Dance this Mess around

The so-called punk revolution of the '70s has given way to the punk ad campaign of the '90s: Mohawks and green hair and tattoos are back (did they ever really go away?), short and sharp songs are the order of the day, and "anarchy" has become synonymous with multi-platinum fame and MTV ubiquity.

It took the Sex Pistols more than 15 years to sell a million copies of Never Mind the Bollocks, but it took Green Day less than a year to sell more than 8 million copies of Dookie in the States alone. And just as the Ramones are preparing to call it a century, Rancid is leaping off the cover of the recent Spin in torn-and-tattered bondage regalia, tattooed and pierced to the nipple in all their punk-rock finery.

Dallas, certainly, is no stranger to such a "revival": Bands such as Ethyl Merman, the Voyeurs, The Soup, Bad Hair Day, Dead Boy Choir, even Hagfish champion punk as though it were a new invention instead of an Edsel. But among their ranks is another young punk band perhaps a bit more special than the rest, their lead singer-guitarist a tiny spark plug of tattoos and melodies the likes of which you've heard a million times and never before.

There is nothing about Mess you won't recognize, nothing about them that separates them from punk's ancient past or its revitalized pop present. It'd be easy and glib to dismiss them as Dallas' Green Day or Jawbreaker or Offspring, but it's quite possible from a distance: They're a band as much influenced by the Ramones as by The Knack; during a recent set at the Orbit Room, as these three short young men pogoed and powered their way through a captivating short set, they recalled a dozen post-punk bands for whom success is a Buzz Clip away.

But they're hardly a carbon-copy of all that's fashionable once more. Mess, more accurately, is an homage--not merely to punk, but to an entire generation that came of age in the '70s and sprang to life in the '90s. They're a product of television (hence "Marsha [sic] Brady" and "Telesurgery") as much as Martha Quinn or the vacuum-cleaning-hair-cutting Flo-Bee, a product of '70s and '80s rock radio and all the awful baggage that implies.

Twenty-two-year-old singer-guitarist Chris Mess, 25-year-old bassist Ron "The Ripper" Malippa, and drummer Steve Visneau (the grand old man at 28) are punk because their attention spans are short, because it's a lifestyle and a sound they were weaned on in adolescence. They embrace the music because of what it once and always stood for--their anthemic "Teen Queen" hates her parents, smokes pot, watches MTV, and "dresses funny"--and because it's pretty damn easy to play.

"I like everything from Devo to the Rolling Stones," Mess says. "Really. I like the Stones' melodies, but there's not enough distortion on the guitars because they're from a whole other era. I just like pop melodies, but I also enjoy the loud fuzziness and distortion of punk, and the whole attitude and anger and sarcasm."

"I like the catchiness of a lot of the songs he writes," Malippa says, nodding toward Chris. "I can remember them."

"I just think we're too short to be mean," Visneau shrugs. "I mean, how can we intimidate anyone? I think our music just exemplifies what we stand for. We like hard stuff as well as we like the pop stuff that you can tap your foot to and hang out to and listen to. The bottom line is, when we're in a bar playing, people basically want something they can basically pay attention to for short snippets of time, and we've all grown up as the TV generation where we're in tune for 10 minutes because that's all we can pay attention for. We're just pop, fast, fun, but we're true to what we come from."

For Visneau, formerly of the Dead Boy Choir and still a cook at the Dream Cafe, that means "heavy rock," as he calls it--like the Motley CrYe show he and Hagfish lead singer George Reagan attended years ago (during which time they were bandmates in something called The Bratz). For Mess--who assembled the band with Visneau in January, around the time Mess was sweeping up at Club Clearview and "bummin' out on life"--that means a lifestyle spent bouncing from one friend's couch to another. And for Malippa, that means trying to learn his instrument as he goes and existing on the pittance he makes working for a shipping company in Duncanville.

In its short career, the band has twice been a four-piece with two guitarists, but both were fired when they complained about the lack of guitar solos or drink tickets. One of them was dismissed after he failed to show up for the recording session for the band's six-song demo tape, perhaps the most ridiculously charming local cassette you'll find all year, and one of the shortest.

As Visneau describes the tape, and the band's music: "We play something that's simple, something that's true, something that's not extravagant to the point of being silly."

"Steve's the only one who's truly talented when it comes to playing his instrument," Malippa says. "Chris can write songs great, but Chris and I aren't musicians by any means. We're kinda fakin' it."

"No one would really consider me a great guitarist or singer by normal standards, at least," Mess says. "But maybe by punk standards."

Dave Abbruzzese, the Dallas-born drummer who hopes someday to be known as something other than "ex-Pearl Jam drummer," phoned from his Seattle home to say the album he recorded with Ten Hands' Paul Slavens and Gary Muller and former Whild Peach guitarist Doug Neil is completed. Recorded during the past nine months in Dallas at producer David Castell's Garland studio, the album was mixed and mastered a few weeks ago in Abbruzzese's Seattle studio and is ready for release. All that remains now, Abbruzzese says, is finding a label to distribute the album, though he has yet to begin shopping it around.

"The guys were up here for 10 days, and we all discussed what we were all in for, what we wanted to deal with, and what we wanted to see happen," Abbruzzese says. "Now we'll start working toward seeing what happens. It's still a long way to go toward finding out which way it turns out, but it's way exciting.

"The priority is to let people who want to hear it hear it. We feel like we had a great time and made what we feel is a great record. The priority at the beginning was to do it for ourselves, and we're anxious to let other people have it. In that light, it's important we do get it out in some form, but we're definitely not looking to become the next big thing."

Abbruzzese, Slavens, Muller, and Neil have also talked about playing some live shows in Dallas and Seattle (at the very least), but they're not in a hurry to do so; as Abbruzzese explains, the album is so layered and overdubbed and so much a product of the studio it would be difficult to make the transition to the concert stage.

"We could go and have a good time playing at Club Dada and it'd be fun, but it wouldn't brush the surface of the record because there's so much going on," he says. In the meantime, Abbruzzese is seeking new management, fishing, bowling, and building an art gallery in Bali. Eddie Vedder should be having so much fun.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky