The eyes and ears of the crowd at Mootsy’s last Friday did not belong to BBBBandits.
A girl in white go-go boots sashayed out of the bathroom and past the band, barely flinching as guitarist Gawain Fadeley released a flawless solo into the beer-soaked air. The crowd of down-and-out men filling the barstools were too focused on the TV, the contents of their pint glasses and that girl in the go-go boots to pay more than a few feeble between-song courtesy claps to the band.
And that’s how the members of BBBBandits — pronounced ba-ba-ba-bandits — say it often goes.
After all, they’re an instrumental lo-fi surf-rock band — a genre of rock ’n’ roll that’s not exactly charting these days. The young group is evoking the underground sound of 1960s Orange County in 2011 Spokane. They take that vintage sound — the stuff that the greasers and riff-raff of yesteryear dug — and add their own driving punk twist to it. Sometimes that catches people by surprise, sometimes it doesn’t.
But when they do catch people, they do it in a big way. A few weeks ago, at a show at East Sprague’s Checkerboard Tavern, BBBBandits had the opposite experience of last week’s show at Mootsy’s. Halfway through their set, fans started dancing in the aisle between the pool table and the bar, whooping between each of the band’s dramatic open-road-with-the-top-down songs.
Whether they’re on or off, BBBBandits has, arguably, the tightest live sound of any band in Spokane today. But still, the reception can be lukewarm.
“[Kids] aren’t into rock ’n’ roll anymore,” the band’s drummer, Jeff Glinski, says. “I think people hear us and they’re like ‘Should I like this music?’”
But from time to time, the band catches the ear of a guy who grew up listening to Dick Dale and Link Wray. Or somebody who paused when that Centurions song played behind John Travolta’s heroin scene in Pulp Fiction.
But the band isn’t interested in only playing to fans of old-school rock music.
“Even if we were to put together a like-minded show, I wouldn’t want to,” Fadeley says.
The sound of BBBBandits is an old one. Old, stylistically. But also in that it’s the kind of music that Fadeley, who looks like a grown-up Ralphie Parker from A Christmas Story, has been playing since high school. Back then, he played in a band called Rock Ness Monsters (whose 14 Lo-Fi Songs an Inlander reviewer called “damn near perfect” way back in 2001).
“[Rock Ness Monsters] was brutally loud, hopped-up surf rock — pretty much had that market cornered,” Fadeley says. “BBBBandits fits pretty squarely next to Rock Ness. We occupy a lot of the same territory — sloppy instrumentals, heavy on the reverb, volume, not afraid of guitar solos.”
But hardly is the sound old and worn.
“I like to think we don’t take ourselves too seriously, which is always important,” Fadeley adds.
But they have to take themselves seriously enough: Each BBBBandits song is a well-rehearsed, fine-tuned barn-burner.
“In an instrumental band like this, the hardest part is finding the hook without lyrics, and by studying all that holy-grail shit, like Duane Eddy and Link Wray and Booker T. and the MGs, you can kind of crack the code,” Fadeley says.
As a result, BBBBandits plays entire songs of hooks.
Those songs keeps the band busy onstage. Fadeley often plays with such fury and precision, his glasses slide to the tip of his nose by the end of each song. Rhythm guitarist Ryan Tucker conjures Elvis Presley, stomping, writhing and twitching furiously as he plays, occasionally yelping toward the sky mid-song. Bassist Colleen Vice is stoic, deep in concentration onstage, planted in front of Glinski, a bombastic, frenetic drummer.
Sometimes the band is contagious — like at the Checkerboard Tavern show. Which is funny, Fadeley says: The band didn’t think they played that well that night. But no one seemed to notice. They just loved what BBBBandits was playing.
But outside Mootsy’s last week, after their set, Fadeley chuckled: “Tonight we were dead-on, and nobody cared.”
BBBBandits plays with Myth Ship and Strong Killings • Sat, Nov. 5, at 8 pm • Checkerboard Tavern • $3 • 21 • 535-4007