Seems Like Old Times

Back together after a decade of ups and downs, Dead Hot Workshop tries to restore its legacy

Since signing on with the popular Valley outfit, Larson has attained the kind of commercial success and mainstream adulation that had eluded him before.

Buoyed by the experience and freedom of his new band, Larson finally felt comfortable enough to forget, or at least set aside, his lingering reservations and consider a reunion with Dead Hot Workshop.

In the interim, much had changed for the other members as well. Babb, for one, found that his overwhelming desire to perform -- something that had nearly cost the band its hard-earned reputation -- had subsided. "After we stopped playing with Whitey and Steve, I thought I'd miss [playing out]. And, to tell you the truth, I really don't," he says.

Dead Hot revisited: From left, Brent Babb, Curtis Grippe, Steve Larson and G. Brian Scott.
Timothy Archibald
Dead Hot revisited: From left, Brent Babb, Curtis Grippe, Steve Larson and G. Brian Scott.
We could all wear ripped-up clothes: Dead Hot Workshop onstage at Tony's New Yorker in the early '90s.
We could all wear ripped-up clothes: Dead Hot Workshop onstage at Tony's New Yorker in the early '90s.


Scheduled to perform with Gloritone, and Jamal Ruhe on Saturday, November 4. Showtime is 9 p.m.
Nita's Hideaway in Tempe

Part of this newfound view is born of his increasing involvement in the world of desktop recording. Babb's unbridled creativity has found a fresh outlet in composing hard-drive symphonies and blending his traditional songwriting with the flourishes of electronic music.

Meanwhile, Grippe sought out Scott to reestablish their once-solid bond. Jamming together, hanging out, the drummer helped his crestfallen friend emerge from the ghetto of addiction and back into the world of music.

And so, when an offer came in earnest to stage a one-off reunion, the four men accepted. Quietly, a November 4 date was announced for Nita's Hideaway, with a secret warm-up gig planned for Long Wong's a few weeks earlier.

Personally and professionally, the decks had been cleared. The members agreed that there would be no conditions to this reunion, no game plan to adhere to. The only goal would be to erase the lingering memory of the group's long fall. And to give it, as Babb might say, "the old college try."

It's early Monday evening and Nita's Hideaway is freezing cold. Outside, a light drizzle is softly pelting the roof of the club. Weeknight business is usually slow. The regular happy-hour clientele -- a smattering of carnies and construction workers -- has been chased out and the doors locked. All that remain are a couple of curious onlookers flashing broad smiles at what they hear.

Onstage, Dead Hot Workshop is in the midst of a final rehearsal before its official reunion date.

For the next three hours, they will run through a catalogue of 40 songs, honing individual parts and solidifying their sound, occasionally collapsing in fits of laughter or debate.

They end with "257," one of their earliest numbers. Amid the wall of cascading guitars, the piece shows what daring mélangists they are, combining dystopian country with oracular rock. The spiraling architecture of the songs, the dissident themes, the acid whir of wit remain intact. Watching it unfold is enough to make even the most sour-faced skeptic feel alive with the power of the music.

The rehearsals and tune-up gig have given the band renewed confidence. Further plans have been made. The upcoming show will be recorded for a live disc. There is also talk of working on a studio album, a second volume of Old Favorites & New.

Much of this, and any future efforts, depends on Larson's hectic schedule. The Peacemakers will be making their own record soon; extended touring is expected to follow.

While he ultimately holds the cards to the group's activities, the guitarist knows the real attraction of the band doesn't rest in the hands of any one member. "When people come to see us now, I know they're not coming just because I'm playing -- they want to see the four of us. It's the four of us being together that's really important. I don't have any illusions about that."

Much of the talk surrounding the group has focused on its local legacy -- one that's grown exponentially with time. Even 12 years after forming, Dead Hot's sound and style -- low-slung guitars, minor-key ruminations, crunching country chords -- are still being copied by each successive generation of Valley bands.

Larson's assessment of Dead Hot's stature is predictably guarded. "I never thought we were a great band. I thought we were a really cool, unique band with some really great moments. Maybe one out of every five or 10 shows would just stick out and I'd think, 'My God, this is it. This is why I play music.' That's why I stayed with the band so long -- because of those great moments. I guess that's part of why I'm doing this."

For Scott, the band's meaning has not been sullied by concerns of what might've been.

"The big thing is we're all still together and still alive -- and that the music's still intact. I consider that a success," he says. "Sure, it's too bad it didn't work out the way it's supposed to in the fairytale books, but that's all right."

"For us, the band was a dream come true in some ways and the heartbreak of our lives in other ways," says Grippe. "It's a very sentimental thing. But I would feel perfectly fulfilled and at ease if it ended tomorrow."

"That last gig at Long Wong's had a lot to do with that. I felt like we had something to prove, and we did. It really hit me at the end of the night listening to the audience's response. I realized they weren't just applauding for the last 45 minutes, they were applauding for the last 12 years. That was the difference . . . ," he says, trailing off. His voice choked with emotion, Grippe repeats the last part in a hushed whisper, "Yeah, man, that was for the last 12 years."

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