LIVE SHOTS

Dag, and Mother May I
Neeb Hall, Arizona State University campus, Tempe
February 22, 1995

If you ever thought that being signed to a major label was the ticket to Easy Street, you should have made it to this show, a double helping of rising acts recently inked to majors. But that status doesn't mean a big paycheck. It doesn't mean anyone will actually show up at the gig. And it certainly doesn't mean that sound men are going to reach into their hearts and come up with anything as effusive as respect.

Just ask Damon Hennessey, lead singer/guitarist for Mother May I. During sound check, Hennessey had the temerity to ask a technician from Sound City Ltd. (the company providing sound that night) if something could be done about the monitors. The succinct, professional reply was this: "I'm not going to mangle the mix for a fuckin' opening act." Gosh, twiddling knobs can really get to a guy.

If abusive technicians weren't enough, both Mother May I and Dag found themselves looking out at a very large, very empty auditorium. Who'da thunk it? The tour was sponsored by Sony, Rolling Stone magazine and Nike, three megapowers showcasing the groups at colleges across the country. Captive audiences, right? Look at ASU: With an enrollment of almost 50,000 students, most of them under 21 (not counting fake IDs), and a $3 cover charge, the place should have been packed, right? Exactly .05 percent of the student population showed up. That's 25 people. Not counting the guy selling shoes and shirts made from hemp.

Yet the bands were undaunted. In the case of hooks-and-brimstone Mother May I, at least, call it Pure Pop for No People. Either these guys were immune to the sight of 300 empty lecture-hall seats (complete with little folding desks and complimentary Dag promotional plastic cups) or they had great imaginations. Look into the red spotlight real hard and you just might see a sweating, worshipful throng. . . . Whatever the case, the band ripped through a set of blistering songs that go a long way toward putting the power back into power pop.

Wearing his influences very clearly on his sleeve, Hennessey led the band (now sans former Feedbag and cover-band namesake David Swafford) through a series of songs that hearken back to a time when Cheap Trick ruled the airwaves in the States and the Jam was king of the British Isles. Very loud, meaty guitar, cannon-shot drumming, heavy bass and solid harmonies. The songs from MMI's new CD, Splitsville, follow this simple formula, and MMI drew heavily from the album. The best songs, "In a Box," "Painted On" and "Teenage Jesus," were enough to get one member of the intimate gathering, a guy who had probably never seen the front row of a lecture hall, up and dancing. It was sort of a one-man mosh pit. The band ended its set with the very Wholike single "In Between" before launching into the genuine article's paean to masturbation, "Pictures of Lilly."

Fortunately for the second act, Dag, most of the, er . . . crowd stayed in its seats while the Raleigh, North Carolina, five-piece served up a mix of funk and R&B. Unlike most white-boy, alternative-funk acts, the band's influences go a little further back than the Red Hot Chili Peppers, thankfully drawing from the likes of Earth, Wind and Fire, James Brown and the funkier side of Stevie Wonder. The only thing missing was the horns. Singer/bassist Bobby Patterson is a small guy who, judging by looks alone, would be picked least likely to front a funk band; but once he strapped on his bass, you would swear he was born to play this stuff. In songs like "Plow" and "Lovely Jane," he gave the band a bottom end that seemed to go deep enough to hit water. Oddly, despite the irresistible groove Dag slapped out, the lonely dancing guy inexplicably sat down. Perhaps his course at the Michael Stipe School of Dance hasn't gotten to soul yet.

After its final song, Dag received as thunderous an ovation as two dozen people could muster, but when the lights came up, the mystical rock juju disappeared. The hemp man was long gone, a college volunteer collected the souvenir plastic cups and our favorite sound guy was left to get Neeb Hall ready for the next day's lecture. Yeah, this is rock 'n' roll.--Dave Purcell

Sebadoh, Pine Wyatt, Jimmy Eat World, and Lower Case
Nile Theater, Mesa
February 18, 1995

You've gotta love going to all-ages shows. Where else can you see people playing tag between sets or the vicious brand of circle slam-dancing that's equal parts ring-around-the-rosey and Altamont? Though the body-checking youngsters seemed not to care where their limbs landed, it was a surprise to see at least half the crowd wearing Day-Glo earplugs. Real tough punks. Maybe they were saving the top end of their hearing for the evening's headliner, Sebadoh. If so, they missed the other three bands, groups that produced some of the best sounds of the night.

Local power trio Pine Wyatt performs at many of the area's all-ages shows, and is expert at keeping kids with short attention spans rapt. Like speeding up and slowing down. The band's opener, "Dragon Shit," had at least 22 tempo changes, and that's a conservative estimate. That the band somehow managed to come back on beat most of the time is largely because of the sensational, shamanistic drumming of Peter Schmidt. Most front men in this town don't utilize a tenth of Schmidt's emotional gamut. In the band's more frantic musical moments, when both guitarist John Hofmann and bassist Ryan Kennedy turned their backs to the audience to pull feedback duty, Schmidt may as well have been the front man, anyway.

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