An odd assortment of street-corner punks and suburban kids in suits and skinny ties were on hand at Emo's Alternative Lounge last Saturday night two weeks ago to pay tribute and say goodbye to Denton ska band the Grown-Ups. The crowd reflected the revival of ska music in its latest guise: ska-punk. The Grown-Ups, however, are anything but ska-punk. The Grown-Ups belong in Great Britain in the late '70s, when bands like The Specials and Selecter were introducing Jamaican dance music to thousands of Doc Marten-clad "rude boys." But whether they liked their music played by Madness or Goldfinger, the crowd members at Emo's had one thing in common: a love of ska.
From the opening horn blasts until the band's closing rendition of the cantina song from Star Wars, the only places more crowded than the dance floor were around the coolers dispensing ice water where fans reinforced themselves before heading back out to skank the night away, and the stage, which hosted a steady stream of fans after singer-saxman Dan Bailey announced that the band had "too much room up here."
The scene at Emo's was reminiscent of the Grown-Ups' show the previous Saturday at Rick's Place in Denton; a gig that ended with more than 30 people on stage--"I thought the stage was going to collapse," keyboard player Kari Luna says--and Bailey smashing his sax Pete Townshendlike on the floor. Sadly, that was the last time (hometown?) fans will get to experience the band's live show. As of this past Saturday, after the group's performance in Houston, the Grown-Ups have broken up...sort of.
"Right now, we're breaking up as a live band, but we're still working as a band," drummer Christopher Owens says. "We're not going to schedule any more shows after this. But it's not like after Houston it will all stop. We're still going to release stuff, try to get some product out."
The band's residence in Local Band Hell and a revolving-door line-up led to the Grown-Ups' decision to call it quits. Trombonist Daniel Spencer--whose manic stage presence was one highlight of the band's show--is the latest member to leave the group, moving to California to join another ska band, the Supertones.
"The line-up's been unstable as far as members for so long. We've been going strong and living this band for 3 1/2 years, and we feel like we might have reached some sort of ceiling of achievement, because this is sort of a large band to go national with," Bailey says. "There's no way we could afford to tour without signing some sort of record deal, and we don't want to do that at all.
"We just think maybe we've done all we can and it's better to step out gracefully and move on to something new. We don't want to become a Denton tradition, or a Denton institution like Ten Hands or something, where we just play until we have nothing else to offer and nobody cares anymore."
It is rare for a band to decide to bow out when it is popular and still has something to offer. The Dallas-Denton music community has seen it happen twice in the last two months, first with Funland, and now the Grown-Ups. The difference is, when Funland broke up, Dallas and Denton lost a good band, but basically a band that will be replaced in the minds of audience members in a few months. With the implosion of the Grown-Ups, not only is another good band gone, but an entire scene as well. Bailey agrees, but offers no sympathy for heartbroken fans.
"Well, we've been the ska scene for three years, so if we haven't inspired anybody to start a band by now, then it's probably not going to happen," he says. "We've said all along that if we can do it, anybody can, and we don't know why nobody is doing it."
"There'll always be the ska-punk bands," bassist Dave Wallin adds. "It doesn't really count, but there's always that."
When Bailey formed the Grown-Ups in 1993, there were no other bands like it in the area. Three years later, there still aren't. Though the band has plenty of fans, no one has dared to follow in its footsteps, reducing the "scene" to a CD player after the end of the Grown-Ups.
All is not lost for Grown-Ups fans, however. As Owens says, even though the band isn't doing shows anymore, the band members will continue to work together. The group is in the process of recording its first CD, and hopes to release several 7-inch singles in the next year. It's not often that a band adds to its discography after splitting up, but if the Beatles can do it after more than 20 years and one death, why can't the Grown-Ups?
"The CD will be all new songs, songs that weren't on the tape," Bailey says. "It will have as many songs as we can fit on it, at least 12 or 13. We're just going to kind of record this stuff, get it out, and then do something new."
Owens says the band also wants to make the CD interactive, "you know, pop it in your computer and do crazy shit."
For the time being, that will be the only place to see crazy shit from the Grown-Ups. After a three-year reign as Denton's best (and only) ska band, the band is ready to move on.
"We could conceivably recruit new members and keep the Grown-Ups going, but we don't have the energy," Bailey says. "We've been playing these songs for a long time and for us it would be better, we would be more enthusiastic about starting something brand-new.
"It was a lot of fun, and we're going to miss it. It's really painful for me when teen-age kids stop me on the street and bitch me out for breaking up the band. But you know, change is not necessarily a bad thing."
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