By New Times
By Derek Askey
By Mark Deming
By Serene Dominic
By Jason Keil
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Jeff Moses
By Serene Dominic
That's a salient point, commander.
After playing '80s covers as the Space Patrol in the mid-'90s, the Phenomenauts as we know them began as a guerrilla-type street performance act. They would set up battery-powered equipment in front of key venues and shows (the latest came last April 27 at Oakland's California Music Awards) that allowed them to play a few songs before clueless security guards found a way to force them to "retreat."
"They try to unplug us, but they can't figure out how," the Commander says. "It's because there is nothing to unplug!" Word of mouth spread, and the Phenomenauts became a full-fledged rock 'n' roll band with a growing cult in California.
"I'm the guy with the hair," says Commander Nova, the lead singer/guitarist in charge of "maintenance of equipment and Phenomabomber sub-systems." He's also the Elvis answer to the higher-pitched Corporal Joe Bot, who also sings, plays guitar and is the "thermaratorhelitron operator," or the guy who plays the Therimatic Helmerator (you know, a skateboard helmet with a wireless theremin attached to it). Major Jimmy Boom, the drummer, is the "helmsman and syncopation officer," and Captain Chreehos is the "low end spectral output officer" (he takes care of the standup bass). Offstage you have Professor Greg Arious ("effects and ladies' man") and the intriguing Colonel Reehotch ("Top Secret").
"There's definitely a romance between sci-fi and rock 'n' roll," says the Commander. "Sci-fi got really big at the same time [rock 'n' roll] got really big." But, needless to say, a vital part of the band's mission is to keep that romance in a proudly independent basis. Or something like that.
"The Phenomenauts are on our own label," continues Commander Nova. "We play all our own instruments, write all our own songs, and build our own effects. We recorded the album ourselves and did all the graphics ourselves because that is what the Phenomenauts are all about and that will never change. Unless, of course, we get a big fat paycheck from a major label."
But before that happens, the Phenomenauts face one more tough challenge. Phoenix is the home of Killbot ("a robot programmed to kill," they say), a ferocious nonstop instrumental metal machine. No time for clapping -- once the 40-minute set is over, Killbot is offline, no encore. Killbot is equal parts power trio, lights, smoke, wires, tubes, junk from a nearby alley, masks, a projected video backdrop of robots, a video game footage, and a lunatic selection of special sound effects like the Alien Fart, Martian Mind Ray, and Plasma Cannon.
"When you go see Killbot, it's like going to the movies, except there's beer," says guitarist Bob Bot, who has a message for the West Coast invaders. "The Phenomenauts? Ha! More like the Phenome-NOTS! We're not afraid of anyone whose diet consists mostly of government moon cheese."
Commander Nova's official reply suggests the Phenomenauts prefer to let the Streamerator speak for itself.
"Alien Fart, huh? I'd love to hear that."