Garage A Go-Go

On a Saturday night in mid-July, the Paper Heart is in a groovy time warp. Tonight is the second evening of a special two-day celebration of Russ Meyer's 1970 cult classic movie Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which chronicles the chaotic rise and fall of a fictional female rock band in psychedelic 1960s Los Angeles.

After the movie, a new local band called The Love Me Nots is supposed to take the stage. The audience looks promising until promoters mention an after-party with the film's stars at a downtown hotel. The announcement clears out a huge chunk of the crowd.

Even if people hadn't known there was a band playing tonight, they've noticed the two hot chicks with bouffants in black-and-white dresses and go-go boots. The women — singer and organ keyboardist Nicole (just "Nicole," as in just Cher or just Madonna) and bassist Christina Nuñez — comprise the estro-half of The Love Me Nots, and they're the most authentic-looking people at this psychedelic-era event. Amazingly, more than a few people have mistaken the twentysomething women as stars of the 36-year-old film.

By the time the band starts setting up equipment onstage, there are only about 30 people left in the audience.

"Hello, everyone, we're The Love Me Nots," Nicole announces from the stage. "And this is our first Phoenix show. Sort of."

The band played its first-ever show at the Surly Wench in Tucson the previous night.

The Love Me Nots launch into the first song of the set, "Move In Tight," with Nicole pounding away at her keyboard and Nuñez coolly stomping around the stage in her boot heels. Drummer Jay Lien looks like a punk rock Muppet behind his glittery blue drum set; his curly, disheveled black hair flops around his face while he bounces in his drum seat like a rubber ball on a paddle. Guitarist Michael Johnny Walker, a strapping 6'1" six-string slinger with a taste for vintage guitars, leans into every solo with passion.

After the song, someone in the small crowd enthusiastically screams out, "YEAH!"

Nicole leans into the microphone and responds with a sexy, husky, "Yeah . . . fuck yeah . . . ," which produces an aroused silence from the audience.

Band members and critics have alternately described The Love Me Nots' tunes as "spy mod go-go," "psychedelic surf fuzz," "garage rock," and various hyphenations thereof. Whatever you want to call it, the band's music is fun and fast — most songs clock in at around three minutes, and taken as a whole, the group's set is much like a 30-minute magic carpet ride through the hipper-than-hippie '60s, with listeners flying over New York on colorful polka dots alongside Nancy Sinatra, instead of over San Francisco on tie-dye with Jerry Garcia.

The songs are short, sweet ditties with as much bop-and-pomp as anything Phil Spector produced in the '60s, but right now, everybody's transfixed on the females onstage. When The Love Me Nots finish their 30-minute set, a handful of guys wrangle their way through the late-night traffic inside the venue to get to the gals and congratulate them on a great set.

At the end of this month, The Love Me Nots will fly to Detroit to record the band's debut CD with renowned producer Jim Diamond, a former bass player for The Dirtbombs who's produced such influential garage revival acts as The White Stripes, The Gore Gore Girls, and The Go. After that, the band plans to shoot its first video with Tim Gassen of Purple Cactus Media, author and producer of The Knights of Fuzz book series and DVDs, which chronicle the garage and psychedelic revival from the early 1980s on. In October, the band will play at Los Angeles' famous "Club Au-Go-Go," the city's longest-running '60s night.

The band's demos are already getting airplay in the U.K., and the group's gained a lot of fans — not to mention valuable industry contacts — on MySpace.com, a site that's quickly become one of the best marketing tools for indie and unsigned bands in the Digital Age.

The Love Me Nots might be on the verge of a breakout. Or a breakup. The truth is, nobody knows what's really going to happen. After all, this band was just supposed to be a "side project."

As of this writing, The Love Me Nots have been together for barely four months. But all four members of the band have histories in the local music scene. Together, they've clocked in several hundred hours on local stages.

Nicole's first foray into the local rock scene was as the singer and keyboardist in the '80s-sounding mod rock group Blue Fur (currently on hiatus), a band known for playing massive amounts of gigs — sometimes more than one a day. "We'd basically play anywhere, anytime, for free," Nicole says.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea