It's a rock 'n' roll double standard: a band like My Chemical Romance can dress up like the bastard sons of Dracula, write eerily death-obsessed "love" songs, and be taken seriously. But when a group like the Aquabats dresses like villains from a Batman movie and puts on a real stage show, naysayers write it off as a gimmick. But that's mostly the sentiment of a few, clueless, music-industry goons. The people who actually matter -- the fans -- aren't quite as cynical. And with the equally enthralling Epoxies and Phenomenauts joining the 'Bats' current tour, not even Bruce Wayne would stay home for this one.
Aquabats vocalist MC Bat Commander recounts how the band's 11 years together have been a series of ups, downs, and almosts, including a failed deal for a TV show on Buena Vista. "Things looked bleak," he tells New Times.
But just then... Pow! Nitro Records stepped in to release the band's new full-length album, Charge!!, which came out earlier this month. It had been six years since the Aquabats' previous release, and the difference is more than noticeable. The horns and saxophones are nearly all gone, replaced by synth-styled keyboards and rhythms quirkier than Oingo Boingo on a meth binge. Live, the band still employs the same wacky stage antics, some not even on purpose. "One night we had a pirate come on stage," the Commander says, recalling the band's tour with Les Claypool. "I was in a bad mood, the crowd was booing, so we did it really deadpan like, 'Oh, great -- pirates came to stop the show.' Les said it was the best one yet."
Hopefully, there won't be any booing this tour. Although, once the Epoxies take the stage, boredom isn't much of an option. The Oregon-based five-piece packs more raw energy than a 9-year-old on Ritalin. Donning striped shirts, narrow sunglasses, and strips of electrical tape, the Epoxies straddle the line between punk and new wave, retro and futuristic.
"When we started in 2000, no one was using synths, and we knew it was totally uncool," vocalist Roxy Epoxy says. "Part of why we started was to bother everyone with how uncool it was."
Five years and several tours later, the Epoxies aren't quite so bothersome, due in no small part to a special fan they picked up along the way -- Fat Mike of NOFX, who released the Epoxies' latest album, Stop the Future, on his own Fat Wreck Chords.
If you really want to talk retro and space-age, though, just check out the Phenomenauts. The helmet-clad space-a-billy foursome takes the sci-fi thing to the next galaxy, complete with lunar-ready gadgets and, yes, flying toilet paper. It's as if Devo hooked up with Link Wray and migrated to the moon.
Is this all just forgettable gimmickry? Maybe, if you're completely dead inside. Hell, even My Chemical Romance, in the song "Cemetery Drive," admits that "singing songs that make you slit your wrists/it isn't that much fun." So put on a bat mask and have some friggin' fun already!