The Fools of April

by Mike Corrigan and Leah Sottile

This Friday is April Fool's Day, but what I'm about to tell you is no jive. DEK -- that fast, frenzied and fun band of high-spirited teen punks from the wilds of North Seattle -- will be back in our fair city to build on the buzz their November '04 show generated as they cop a featured slot on the April 1 show at Fat Tuesday's with local bands Scatterbox, Starting Over and the Gimps. That's this Friday. And that's a fact.

Guitarists Mark Vraney and Bret Chernoff and bassist Nick Myette -- (all three double on vocals) and drummer Thani Suchoknand formed DEK -- that's D-E-K, not "deck" -- back in 2002, back in high school, back before any of them could legally drive. These guys play old-school hardcore that's not only ferocious and skin-tight but a whole mess of fun, too. Instead of sneering, posturing and donning the black as do many of their punk rock peers, DEK gleefully rips it up without pretense and dresses it up glam. And their songs are honest, reflecting typical teenage concerns: school, boredom, play and, of course, the infinite mysteries of the opposite sex.

Amazing things have been happening in the DEK camp since the last time we checked in with them. The band has recorded a follow-up to its first album (Boner) called Wattatata, which is set to be released on Finger Records on July 12. This fall, they'll release a three-hour DVD engorged with music videos, short movies and assorted nonsense featuring the band; it's called The Wacky World of DEK. In road news, DEK has been invited to open for hardcore punk legends the Adolescents on that band's summer tour and is angling for a spot on this year's Van's Warped Tour. Again, no foolies.

But DEK isn't the only band on this bill with a hyperactive social calendar these days. In fact, Scott Rozell, drummer of local punk band Scatterbox, has some genuinely good news of his own to report.

"We just got signed," he enthuses.

And that's true. Scatterbox has signed a deal with a Seattle label called Clickpop Records. Additionally, the band has just recorded a new album with legendary Seattle producer-engineer Conrad Uno of Egg Studios. Over the last 20 years -- with some of the Northwest's most happening bands, including Mudhoney, the Supersuckers, the Makers, the Fastbacks and the Young Fresh Fellows -- Uno has created some of the Northwest's most notable recordings.

"That's all gonna end this weekend," joked Rozell just before he and the rest of Scatterbox took off for Egg a couple of weeks ago. "But it's definitely going to be a new thing for us. I mean, we recorded our first three albums in only a day each. We mentioned that to Conrad and he said, 'Well, how 'bout we give you two and a half?'"

Scatterbox should have copies of the new album in hand by the time they head out on the road for a tour in May.

So where do the fools fit in to this April 1 scenario? The only fools around that night will be the ones sitting on their duffs at home letting another Friday night disappear into history.

Stars in Orbit -- The Spokane Arena concert this Monday night will be sporting a little of the old and a little of the new (well, fairly new, anyway), with twentysomething upstart band Phantom Planet opening the show for Sting the Elder. This L.A.-based quartet first gained notoriety as the band for which actor Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore, I [Heart] Huckabees) drummed and for which ex-GAP model and occasional actor Alex Greenwald sang. If there were any lingering exposure deficits to correct, those instantly evaporated when the band's power-pop song "California" went primetime as the theme of Fox TV's hit teen soap, The O.C. Suddenly, everyone had at least heard of Phantom Planet.

But seriously, folks, all the guys in Phantom Planet really wanted was your respect. And these days, they seem willing to work for it -- that is, if the band's new self-titled album is any indication of its desire to grow beyond its teeny-pop origins and actually attempt to challenge its audiences.

Phantom Planet was produced by Dave Fridmann (known for doing amazing things with the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Mogwai and others) and recorded with Schwartzman on the drums. (He has since left the band to pursue acting full-time.) The result is a much darker and edgier album than is the group's high-flying 2002 outing, The Guest, reflecting a maturing songwriting style that relies less on carefully measured, well-worn big rock motifs than on the esoteric '70s-'80s art-punk sounds of Wire, Fugazi and the Cure.

While the band -- with Greenwald on vocals, Sam Farrar on bass, Darren Robinson on guitar and new member Jeff Conrad on drums -- still finds itself splashed all over fashion-and-lifestyle magazines like Elle Girl, the music press has also finally stepped forward to award Phantom Planet some of those highly desirable, often elusive rock props. Salud. -- Mike Corrigan

Sting and Phantom Planet at the Spokane Arena on Monday, April 4, at 8 pm. Tickets: $36-$60. Call 325-SEAT.

Taking All Comers -- "They are five ass-kickers who, save for their baby-faced bassist, are so wild and wooly they make Skynyrd look like Ivy League frat boys." It's true, but even I'm not that good to come up with that on-the-nose description of Portland's I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House. Nope, that's how they describe themselves on their Web site. And that's just what they look like on paper.

Strangely enough, the down 'n' dirty rock of Sonofabitch is something of a rarity around these parts, but it's a sound that's more fitting here than on the slick streets of the Rose City. It's gritty and raw, bluesy and melodic without ever getting repetitive. It's the kind of rock you could hear blaring out of barns on the Palouse and from the stage of the B-Side. It's solid rock with a down-home twang -- and if that doesn't sound like a slogan for Spokane, than I don't know what does.

And the quintet even has a guy with a rock 'n' roll name. Formed in 2001 by fire-breathing singer/guitarist Mike Damron, the quintet features the harmonica of David Lipkind, guitarist Jon Burbank, bassist Mole Harris and the beats of -- get this -- Flapjack Texas. They're about one part Creeps, two parts Steve Earle and a whole lotta Neil Young. Gutter punk meets Casper, Wyo., tavern band; sushi meets down-home barbeque. It might sound like Skynyrd from afar, but close up, Sonofabitch is a group of really angry sons of bitches who have about as much to say as Fugazis. Really, it's music that can only come out of an in-between-land like Portland.

But before all you gun toting Dixiecrats go rootin' and tootin' down to the Big Easy this Sunday, chomp on your bit for a second -- the boys of Sonofabitch are outspoken in their leftist political views, and singer Mike D. is adamant about his pro-gun control views, a result of losing a brother in a family gun mishap.

As a matter of fact, he's adamant about most everything, and the louder-than-loud voice of the band.

On the band's latest album, Menace (In Music We Trust), Damron speaks to addiction and heartache, and threatens to "plant you down like Robert Blake" on "Good Day to Be a Bad Husband." He doesn't stop there: Damron explicitly details what he'd like to see happen to the rump of Westboro Baptist Church head and founder of Fred Phelps on "Westboro Baptist Church," and speaks out against the war in Iraq on "Dust and Sun." It's a 12-song sweat session, full of message, energy and emotion -- and when it's all done, Sonofabitch is hardly just another Southern-fried band. They're screaming at you to watch your back, live your life and fight for a cause. And when you've done it, you might just understand a little bit better just why these sons of bitches are so angry. -- Leah Sottile

I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House plays with the Reverend Horton Heat and the Supersuckers on Sunday, April 3, at the Big Easy. Tickets: $16.50. Call 325-SEAT.

Publication date: 03/31/05