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Fear Factor Three

Inside their sweltering rehearsal space, the Marauders are waiting for the air conditioner to suck the humidity from this Fort Lauderdale night and spit the air back inside, all frosty and cold. Dr. John, Shamus, and Rich steel their collective composure and head away from the a.c.'s reach, back into the stuffy studio. Three nights a week, the trio meets, crushes its ten-song set list to powder, and makes plans to take this all-instrumental experimental kitsch unit straight to the people. Just as soon as they can get it to sound right.

"We stump every soundperson we've ever had," claims bassist Dr. John. Until last year, he and keyboard player Shamus were teamed with drummer Ed Malone in the Necrophiles, a goth-surf band (also instrumental) known for infrequent but theatrical live appearances. Without the presence of vocals or a guitar, those unfortunate men manning the mixing board are never sure how to make the Marauders sound like they're, well, marauding.

"The Marauders aren't limited to surf the way the Necrophiles were," says John, whose melodic bass playing guides the band. Indeed, bloody bits of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti Westerns, Sonic Youth, Burt Bacharach, Juvenile, Glenn Campbell, Madonna, and Sesame Street have all fallen headfirst into the Marauders' meat grinder. Fliers screaming "3 Shiver and Shudder Spine Tinglers! See the Terror! See the Shock! Live the Horror!" complete the B-movie mayhem.

"We want people to react as if they'd seen a bad movie and enjoyed it or lived through some horrible movie and still had a good time," says John, completely black-clad with angled sideburns and pipe-straight jeans. Trim and tall, he towers over the slight Shamus. "A lot of our stuff, especially the introductions, is more spooky-symphonic," Shamus adds. Looking like a Skinny Puppy roadie circa 1988, he's clad in torn black T-shirt and olive cargo pants, with Halloween hair spiky at the sides and ten inches or so of narrow bangs dripping past his cigarette-clenching lips. When he plays, he does so bent over like a switchblade at the waist, hanging on to his keyboard with one leather-wrapped wrist.

"Eclectic and experimental," John promises, envisioning an upcoming gig that will include both a cellist and a freestyle rapper. "That would be so phat," remarks tan, GQ-coifed Rich, military physique folded behind the drum set, spinning his sticks, sweat leaking from behind his wraparound shades onto his new Dickies shorts. "That would be, like, unheard of."

"It's finally starting to cool off in here," John says, strapping on his bass. "I bring a certain vintage element," he'd mentioned earlier, and the instrument is nothing but. "How old is that bass?" Rich asks. "Older than me, that's for sure," Shamus laughs, and he's not kidding. John's Ovation electric bass guitar is at least 20 years old.

Rich lays down a party-styled funk beat, and John picks out a few icy-clean notes from his nine-year-old strings. The sound is transmitted by a massive chrome pickup that resembles an old refrigerator-door handle. A brief, poppy groove has been created, thanks to a pair of bongos strapped to Rich's tom toms with a bungee cord. A menacing buzz blasts from Shamus' corner of the room, morphing into a swirl of whistling wood and wind. "My turntables are probably just as old as his bass," Shamus says when the sound abates. That could be true: One is a plastic "record player" that appears to be two generations more advanced than a Kenner Close 'n Play. Shamus sometimes uses the turntables for a fierce display of scratching more akin to a mauling. Atop his keyboard sit a white plastic fan, a laptop, and a Big Gulp cup.

After the Necrophiles, Shamus and John toyed with the notion of starting a band -- Death Digs Disco -- using broken, ancient, and toy instruments. "That's, uh, totally on hold," the chain-smoking Shamus says as he trips over his unlaced sneakers and almost slips on record covers strewn across the floor. "The whole band's accident-prone," John laughs. Not quite two years ago, he was hit by a drunken driver on the 17th Street Causeway and laid up but good, with a broken leg, nose, clavicle, shoulder, and several ribs. A month later, Shamus was struck on the same street and broke the same leg. Not to be outdone, soon afterward, Rich fell 13 feet from a yacht to a cement dock and suffered a fractured skull. All have healed splendidly.

"This is the reverb tank," John explains, slamming his fist down on a little box named Univerb-Unicord to make it work again. When his bass plays through the reverb tank, the whole room spins like a Batman episode. It helps the Marauders' meanest song, "Czar's Revenge," which begins with the squall of a civil defense warning before taking the bleakest, coldest, broken bits from Gary Numan and Black Sabbath and gluing them to an antique end table.

"Not Your Saviour" still bears the whiff of surf, as John concentrates on the high strings, bending them, playing open strings in lieu of low notes. He and Rich hammer away demonically, while Shamus pumps in noxious air currents. By "Hanging Party," Rich is all rolling-boil propulsion, and his shirt comes off. Having fun? "Oh yeah," he gasps, reaching for a swig of Pepsi. Shamus paces and lights another smoke. A horribly threatening and evil sound -- call it an insect-o-cutor -- is coming from his keyboard rig. Rich is pummeling again, kicking out a Donna Summer chunk beat. While John holds it all down, his bass rewriting history with Dick Dale-esque one-string slide symphonies, Shamus goes crazy with noise. On "Computer Room," he lays his whole forearm atop the keys. They squawk as if wounded.

Echoes of gauzy goth bands like Felt and Cocteau Twins lay quietly behind "Exquisite One," which starts as a slow stroll through a mausoleum's garden and builds into a powerful Deadsy-like bombast. The introduction of Joy Division's classic "I Remember Nothing" bleeds in and out of "Nepenthe." John's bass remains the lead instrument, brittle and unforgiving but somehow almost as human as a voice:

Marauders are coming, Marauders are coming!