By Jim Schutze
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The rain bombs out the street before Peter Thomas, and he wonders if the adverse weather will significantly affect the turnout this Saturday night. He and two bandmates, Aaron Lyons and Mark Sodders, stand under the overhang of the Dogstar, one of the few dives where a local band can play in this foreign land called Fort Worth.
If you saw them together at Trees as Slow Roosevelt on Halloween night--when they performed their killer take of "Greased Lightning" at the release party for Sandy Does Dallas (the CD on which local bands cover the Grease motion picture soundtrack)--you wouldn't recognize them by the Dogstar's door. Based on the performance and the sound of Starving St. Nick, their debut album, you'd expect guys who looked...well, meaner.
Instead there was Thomas, 29, in the kind of tan sweater that your dad or grandpa might wear. And, ironically, without his glasses, he looks unassuming in an uncontrived "geek-chic" sort of way. On stage, though, his frame transforms from gawky to twisted. He doesn't just sing into the microphone--he takes command of it, often yelling into it with a megaphone. Screaming "God hates you, God hates you, he told me!" ("Machine Head"), Thomas brings to mind that quiet guy in high school who, upon snatching away the coach's megaphone and commandeering the P.A. at a pep rally, has gone majorly nutball.
With their broad builds, Lyons, 25, and Sodders, 26--carrying Slow Roosevelt's rapid rhythms on drums and bass, respectively--could be two of the school's linebackers who have joined Thomas in pissing off the faculty. The fourth guy in the band--guitarist Scott Minyard, 29--would be the "freak." After all, he's the one with the long hair.
As formidable as this mismatched crew is live, they're subdued when talking in a bar across the street from the Dogstar. Obnoxiously loud patrons playing pool near us periodically drown out conversation; Thomas' megaphone would have come in handy.
Although the necessary elements (good songs, talent, personality) converge favorably in Slow Roosevelt, lending the feeling that it's only a matter of time--and some luck--before they hit it big, there are currently no talent scouts scoping them out or major deals in the works. Right now the band is merely trying to put together a wider-ranging tour schedule in support of St. Nick, released by local label One Ton in October. It's this same something that you could already sense in Vibrolux or the Old 97's before they got signed away to the music machine. Three years ago, the Toadies had that something, too, despite the ups and downs they had to endure before going on to sell a million CDs.
The members of Slow Roosevelt are notably cautious in their reactions to this kind of talk. Thomas has heard it before, when he was in Last Rites, a Denton funk-rock act he sang for during the New Bohemians era. "A lot of people definitely looked for Last Rites to put Dallas on the map--kind of like the New Bohemians," he says. That, of course, never happened.
Though in existence for only 18 months, Slow Roosevelt has already achieved a confident, consistently catchy and identifiable sound. Imagine the energy and smartass attitude of punk, fueling the thunder of heavy metal--good heavy metal, classic Metallica before the band devolved the slow, turgid, "fat" sound it has today. The driving beat, built up by Minyard's guitar and Sodders' bass, makes the music a series of orchestrated outbursts that grind into your gut, complementing Thomas as he sings "Felt like you kind of hit pavement." On stage, Thomas looks edgy, twitching sporadically and itching the back of his neck before unexpectedly lunging at the audience. His voice is heavier, thicker, and more forceful without the megaphone; it's as if the stage is too small to contain the energy that festers inside him.
The band rarely meanders; songs like "Alabama Man," "Damn Fine Mule," and "Greased Lightning" are akin to electric storms: Thunder rumbles, unexpectedly breaks into lightning, and suddenly you find yourself caught in a nasty hailstorm. The band's aggressive and angry sound tends to mask the sarcasm behind lyrics like "God hates you" (a quote that has gotten their T-shirts banned at a local high school). The band also took heat from local metal scene 'zine Harder Beat for lyrics in "Detective Head" in which Thomas declares, "I say rock 'n' roll is dead, so you should send some flowers and get over it."
When the band produced self-mocking promo stickers--one declared Slow Roosevelt the "8th best" local band--some people took it to mean that the band considered themselves one of the 10 best (another stated "Mean People Rule"). In response, other stickers were printed: "Slow Roosevelt: Your band sucks."
They're just kidding about all of this, Slow Roosevelt insists. If anything, Thomas says, their attitude is "anti-mean," and his humor and performance are definitely inspired by what he calls the attitude of "over-dramatic, bloated musicians who just make me ill." Thomas has the most local music experience of any band member: Before Last Rites, he sang for Green Engine, a local act that was like Last Rites "minus the funk." As a teenager, he hung out in the Dallas punk scene during the era of the long-gone Twilite Room and Circle A Ranch in the early '80s.
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