By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Bobgoblin's appearance at this year's EdgeFest should have been the finest moment of the band's five-year career, proof that the band's uphill struggle against apathetic audiences and an indifferent record label was worth it. Worth the indignity of playing shows to four walls and a couple of bouncers on a Wednesday night in Iowa. Worth the humiliation of touring to support an album that its label, MCA Records, refused to promote. There they were, standing on a makeshift stage at a makeshift venue--the new Amphitheatre at The Ballpark in Arlington--playing to a crowd of more than 27,000 people, probably more people than have seen them during their entire career combined. The band made the most of this rare moment in the spotlight, putting on one of its best performances ever, leaving everything it had on that rickety stage. It was a career-defining show, a chance for these perennial losers to become winners, a chance for a new beginning.
And in a way, it was a new beginning, just not for Bobgoblin.
No, on May 17, 1998, Bobgoblin passed away, a victim of too many years of neglect and unfulfilled promises. Just as it intended, the band's performance at EdgeFest was a thrilling farewell, an opportunity for Bobgoblin to burn out as it faded away. When the band took the stage that Sunday afternoon, it knew it would be for the last time. There would be no more shows, no more numbered jumpsuits, no more Black Market Party. The revolution was over, stopped before it ever started.
Yet while Bobgoblin no longer exists, the members of the band--singer Hop Manski, drummer Rob Avsharian, guitarist Jason Weisenburg, and bassist Tony Janotta--remain together, reassembled as a new band, the Commercials. Though still being billed as Bobgoblin, the new incarnation makes its debut at the Curtain Club on September 11. It was a transition born partly out of inspiration and partly out of frustration.
"We had been recording some new songs that didn't sound like Bobgoblin to me," says Manski. "To me, Bobgoblin existed in sort of a conceptual world. That was how it was started, and that's the way we wanted to keep it. The new songs didn't seem to fit into that world. To play them as Bobgoblin would almost taint that world in a way, and we didn't want to do that. Plus, we wanted to get rid of all the bad vibes from MCA.
"But more than that, we just wanted to make a change. We started out hardcore into the conceptual thing, but when people aren't interested in it, you lose interest in it yourself."
It's a shame that more people weren't interested in Bobgoblin. Since forming at the University of North Texas in 1993, the band was consistently one of the best live bands in town, stalking the stage like a rogue squadron of militia men as video monitors flickered behind them. And the band's music was just as good as its stage presence, politically charged protest songs draped in '70s glam rock and '80s new wave. Its two albums--1994's self-released Jet and last year's The Twelve-Point Master Plan on MCA--were like razor blades in a Tootsie Roll, candy-coated reprimands against handgun-packing crazies ("Nine," "Killer"), Texas Lottery junkies ("25 Million:1"), and morally comatose suburban dwellers ("Mental Suburbaknights").
Now, most of those songs have been permanently shelved. The Commercials are a new band, not just another name for Bobgoblin.
"Eventually, there won't be any Bobgoblin songs in our set," says Avsharian. "Maybe save for a couple of tunes that didn't make it on the CD, sort of B-sides that we might sneak in there. At this point, we're not sure about The Commercials versus the Bobgoblin songs. I'd like to think that we can get a 70 percent Commercials, 30 percent Bobgoblin mix. But Hop lives in Little Rock now, so rehearsals are a little more complicated."
One of the Bobgoblin songs that the band will probably play is "Motor City Dilemma," a cut that was left off of the band's last album and included on a tape that MCA sent to radio stations, one of the only fingers the label lifted to support the band. The band's relationship with MCA ended almost before it started, as the A&R representative that signed the band was fired one month after the release of The Twelve-Point Master Plan. "It was one of those rock and roll cliches," says Avsharian.
Not too long after that, the band got the axe as well, not that they weren't expecting it. The band kept going, even though they didn't have any support from the label, or a record to promote. By the time that last show at EdgeFest rolled around, the band had been off MCA's roster for almost six months.
"There were people at the company that were good to us, that were real cool, but in general, we definitely felt like we were on the back burner," Avsharian says. "After The Edge [KDGE-FM, 94.5] put us in heavy rotation, I was hoping that that would kick it up a notch with MCA, but once again, shit didn't happen. After that, when MCA still didn't climb on board, we realized it was going to be a losing battle."