Critics' Picks

REO Speedwagon, Styx, Starship, Loverboy, and Eddie Money

Is this a concert bill or a punch line to a joke that begins with the words "April Wine?" If you don't know the answer, most likely you've already been to Texas Tickets and paid $500 for a pair of front-row tickets to paradise. You've rented a limo, arranged for flowers and a baby sitter, bought the case of wine coolers, maybe even dusted off Bong Kong Fooey for the big night--dude, you're doin' it up. Right now, you're tremblingsweatinggroaning with anticipation, breathless at the thought of inhaling so many memories all at once--all those songs, all those slow dances, all those summer nights spent tokin' up to The Grand Illusion (and, yes, you were that angry young man) and You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish. And this is only the beginning of a summer spent wading through those delicious memories. You've still got Don Henley later this month; Brian Wilson, Kansas and Yes, and Steely Dan in July; and Chicago and the Little River Band, The Who, and Jimmy Page with the Black Crowes doing Zep covers come August. Yes, this summer is your trip down Amnesia Lane. Now where did you put those old black-sleeved concert tees?

Look, it's hard to get too worked up one way or the other about an evening of "Ridin' the Storm Out" and "Keep On Loving You" and "Working for the Weekend" and "We Built This City"--though what Eddie Money's doing on this bill is anyone's guess, since last we heard, he was working at a Mobil station in Oxnard. Hey, I might have gone to this show in 1980, back before my voice broke and my ears followed. It's kind of reassuring to know that long after they were rendered extinct by punk rock and good taste, these dinosaurs still roam the earth in search of a burial plot; stock markets may rise and fall, presidents may come and go, the Backstreet Boys may be born and die, but Dennis DeYoung will live forever. And when he no longer takes in breath, perhaps we'll dig him a new home in the Starplex parking lot--but not before Styx busts out "Babe," so I can slow-dance with my junior-high sweetheart one more time. Yes, Tiffany Fletcher, come sail away with me; lady, show me the way to the Paradise Theater. These will always be the best of times...

But like the man once sang, you're fooling yourself; you don't believe it, do you? Deep down, you've got to know this is nothing but shameless cynicism at work--old men flogging primordial echoes one more lousy time until there's no spare coin to wrest from the working man's wallet. They had their day a million days ago; their time has come and gone and gone again, until even their best-of collections sell for pennies on the dollar. Styx and the Starship (with Mickey Thomas, and wasn't he the fifth Monkee?) and the Speedwagon exist only because they know they can con the nostalgists out of their paychecks. Look away for a moment, pretend they no longer exist, and all those bands will disappear forever. But some of you can't. Some of you--and you know who you are, since the only CDs you've bought in the last 20 years were digital copies of old worn-out vinyl albums--insist on living in a Top 40 yesterday. Which is cool, fine by me--one man's trash is another man's copy of Get Lucky. You wanna party like it's 1982? Knock yourself out. Actually, you've probably been unconscious for a long time anyway. REO Speedwagon, Styx, Starship, Loverboy, and Eddie Money perform May 21 at Starplex Amphitheatre.

Robert Wilonsky

Fang

It's no secret that Fang's decade-long hiatus was because of vocalist Sam "Sammytown" McBride's eight-year stint in a California prison. His time in the joint was fairly short considering the reason he landed there: The strangulation death of his 24-year-old girlfriend while he was completely out of his head on heroin. It had become his drug of choice back then, and he sold LSD to keep up with his almost $1,000-a-day habit--not that that's an excuse for his crime. Though there really is no excuse, McBride's done his time, so there's no use dwelling on it; it won't change anything one way or the other.

But Fang's return to Dallas isn't just noteworthy for its TV-movie storyline: The band was probably the key musical assault on the Bay Area's scene in the '80s, fitting perfectly into the punk rock mold without sounding commonplace. Its raw and unpolished delivery crashed around you as the drummer beat his kit like he was trying to reprimand it for being naughty. McBride sang as if he were hiding a mouth full of biscuits, but that only seemed to make it more tasty. And the guitars were bruising, uncompromising, and crude. Though McBride spent much of the '90s in prison, a new generation of listeners who missed the group's explosive sets during its incessant touring between 1981 and 1989 had the chance to play catch-up. Bands like Mudhoney, Nirvana, and Green Day covered Fang songs such as "The Money Will Roll Right In" (from 1982's Landshark/Where the Wild Things Are, released on Boner Records), along with others with comedic titles such as "Everybody Makes Me Barf," "They Sent Me To Hell C.O.D.," "Fun With Acid," and "Berkeley Heathen Scum."

And that should have been it. Reforming Fang wasn't anything McBride had planned on, even though he wrote a few songs for a band that formed and disbanded after starting a riot while in the pen. But after recording a song for the soundtrack to a film called Down Time as a favor for a friend, McBride decided to keep the latest version of Fang together a while longer. The group's first show after McBride's release from prison was opening for the Dwarves at the Trocadero in San Francisco. Though it was met with expected controversy (including death threats), the night was surprisingly successful and injury-free. Not that a calmer, gentler Fang should come as much of a surprise; McBride looks like the typical suburban father these days. Married with two children (one of whom was conceived during a conjugal visit in prison), McBride owns a brand-new minivan bought with royalty money from Warner Brothers, thanks to the fact that Green Day covered a Fang song on an import release. Which, if you think about it, is punk rock in its own way. Sort of.

McBride will be driving that van to Texas this week, where in his youth he'd been arrested once for "too much fun" and almost arrested another time for urinating in the parking lot of the Twilite Room before Fang's last performance there. The newly reformed Fang lands in Texas just in time to play its final shows ever--first in Dallas, and then at Emo's in Austin. Joining McBride is former Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin (who's also collaborating with McBride on a new band), drummer Clint Phillips (ex-The American Fuse), and bassist Casey Orr (Rigor Mortis, GWAR). McBride won't even meet or practice with his short-lived Dallas partners until his family rolls into town. It was a visit that was originally intended to be a vacation and a chance to hang with his pal Dave Woodard, whom he'd met when Billyclub was playing with Fang in San Diego a while back. And if you want to grumble about the new version of Fang, just remember: The group has had more than 30 members, and even McBride isn't an original. Maybe Fang ceased to exist a long time ago. Fang performs May 19 at Trees.

Holly Jefferson

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky