Long Wong's Shadow: Concerning a Band Without a Name and the New Wong's
Around midnight on a recent Saturday, Jack Maverik gets a text message from a friend. A few minutes later, he gets another one. Then another. While getting three texts in a row is not remarkable for Maverik, the general manager of the new Long Wong's in Tempe, the reason is. All three messages are about a band on stage, and all three are from people who want to know who these guys are, since they seemingly came from out of nowhere.
"It was unique," Maverik says. "I have been [doing] shows in the Valley for over six years, and I see about 15 acts a week, easily, and never have I gotten quite the reaction I do when they play."
One text even goes so far as to call the band the sender's "new favorite."
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This band is new. Really new. So new that they have no recorded music and are still looking for a permanent keyboardist. And, oh, yeah, they don't really have a name yet. But they've quickly established themselves as a favorite at the venue, which might, in turn, establish itself as the rightful successor to the legendary Mill Avenue club of the same name that birthed bands like Gin Blossoms.
Not that anyone wants to talk about that stuff. Maybe it's scenester politicking — people involved with the old venue are a little touchy about the new venue — but the people who run the new Long Wong's don't want to be compared to the old Long Wong's, Maverik says.
"You can't try to repeat it. You can't actively go after it," he says. "It was a time and a place. I only really give a shit if people have fun here."
Still, it's not ridiculous to ask: Does the new Long Wong's on Apache Boulevard have any chance of becoming an institution like the old Long Wong's? It's an uphill battle, sure, but if that's going to happen anytime soon, it will be because bands like this — good bands — win a loyal audience that shows up to watch them play regularly.
But, first, a name.
"We're pretty set on Future Loves Past," vocalist and auxiliary percussionist Sarah Hibner says. "We'll probably stick with it."
This band changes names like most people change socks, and it's become a running joke with members and their new fans. Among their names: Giant Crystal Scorpion, Cuteness (for about 45 minutes), Good Luck Past, and most recently, Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes, a name that fans have taken a liking to, even defiantly singing the famous children's song to them on stage when they call themselves anything else. During one of their performances, the band called themselves Mike's White Shoes, after guitarist Mike Anderson's footwear that evening.
For now, though, they seem to have taken a shine to Future Loves Past, which is a lyric from a song written by bassist Eric Palmer. Hibner, particularly, likes the name because of the openness and sense of fluidity it evokes. She says if they need to add members, they can; if they want to change their style, they can; and if they want to experiment with different sounds, they can. The name Future Loves Past is "open-ended. It reflects on the nature of the band and trying to embrace and remain open to everything, not just music."
When Future Loves Past plays, their sound is almost all-encompassing. Think neo-soul meets '70s rock, with a nod to current indie trends from bands like Yeasayer and Local Natives. It borrows lovingly from all genres and blends them together in a straightforward way that's easy to relate to and digest.
The band came together after Palmer and guitar player/vocalist Tristan DeDe had disintegrated another band of theirs, Indias, and decided to start something new. Maverik needed to fill a performance slot one night and had worked with Indias in the past, so he asked them to play.
"When I took over at Long Wong's, I booked Indias and they just killed it," he says. "They packed the place, played great, were cool dudes to hang out with. One day I had a show opening and I needed a band. I called Eric Palmer, but Indias' drummer was in China for work. So he said 'I'm throwing together this side project. We'll play. It'll be awesome.' I figured any band thrown together in one week was probably going to be pretty awful, so I put them on late that night and hoped for the best."
And much to Maverik's surprise, the texts started rolling in.
Palmer attributes their instant positive reception to the fact that their music makes a nice soundtrack to a night at the bar: upbeat, easily interpreted, fun.
"We have a huge mix of songs to pull from that we've written in the past," DeDe, the singer, says. "Eric and I have been playing for three years together, and [with Future Loves Past] we have the right mix of people."
The band does seem to have a communal approach to their music, with members pulling double duty on instruments and vocals. That spirit of relaxed, open collaboration is what Long Wong's, which has been open for about seven months, is hoping to build a scene around. One aspect of the old Long Wong's that the new Long Wong's wants to have is a reputation for nurturing the bands that played there, says Maverik.
That's why a band like Future Loves Past is a perfect poster child for the place.
"We want to help bands out with food, drinks, jobs, and just a place to hang out. That's the only thing I took from (the old Long Wong's)," Maverik says.
Palmer, the FLP bassist who actually does work in the kitchen at Long Wong's, concurs.
"It's not part of a 'scene' that you would see at other places. You can come here and not be judged," he says, while sipping a whiskey sour on the bar's patio. "It's not pretentious; people of all types come here."
"I always know I'll see a familiar face when I go to Wong's. If you go into that place with open arms, you'll make friends and have a great time," DeDe says. "We're proud to be a part of what's going on there."
Aside from striving to be a place where artists can grow and find a home, Maverik is forgoingsome parts of the old Long Wong's business model. He's trying to pull a few pages out of the playbook used by Tempe's Yucca Tap Room, which has music every night and never charges a cover.
"It seems counterintuitive to charge a cover when you're a new band," Hibner says.
Palmer agrees: "It's like begging your friends for money."
So far, so good. The synergy between the band and the venue was on display late last month, when the band played a late-night weekend show. They took the stage in front of a youngish crowd at nearly 1 a.m. and played until after last call.
Maverik's hype isn't an oversell: The audience was rapt. People crowded the area in front of the stage to watch and dance, and one of the bartenders sang along to the songs.
The night unfolded like a scene from the Tempe scene's past: Maverik bought the band several rounds and the band took shots between songs. There's a palpable connection between the bar, the band, and the crowd.
Nights like these breed loyalty, camaraderie, a scene. Just ask the band.
"The regulars know us, the people in other bands know us, and even if we were offered twice as much money to play somewhere else, we'd still play at Long Wong's," Palmer says.
That's a start, anyway.
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