By Bob McMahon
By Allison Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
Two local bands are joining forces for a two-week tour this month. The Fantasy Four, temporarily augmented by Sexicolor guitarist Jason Hutto, and the Julia Sets have lined up a bunch of gigs in the Midwest and on the East Coast, including a midnight show at the legendary CBGB's in NYC. On Oct. 17 -- the night before they leave for their first stop, Champaign, Ill.-- both groups will play a farewell gig at Frederick's Music Lounge, where they'll sell a split CD they burned especially for the tour.
Radar Station has an advance of the disc, and it's a winner. The Fantasy Four tracks are delectable slabs of garage pop: fuzzy guitars frosted with girl-group harmonies and punctuated by infectious handclaps and yeahs. "Your Mirrors Must Be Mad" is the best song singer/guitarist Marcia Pandolfi has ever written, a touching ode to an insecure friend: "Sweetheart, you're just fine/There's nothing wrong with you ... Your mirrors must be mad/Let the circus have them back." Pandolfi and bassist Karen Stephens trade off sweet contrapuntal vocal lines, culminating in a swoon-inducing chorus of bah-bah-bahs sung by all three members in cascading three-part harmony. Wisely recognizing that too much flash would detract from the band's sunny '60s-AM tone, drummer Jeff Hess maintains a light and springy Ringo-like touch. Stephens' "Hometown Rock Star" is a kicky paean to a dreamy local rock guy unironically devoted to rock & roll. (Rumor has it that Hutto was the inspiration, although Stephens sometimes dedicates the song in concert to her husband, Tom -- a.k.a. Rip Lightning -- of the Golden Spiderz).
The Julia Sets numbers are shimmering and intricate guitar rock in the tradition of Luna and the Red House Painters. The jauntiest track, "Burn St. Louis, Burn" jangles prettily, and "Against Anorexia," which clocks in at an impressive nine minutes and 45 seconds, drones hypnotically, with crashing cymbals and moody, low-key vocals. Guitarist/singer James Weber Jr. obviously likes his effects pedals, but he knows when to lie low and when to let loose, which prevents the group from devolving into art-wankery.
Although they don't sound much alike, the Fantasy Four and the Julia Sets make for an interesting double bill. "I think there's enough melodic stuff in both bands that we could appeal to a crossover audience," Pandolfi says. (In the interest of full disclosure, she's a good friend of Radar Station's, but don't let her bad taste in companions influence your opinion.) The main reason the two bands are touring together, though, is that Julia Sets bassist Matt Harnish used to be in a band with Stephens -- the late, lamented Bunnygrunt, which toured extensively during its too-brief existence, even making it to Japan before splitting up. "Karen was, like, 'I don't know if I could do a tour without Matt. He keeps me from having a nervous breakdown,'" Pandolfi recounts with a giggle. Hutto will be driving his van, and they'll take an additional car to accommodate all seven members. They've got a few places lined up to sleep, but they're winging it for much of the tour, relying on the kindness of strangers and the occasional cramped hotel room. Says the ever-game Pandolfi: "I think a lot of these gigs will be for punk-rock kids with punk-rock houses, and they'll let us stay on their floors -- and one or two of us could sleep in the van, probably."
On Nov. 2, both bands celebrate their triumphant return with a show at the Way Out Club. Odds are they'll be road-weary but tighter than ever; don't miss the chance to welcome them home.
A couple of weeks ago, at Frederick's Music Lounge, Radar Station witnessed a most amusing and inventive act of audience participation (and, no, Beatle Bob wasn't involved). As Sexicolor played their raucous finale, "Wear My Pants," a man dressed in a fuzzy chicken suit (complete with mask and rubber claw feet) hopped onto the bar in front of the stage, accompanied by two brunettes. The self-proclaimed "Wear My Pants Dancers" gyrated and boogied, making hokey hand gestures like psychotic Supremes, then tore off their pants and threw them into the flabbergasted audience. We asked their ringleader, Scott Charles Amendola, what possessed him and his foxy cohorts, Anna and Lara Sturgis, to make such a delightful spectacle of themselves. Here's what he told us: "When I first listened to the CD [The Look and Feel of Sexicolor] in my car, I was pleasantly surprised by the last track, 'Wear My Pants.' I couldn't help but move to it, doing a little dance in my seat, even though I was driving at the time and other motorists were concerned by my behavior.
"A week or so later, I was talking to Jason Hutto. He told me what his inspiration had been and confirmed that it was intended as a double entendre: 'Wear my pants' and 'Where's my pants?' I told him that I was itching to choreograph and perform a dance that conveyed this double meaning -- and that involved tear-away track pants -- and he approved." When asked to describe his choreographic concept, Amendola cites three major influences: "The 'Time Warp' dance from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the dance performed by Morris Day and the Time for their song 'Jungle Love' and the performance of the fictitious Torrance Community Dance Group for Fatboy Slim's song 'Praise You.' Actually, I had a fourth thing in mind: not falling off the extremely narrow drink rail in front of the stage."