specializes in a volatile form of punk rock with an on-stage presence to match. Even during their most sedate live shows, singer/guitarist Sean Croghan is in constant danger of propelling himself off or through the stage.

Gorilla, a long-ignored and reportedly solid local band, will also open.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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