by Leah Sottile and Mike Corrigan

Want to piss off an all-female rock band? Then call them a "girl band" -- it's completely condescending.

Think about it this way: When categorizing a poppy all-male group of no-talent pretty boys like the Backstreet Boys or 98 Degrees, we simply call them "boy bands." It's a silly term that characterizes the caliber of their talent: boyish and innocent.

So applying a juvenile term such as "girl band" to all-female groups of rockers -- especially in the case of groups like Sleater-Kinney, the Go-Gos and the Quails -- would be inaccurate. It implies that the group has talent similar to their "boy band" cohorts. That's why Jen Smith of the Quails hates the term "girl band" -- she told Kitchen Sink magazine that she thinks the term just lumps together bands based on anatomy, and not musical talent or style. And besides, the Quails are hardly girly.

When the San Francisco quasi-punk trio first came together as a band back in 1997, each member was coming from a solid background with other popular Bay Area bands. The Quails' drummer, Julianna Bright, was busy keeping time for the Electrolettes. Guitarist Jen Smith was performing in the variety-show band, the Cha Cha Cabaret. And bassist Seth Lorinczi was finishing up with Circus Lupus.

Smith and Lorinczi first met in the height of the Washington, D.C., punk scene when they were only teenagers; they continued their friendship as they moved westward. After Smith and Bright hit it off during an Electrolettes/Cha Cha Cabaret tour, the pair moved in together and started casually jamming with Lorinczi. They've said it was the perfect meeting of three dorks -- dorks who had been destined to find each other.

It all started casually enough: Regular jam sessions turned into playing at their friends' parties, which then transformed into recording an album and writing songs with politically charged messages. They saw how people responded to their opinions and started playing larger shows, traveling with other bands and making a name for themselves. In 2002, they joined up with Sleater-Kinney for a six-week tour, and have played with BARR, Aisler's Set and the No-Nos.

With song titles like "More Gender More of the Time," "No F--ing War," "The War Will End When We Want It," "Soon the Rest Will Fall" and "Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist," the Quails attempt to weave their politics in with a punky-pop beat. They sing songs about defending homeless men on Market Street, preserving ambiguity of sexual orientation, stopping the war in Iraq. Smith says the band just wants to help foster a community of like-minded people, and to let audiences know that they truly care about what is going on in the world.

But while they are a politically aware group, the Quails aren't all business. Onstage, the trio belts out lyrics of suffering, hunger and inequality, but they jump around and bounce to their songs as if they were dancing in their socks at a fifth-grade slumber party. It's similar to watching George W. Bush shake hands with the head of the ACLU -- it's just such an odd meeting of concepts that you can't help but laugh.

As a band whose music thrives in non-traditional venues like subway stations and bookstores, the Quails will play Spokane's Spike Coffeehouse next week -- performing a part acoustic/part low-fi electric set of punky-pop. And remember, it's not just cutesy girl rock -- there's a guy in this band, anyway.

Go Subterranean -- Hanging out on Second Avenue/ Eating chicken vindaloo/ I just want to be with you / I just wanna have something to do -- tonight

-- The Ramones

From coast to coast, it's the same story. All across the land, in towns big and small, the boys and girls want something to occupy their free time -- something other than TV and video games, something that doesn't involve intoxication but nevertheless exciting, edgy and maybe even a little dangerous.

Fortunately there are people out there willing to provide it.

"I came to WSU in the fall of '99 as a freshman," says Michael Phillips, a communications major and the entrepreneur behind the Underground, Moscow's new all-ages live music club. "I expected to come to a new town with a thriving music scene and lots to do. However, I was disappointed to learn that you had to be 21 years old to do most activities."

What he did was start a club, one with the express goal of giving bored 18-and-over UI and WSU students an intriguing and affordable Friday night entertainment alternative -- while at the same time creating a sense of community among local bands and audience members. He called it the Underground, and it just happens to be located beneath CJ's Pub in downtown Moscow. The lineup this Friday night is Crybaby, Gunt, the Transients, Mod Laser and Oh My God, Oh My God. Five bands; four bucks; some deal.

Phillips admits that his freshman and sophomore years were largely spent in front of his computer as he tried to adjust to college culture.

"I was a Boy Scout/mamma's boy who had never done anything bad in my life," he says. "All around me, people were drinking and having sex, and I just didn't know what to do with my self."

He soon made up for lost time. "I lightened up and started doing all the things college kids do," he says. "I lightened up so much, in fact, that I dropped out of school."

He spent the next couple of years soul-searching and attending rock concerts -- "I saw Radiohead at the Gorge and realized that my life needed to involve music," he says -- before moving to the Portland area and immersing himself in the nightlife there. Eventually, he found his way back to WSU. Only this time, he had a bold new plan for his leisure time.

"I realized there was hardly a music venue in town for anyone, regardless of their age. So I contacted the owner of CJ's in Moscow, Phil Roderick, and asked him about starting a music venue in his underground space. He was very open to the idea, and has put a lot of trust in me -- basically allowing me the freedom to try anything."

That "anything" was the Underground, a 265-capacity booze- and smoke-free all-ages live music club with a regular Friday night schedule and a growing mob of patrons and supporters. Phillips reports his best show so far brought in about 160 kids (though a typical night nets a crowd of around 50-75). Despite such a modest start, he believes in the club's potential as a stronghold against the forces of boredom in the Palouse.

"I came into this not knowing the first thing about running a music venue," he admits. "But Phil has taught me a lot. Basically, it involves a lot of open communication with people. Band members need to know where I'm coming from, why I am doing this and what they can expect out of it."

No Small Feat -- Wherever I go in this life, I carry a little bit of Little Feat with me. I couldn't shake it if I tried. I was introduced to the band in the early years of my rock school education by a friend determined to drag me out of my chilly, prog-rock quagmire and into something more soulful. The group's founder, singer and guiding light, Lowell George, had just croaked. And I was an angst-ridden young man searching for rock 'n' roll salvation, which I would soon find in punk. But not before those hairy mothers in Little Feat left their mark on me with their bluesy, folksy Southern freak rock from the lunatic fringe. Two decades down the road, the group -- containing every member of the classic lineup minus George, of course -- continues to keep the home fires stoked. Little Feat adds another Spokane chapter to its history this Sunday night at the Big Easy.

Singer/songwriter/slide guitarist Lowell George and first bassist Roy Estrada (both ex-members of Frank Zappa's band, the Mothers of Invention) were encouraged by their former employer and mentor to start Little Feat in 1969. With Bill Payne on keyboards and Ritchie Haward on drums, Little Feat quickly made a name for itself (among critics, anyway) on the strength of George's songwriting and the quartet's fluid synthesis of just about every American music form, from R & amp;B, soul, blues-rock, and funk to country and folk. The group's affinity for the absurd set them well apart from their Southern rock contemporaries, while its legendary live performances earned them a loyal cult following.

Yet commercial success was more elusive. And despite a string of terrific albums (Little Feat, Sailin' Shoes, Dixie Chicken and Feats Don't Fail Me Now), which contained most of the Feat's highly charged, boogie-rock classics ("Willin'," "Cold, Cold, Cold," "Dixie Chicken," "Teenage Nervous Breakdown," "Tripe Face Boogie") and a reputation as one of the most beloved, best live bands in the country, the group began to crumble, straining under the yoke of artistic differences and George's increasingly problematic drug habit. During the recording of the band's seventh studio album in 1979 (Down on the Farm), George died of a heart attack at age 34, an apparent victim of his lifestyle excesses.

The death of George lowered the curtain on Little Feat, but only momentarily. Members -- and fans-- just couldn't stand to let the fun fizzle. In 1988, keyboardist Bill Payne and guitarist Paul Barrere reconstituted the group and hit the road. Renewed interest in Little Feat has triggered a flood of reissues in recent years like Waiting for Columbus on Rhino and new live sets such as Raw Tomatoes and Ripe Tomatoes on the band's own imprint, Hot Tomato Records.

Today, the band consists of long-timers Payne, Barrere, Kenny Gradney on bass, Sam Clayton on percussion and Richie Hayward on drums (all of whom were in the classic early-'70s lineup), along with two relative newcomers, female vocalist Shaun Murphy and guitarist Fred Tackett. Little Feat has been back to the studio as well, resulting in 2003's homegrown Kickin' It at the Barn.

Publication date: 04/15/04

Music Finds a Way: The Spokane Symphony @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Jan. 10
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