Delivering the Goods

Dodge Dart takes a Fastball, reunites influential band

A true Dodge Dart story: one night when the Costa Mesa band was on tour in Portland, Oregon, Nick Sjobeck got really, really bored with singing, so he started smashing stuff on his head. He took a pint glass and . . . KLONK! It didn't break, and all he got was a nasty-ass headache. Undaunted, he wound up again and . . . KERRASH! Glass shards flew, Cuisinarting his hands. Filet-O-Finger sandwiches, anyone?

"I looked down at his right foot," remembers Dodge Dart guitarist John Klein. "There's a puddle of blood about 3 feet wide, and Nick is singing away, looking pastier and pastier. He gets offstage, his finger is spewing blood with each heartbeat, and all he has to say about it is, 'Where's the duct tape?'"

Now that's punk rock, maaan.

There are other stories: the time Dodge Dart's old drummer shoved an Epitaph Records representative out of the way while making a beeline for the bar. The times Sjobeck and Klein kicked people out of the band just because they felt like it. The times they landed an opening slot, got to the club late, pushed the next band's gear aside, and played anyway.

"We made ourselves fairly unapproachable with our attitude," says Klein in a slightly regretful tone. "We did that for a good year, just to be punk. And we liked to fake rock-star attitude. When people would try to talk to us, we'd tell 'em: 'Leave us alone! We just played a 12-minute set! Get away from us! We're tired!' Antics like that didn't help."

You'd probably expect behavior of this sort from a band with song titles like "Wanna Be Dead," "Somebody Kill Me," "R.I.P.," "I Hate You," "I Don't Care" and "Jesus Ain't My Friend" (in which the punch line is "And you ain't, either!").

But Sjobeck doesn't pull glass-shattering stunts onstage anymore; too many concussions. And Dodge Dart doesn't play shows dressed in nurses' uniforms or leopard-print bikini briefs anymore, either (it was a phase, y'see). Now Sjobeck, Klein and drummer Jamie Reidling (who has drummed for just about every OC band) are all decent, upstanding, shirt-and-tie-wearing gentlemen when they play. These days, they'd rather stir things up with their zippy punk tunes instead of shock-and-gore extravaganzas.

It ain't as if you really need sideshow distractions when you're watching them play-there's just no time to get bored at a Dodge Dart gig. Sonically, they're like Ramones' snotty, poop-stained little brothers. They play short, '70s-style punk aimed at people with attention-deficit disorder. A CD they sent me last year has 16 tunes on it; its total running time is 22 minutes. The longest song on it clocks in at 1:46, practically "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida"-length for them.

It's all good, though: really sweet, catchy stuff. One of their best, most subversive songs is a ditty called "Gonna Fuck You Up," a Sjobeck-penned mini-epic/death threat directed at the guy who stole his girlfriend, graced with an ungodly sing-along chorus that's so irresistible that 4-year-olds would scream it at pre-school if they were ever exposed to it.

"That's all those Sesame Street episodes we saw when we were kids," Klein explains. "You can't forget those melodies."

Before Dodge Dart, Sjobeck and Reidling worked in the Goods with Tony Scalzo, who's now playing a real-life rock star in Fastball, they of the love-it-or-loathe-it hit "The Way." The Goods gigged around OC from 1991 until 1993 and even recorded some promising demos for Warner Bros. But before any label deal could happen, Scalzo took what was supposed to be a one-time-only backing job in Austin, Texas. There, he met his future wife and decided to stick around, effectively offing the Goods for, um, good.

"I was really surprised that Fastball made it," Sjobeck says, "but I'm not surprised at all that Tony made it famous because I think he's amazing. But Fastball is just barely tapping into his songwriting abilities. He's probably got about 30 songs that are better than 'The Way' that no one's ever heard."

In their relatively brief life, the Goods left a big impression on the current slew of Costa Mesa-based bands. "They were a definite influence, not just with songwriting and music, but on the whole scene," recalls Iron-Ons singer John Weir. "Tony applied all of these influences to the band. He loved early Scorpions, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and a bunch of other stuff. He was like an encyclopedia of rock. They had guys with some really good talent, and I got a lot of encouragement from Tony. He used to show me Bowie songs."

After Fastball inked a deal with Hollywood Records, Scalzo didn't forget his struggling indie-rock roots. Two songs from Fastball's 1996 debut, "Human Torch" and "Nothing," are actually Goods songs resurrected from the Warner Bros. demo sessions.

You could tell from the demo in what direction Scalzo would eventually head. Like Fastball, it's mostly likable pop rock, with some Elvis Costello tinges meshed with garage grittiness, but nothing you'd turn backflips over and certainly nothing like what Dodge Dart would go on to sound like. Still, harder, edgier tracks like "Nothing" and "Hooky" would've fit nicely onto last year's excellent Hey Brother 4 compilation.

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