Love Tractor, the Athens band that won a national rep with infectious art rock that frothed crowds of sweaty college dancers, played its first gig in the summer of 1980, a couple of months before I showed for my freshman year at the University of Georgia. Like a number of the bands that defined Athens in that era, the boys in Love Tractor came out of the art school. They were provocateurs, makers of spectacles, (p)imps of the perverse.
A frat boy, drunk on beach music, replaying Animal House in my head, I was slow on the uptake. By 1983, when I became a regular at the Uptown Lounge and the fancy new Broad Street location of the 40 Watt Club, R.E.M., born of the same moment and a comparable ethic, had achieved escape velocity. But Love Tractor, purveyors of a goofy kind of cool, darlings of music critics and the girls I wanted to date, still played Thursday nights in Athens clubs. Around the Bend, the band’s second album, released in 1983, added vocals to what had been an instrumental mix. Drinking and dancing and twirling in the front row, button-down untucked, the cuffs in my khakis sodden with party muck, I left the frat behind, if only for a moment.
Forty years later, I’m still that kid in the front row, slipping and sliding in the muck, turning those inscrutable lyrics and rhythms in my head. Pushing play on the newly remastered and rereleased version of Around the Bend, I recognize that, here in the streaming age, Love Tractor sounds just as contrapuntal and danceable as ever.
Below, watch the video for “Spin Your Partner” from Around the Bend in all its ’80s glory (and keep an eye out for some Athens landmarks). The fortieth anniversary edition of the album is out this Friday, September 1, and available to order here.