Neil Sedaka was wrong. Breaking up isn't hard to do, provided you do it right.
When Love Riot bade farewell to its fans at Fletcher's in Fells Point last weekend, the band said goodbye the way it knew best -- by having a party. The show doubled as the band's annual Christmas bash, and it boasted all the usual trimmings: a few sweetly rocking Christmas songs; presents for those who could answer "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" trivia questions; and bags of fake snow, gleefully tossed by band and fans alike.
But when it was over, it really was over. Love Riot, a staple of the Baltimore music scene since 1993, was calling it quits. Lisa Mathews, the auburn-haired singer and guitarist who stood at the band's helm, prefers not to say the band is "breaking up." She'd rather suggest that it's come to "a kind of closure." It's not the usual language, but then, Love Riot doesn't have the usual reasons for hanging it up. There was no great bickering or tension within the band, none of the behavior usually euphemized as "artistic differences." Instead, Mathews and her husband, Miles Anderson, are expecting, and with the baby due in June, Mathews felt it was time she gave up the full-time job Love Riot had become. "We've done a lot," says Mathews, looking back. "It was a good run."
In the course of its six-year existence, Love Riot released three albums, including last year's lustrous "Heaven Can Wait," and two EPs (a final EP will be available through the band's Web site, www.loveriot.com, in February). The band also appeared in an Emmy-nominated episode of "Homicide," and Love Riot songs were on the soundtracks of several other episodes, as well as on "JAG" and the soap opera "Passions." And way back in 1994, the band beat out 2,500 other bands from around the globe to win the Yamaha Music Quest competition in Japan.
A good run, indeed.
Love Riot's roots go back to Beyond Words, the band that brought Mathews to Baltimore. That was where she met guitarist Mikel Gehl and bassist Mark Evanko. When Beyond Words ran out of steam, the three continued to write and play together, eventually adding violinist Willem Elzivir to make Love Riot. Violin, acoustic guitar, bass and vocals was hardly a classic rock and roll line-up. But thanks to good songwriting, dynamic instrumental interplay and Mathews' warm, powerful voice, Love Riot made it work.
Over time, the band's sound grew louder and more rhythmic. Ron Campbell joined on drums (an instrument he played while standing), and Mathews frequently strapped on an electric guitar to augment Gehl's acoustic work. Love Riot's music was bright, polished and accessible, and the band's first nationally released album, "Maybe She Will," drew praise from the Boston Globe to Musician magazine. (A disclosure: This writer was responsible for the album's liner notes.)
But what set Love Riot apart wasn't its ability to win contests or earn flattering reviews. It was the undeniably infectious joy the five spread from the stage. When the band played at one of the city's many outdoor festivals, there was generally a smile on the face of anyone within earshot, and it wasn't unusual to see whole families grooving to the music. There really was a love riot goin' on. "I think that's the stuff I'll really miss, the festivals in Baltimore," says Mathews.
Not that she or anyone else in the band will be giving up music. Campbell is already drumming with the Kennedys, and plans to begin work on a solo album. Elzivir will record an album of acoustic instrumental music with Gehl, and may join roots rocker Billy Kemp. Evanko, who is also considering offers, will marry in April.
Mathews will continue to write with Gehl and Evanko, as well as others, and plans to focus on doing more jingle work (that's her voice you've been hearing on those Giant Food ads). "The music making will continue," she says. "And who knows? There are bands that get back together after several years, and it's great."