by Mike Corrigan

After half a decade as one of Spokane's top-shelf original live music acts, DELBERT the band is calling it quits. But fans needn't start their blubbering just yet. There will be one last opportunity to pay your respects to the rocking groove-pop by way of funk quintet this Saturday night at the Bayou's Fat Tuesday Lounge. As a value-added bonus, founding member and guitarist Tom Solinsky (absent from the lineup for the past year-and-a-half) will rejoin the group for the bittersweet bon voyage. This is a 21-and-over event -- yes, the bar will be open -- and a portion of the ticket price will be donated to the Spokane Food Bank.

Delbert rose to local prominence in the Spokane music scene of the late 1990s on the strength of its buoyant, danceable acousti-funk tunes and exuberant stage presence. The group's original lineup included vocalist Dominic Bartoletta, guitarist Tom Solinsky, bassist Tyson Bickle, and drummer Rick McQuesten. Current saxophonist Jesse Thomsen joined up in 1998. As anyone who ever attended a Delbert show can attest, the band had an almost uncanny knack for infecting even the most jaded, uninterested observer with a good-time vibe. They have three CDs (the latest is called Dear Jane... Live and Well) and have played extensively all over the Pacific Northwest.

So what happened? Why are we bidding farewell to such a premiere local group?

"We just kind of reached a burn-out point," explains McQuesten. "We've had lots of great times, lots of moving ahead, but at the same time we've had some setbacks that were very significant and made it difficult to stay motivated."

Those setbacks can almost exclusively be traced to a single problem all too common among Spokane bands: member hemorrhage, the loss of member musicians to the greener pastures of larger markets -- Seattle, Portland and elsewhere.

"Tom left the band about a year-and-a-half ago, Bartoletta elaborates. "We had a replacement [Brian Hahn] who was with us for about a year before he left. Our saxophonist lives in Seattle. It's just really hard to keep and maintain a group of five people for any period of time. We did it for five-and-a-half years. But now to replace Brian, it would take a couple months and then about another half-a-year to get back up to where we were. When someone leaves, not only do you have to find a replacement who's a great player but also someone you can get along with. And it's hard for them to come into the group and feel like they're a part of it when you load them up with three-and-a-half hours of music they have to learn before they can work on new material with you. We got to that point with Brian, but then he left and we were right back to where we were before."

Without a stable lineup or full-time manager, the strain of keeping the band together while both maintaining a touring schedule and moving forward creatively began to take a serious toll. In November, Delbert mutually consented to dissolve.

"It probably would have been a lot easier for us if we'd had some kind of professional management," admits Bartoletta. "The fun part of this is the creative side of it -- writing songs, arranging them, even practicing can be fun. But booking shows? That's a huge task for anybody in the band to take on."

"Near the end," adds McQuesten, "we started arguing about who was doing what, who wasn't doing enough and things like that."

Though Delbert the band may henceforth be absent from local stages, scene watchers would be foolish to discount the possibility of spin-off projects emerging in the near future.

"We're all still talking, we're all still friends," says McQuesten. "We've set up home studios and are messing with that, collaborating a little. But we don't have anything specific lined up."

Says Bartoletta: "It's hard to even talk about lining anything up just yet because for five-and-a-half years, we've never had a weekend to ourselves. In the past, I could never commit to anything in advance because I always had to leave weekends open for the band. Even though we've all been working our day jobs full-time, these last four months have felt like a vacation."

It's a rare thing when a band from the Inland Northwest gets to leave a mark of any size or depth on the local psyche. But it happens. And every musician working in this town today has his or her own list of personally inspirational local artists.

"I remember going to see Black Happy and other local bands who I looked at as basically rock stars," says McQuesten. "I never really felt like one myself. But then we do get people coming and asking for autographs and pictures. We've also been getting a lot of e-mails since we started telling people that we're breaking up. People are sending us stories, letting us know how much they like our CDs and look forward to coming to the shows. It's really nice to hear all that, but it's kind of weird at the same time because I never really felt like I was anything more than just a drummer in a local band."

"Recently I was eating by myself, which is a real rock star thing to do," Bartoletta laughs, "and this lady came up to me and said, 'You're the lead singer for Delbert, right? Would you mind signing my little boy's book? He loves your music.' I felt like laughing, but I just said, 'Yeah, I could do that.' "

They may not be rock stars, but there are local bands out there right now striving for the kind of success Delbert enjoyed during its nearly six-year tenure. And who's to say that kid with a genuine Dominic Bartoletta autograph isn't sitting at home right this second, sufficiently inspired by Delbert's music to go out and form his own band? For Bartoletta, however, the real accolades are more modest, though present and tangible.

"Basically, it's just nice when people around town know who you are through the band," he says. "It's a good feeling to know that they've been to some of your shows and that you've entertained them."

Dinosaurs live! STYX, the band that epitomized corporate rock in the late '70s and early '80s is on the road once again (albeit in an altered form). Old fans may recognize one or two original members in the current lineup comprised of guitarists Tommy Shaw and James "JY" Young, bassist Glen Burtnik, drummer Todd Sucherman and vocalist/ keyboardist Lawrence Gowan.

Okay, so Styx these days is mostly comprised of session men and doesn't even include the guy (group co-founder Dennis DeYoung) who wrote and sang the lion's share of the group's dozen or so hits. Big deal. Styx is and always has been a cash machine, a business enterprise far more important than any of its merely human components. They co-headline with REO Speedwagon this Friday night at the Spokane Arena Star Theater.

In a rock era that valued spectacle over substance, Styx was huge. They were the consummate arena rock band, serving numbing cocktails of melodramatic songwriting, overwrought, classically inspired arrangements, and six-string pyrotechnics that proved irresistible to teenage boys. From 1975 to 1983, the group racked up seven Top 10 singles and was the first band in history to score four triple platinum albums in a row. But despite its unprecedented success, Styx was a house divided, torn by competing musical visions.

Dennis DeYoung formed the nucleus of what would become Styx with brothers Chuck and John Panozzo in a south Chicago neighborhood in the late '60s. Young joined up in 1970 and the band began to dabble in classical/rock fusions and electronic gimmickry. Styx released four generally ignored albums before hitting it big with a couple of singles ("Lady", "Lorelei") and their fifth album (Equinox). Shaw joined the group in 1975, and the group gained momentum with its next album, Crystal Ball. The floodgates had opened. With the success of each subsequent album (Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight, Cornerstone and Paradise Theatre), the band became increasingly more bloated, pompous and theatrical and inversely less rocking, less human (a rock critic once described Pieces of Eight as "a parking lot full of whale vomit"). Still, "Come Sail Away" somehow endures as the band's signature rock anthem, along the lines of "Freebird" and "Stairway to Heaven."

DeYoung's glitzy Andrew Lloyd Webber-esque vision of Styx clashed with the hard-edged, guitar-based sound preferred by Shaw and Young. But DeYoung was writing the hits, and so for a time, the opposing faction acquiesced for the sake of the group. (DeYoung was actually fired at one point, only to be brought back eight months later after the rest of the group failed to find a replacement.)

But with the group's next full-blown concept album -- the ambitious, knuckle-headed Kilroy Was Here -- the bottom dropped out, and DeYoung was left dangling. The tour to support the album ended in disaster as Shaw and the rest of Styx aligned with the angry crowds frustrated by DeYoung's futuristic staging that was more theater (with Styx members as "actors") than rock show. On a recent, extremely entertaining episode of VH-1's Behind the Music, Shaw revealed "I just couldn't think of songs about robots." The band disintegrated.

"Mr. Roboto" almost killed Styx. But not quite. Styx without Shaw (who left to form the short-lived Damn Yankees with Ted Nugent) rose again to score with the sappy "Show Me the Way," which became popular in 1991 as a Gulf War anthem. A greatest hits package released by the group's label in '95 prompted Shaw to rejoin the group for another national tour. And another. Eric Cartman sang "Lady" on an episode of South Park. Another tour -- this time without DeYoung. Another war and a renewed need for escapist entertainment.

And so it goes.

Caf & eacute; Sole has a lot to celebrate at its all-age, all-city party this Friday night. Owner Derek Almond is opening up a brand-new, officially sanctioned, all-ages venue in the back of his restaurant (which just happens to be celebrating its one-year anniversary). Local artist CALLIOPE'S BURDEN (a.k.a. Jonathan Nicholson) will perform to kick off the release of his latest CD. Also on hand will be the Celtic/folk/classical duo, SIDHE, and guitarist DON KUSH. And let's see... oh yeah, it's also Almond's birthday.

Nicholson, the sole member of Calliope's Burden, is a self-taught instrumental guitarist who's been a common sight on the local coffeehouse circuit for the last couple of years. His new album (entitled 90 Days) is his third release. It chronicles a painful three-month period in his life that was the catalyst for an eventually positive transformation.

"The album has 19 songs, and I feel it fully describes where I'm at right now," he says. "And the directions I'm heading to in the future."

Nicholson claims to be influenced by "everything from the Cure to the Celtic harp music of Turlough O' Carolan." In other words, he dishes up something for everybody. As does Sole. It's a perfect match. Check it out. n

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