by Mike Corrigan

The guys in MULLIGAN are by and large a jovial, self-deprecating lot. "There's not much to us really," admits singer/songwriter/pianist, Chris White. "We're just four guys in a band. It should make for a real scintillating article."

Nevertheless, the pride this quartet shares in their formidable combined musical prowess and performing experience is, at times, hard for them to suppress -- live or otherwise (see and hear for yourself this Saturday night at the Blue Spark).

Composed of stalwart Spokane scene vets White, Brett Dechenne (on sax), Aaron Saye (drums) and Greg White (bass), the band has been slugging it out in area clubs -- and elsewhere -- for the usual meager rewards since its formation in 1998. The group's collective resume rings with names familiar to Spokane scene-watchers. White played bass in High Lonesome and Funk Buffalo. Saye was the drummer in High Lonesome and Like Family. Greg White and Dechenne were both in Snaut, Like Family and are currently part of Soup.

Still, in the group's bio, White describes Mulligan as the "worst looking group in the history of show business".

"[MTV] screwed everything up, is what it did," White says bemoaning the sad fact that since the invention of music television, it has been nigh-impossible for any act to break into Billboard chartdom (a dubious distinction, to be sure) without something approaching stunning good looks.

"None of my musical heroes got signed in 2001, I can tell you that."

Thankfully, White's ambitions are a little more modest. Modest, but by no means non-existent. And in spite of its conspicuous lack of raw sex appeal, Mulligan enjoys a dedicated -- even slightly rabid -- local following. But White's eclectic, original compositions in the '70s jazz-rock and pop vein have, at times, made the band something of an anomaly on a local music scene -- perpetually, it seems, dominated by heavy rock.

"It's sort of like pop and rock with a lot of harmonies that you normally hear in jazz," says White describing the Mulligan sound. "If you took jazz chords, that tend to be a little more complex, then attach that to pop and rock, I mean that's pretty much what we do. I'm a piano player, and it's pretty tough to make rock sound cool on a piano unless you play some interesting chords. If you play a big open E chord on a guitar, it sounds great. But if I play an E major chord on the piano, it's pretty dorky."

Pop and jazz -- for reasons currently unknown -- have always been tough sells in Spokane.

White agrees: "Oh yeah. It's a tough go. But we've all been in bands before that tried to go somewhere or tried to be popular or whatever. Between the four of us, we've been in a million different bands. In [High Lonesome], we were attempting to do something, to varying degrees. Doing everything you can to get famous sort of steals the fun out of it. You're trying for something that's so unlikely, and you forget what it's like just to be a really good band and how to just let things happen. When the Mulligan thing got going, it was just total self-gratification. We really could give a rip. Of course the irony of that is that now we've just finished an album, and it really turned out good."

Sure enough, the band has recently completed the mixes of its first album, Striped-Suit: Lo-Fi. The album's nine tracks were recorded and produced by White in his House of Sound studio (where he also produces broadcast advertising and independent film scores).

"I'm a studio guy, so we kind of focused our efforts on doing the studio thing and making what we thought was a great record that we could drive around and love. So all of that energy that a lot of bands put into playing, we put into the studio. We spend horrific amounts of time in the studio. It's nice because we don't have to compromise."

The album features guest appearances by friends of the band that just also happen to be some of the most respected musicians in town, including the Mayfield Four's Myles Kennedy and Soup's Paul Salerno.

"Our goal was to record a great album, and I think we've pretty much done that. We basically produced an album that a company could just slap their logo on. It's definitely a label-caliber recording. Now we'll sell it a little bit and get out there and play. But I'm also not delusional about what our chances are.

"Then again," he adds, "we're not trying to make it. I mean, we're not wearing leather pants."

Mulligan plays with Sweet Dougy-D at the Blue Spark on Saturday, Oct. 20, at 8:30 pm. Cover: $2. Call: 838-5787.

Tesla Recharged

Though TESLA possessed all the thunder, swagger, six-strung pyrotechnics -- and yes, hair -- of many of their hard-rock-with-a-pop-twist contemporaries in the late '80s, the Sacramento quintet was a world away from the gory excesses of the L.A. glam metal scene. Instead of playing up the worst aspects of slick arena rock and pandering to the lowest common denominator in their audiences, the band built their melodic, riff-driven tunes on a solid foundation of gritty blues rock. They may not have sold as many albums as Poison back in the day, but Tesla's lack of pretense and glitz now affords them the opportunity to return six years after their initial demise as something more than a mere carnival freakshow. They play at the Fox this Saturday night.

Forming in 1986 and naming themselves after the pioneering physicist and inventor, Nikola Tesla, the band (vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarists Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch, bassist Brian Wheat and drummer Troy Luccketta) built a devoted fanbase by touring heavily and cranking out one solid album after another. After 10 years, six albums and a respectable string of hits (including "Love Song," "Edison's Medicine," "Modern Day Cowboy" and the remake of the Five Man Electrical Band's hippie anthem, "Signs"), the band called it quits. Years of pursuing side projects followed before the original members re-upped in October 2000, to perform a sold-out show in their hometown. Overwhelmed by the positive response they received from fans, Tesla hit the road once again full time. Every performance on the tour was recorded, and the results emerged a year later as the double live set, Replugged Live.

Tesla is on the road once again (this time supporting Replugged) and is in the process of writing material for a new studio album. These guys are of course hoping old fans come out in droves for their Spokane show, but I'm sure they won't mind if all the razor-cut jeans and Motley Crue T-shirts are left behind in deep storage -- where, of course, they belong.

Tesla perfoms at The Fox on Saturday, Oct. 20, at 8 pm. Tickets: $25. Call: 325-SEAT.

Christmas Tree Elegance Holiday Luncheons @ Historic Davenport Hotel

Tue., Dec. 6, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and Wed., Dec. 7, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
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