By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photo by James BunoanTonight is probably a school night for the Intelligista, but no one says a word about it. Instead, speeding toward a show in Hollywood inside a minivan with a busted passenger window, guitarist Nick Waterhouse and organ player Kevin Van are trying to think of stories they can tell to make them sound tough. They're banned from Chain Reaction (drummer A.J. Polizzi, wearing a frock and shouting at the sound techs as they dismantled his drum set, "DON'T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?"). They, um, played a ton of house parties for Edison High classmates. Their first show—actually more of a photo shoot—was at a Subway sandwich shop and got Kevin fired.
And right now, someone's trying to resolve a sudden mid-traffic-jam bladder issue with an Aquafina bottle and a little privacy in the front seat.
"Write about this!" they're saying. "Yeah, this is tou—ah, FUCK, why did I wear my white bucks tonight?"
So we pull over, and everyone pees on a tree, and that's how the Intelligista show up at a Hollywood tiki bar with their white buckskin shoes immaculately intact.
This is the Intelligista:
Nick Waterhouse, 17, Edison class of '04, 3.8 GPA, Rickenbacker 330 guitar, '66 Fender Bassman head ("Pete Townshend's '64 set-up," he says).
Kevin Van, 18, Edison class of '03, 3.6 GPA (says he had a 0.6 at one particularly dismal spot in his school career—good work, Kevin!), Wurlitzer electric piano.
Kyle Stephens, 17, Edison class of '04, 4.0 GPA, Rickenbacker copy bass ("To match mine," says Nick).
And Sir Anthony James Polizzi, 18, Edison class of '03 (circumstance permitting, Tulane University class of '07, B.S. Electrical Engineering), 4.2 GPA, drum set of unknown provenance and pedigree. "I definitely appreciate the likening to Keith Moon," he says. "I would also maybe appreciate a likening to Napoleon."
They are all from Huntington Beach, and together, they sound a lot like—but not exclusively like—the early Who and the Animals.
They have been a band for about eight months now. They have released one single on Paul Weller-disciple Chris Bradley's Unity Squad Records. "Everyone calls me Little Chris," says Nick. "But if he was 10 years younger, he'd totally be my best friend in high school." They won the school district's Battle of the Bands (defeating relatively infantile Sum 41 and Doors rip-offs) and are considering an offer to fly to Italy to play a show at a garage-rock fest.
To every other 17-year-old in Orange County, they must seem varying degrees of extraterrestrial: creeping from easygoing socialite partier Kevin through friendly everyguy Kyle, '60s man-out-of-time Nick, and then A.J., who segues easily from his bed-ridden Brian Wilson phase to his newest shtick, prowling the halls of his Tulane dorm decked out as a 17th-century aristocrat. ("He's so far ahead of the curve he's behind," sighs a friend.)
"The people we play for are us," Nick says, quickly clarifying, "The people we play for do not exist."
Obviously, they are nerds. But so are you. And there is a deep and primal tradition of nerdism in rock & roll, the muted counterpoint that puts the backbone in the decadence and debauchery, just as there is a deep connection between the best traditions of rock & roll and the squirrelly teenage idiosyncrasy of the Intelligista, too shy to piss on their shoes in a moving vehicle. You think of a quote from Ahmet Ertegun, one of the founders of Atlantic Records, on how the British rock & rollers of the '60 got so scholarly over dusty old American R&B. And you think of Kyle, fondly remembering the last time the Intelligista got a write-up in the Weekly: "That part about us masturbating over the Nuggets comps?" says Kyle, shaking his head respectfully. "God, it's so true."
"Oh, shitty," says Kevin as we slide into the club parking lot.
"Oh, strip mall," says Nick, more correctly.
As per every bar they have ever played, the Intelligista are carded, revealed to be younger than certain strains of brandy and sent to a special holding area at the back of the club, where they are to wait—penned—until they play. Could be worse: sometimes, they have to stand outside, says Nick. You offer to get them dinner on the Weekly tab; next door at the liquor store, Nick abandons an armful of bottled water (for later midset refreshment) when he spots the fridge full of Perrier. Play rock star for a night? You're happy to help. ("Thanks, dad," says Kevin). Back at the bar, they sneak you in as their manager—between the briefcase full of guitar junk you're handling and the Perrier you distribute to the rest of the band, no one's gonna argue.
They set up like they're gonna launch a model rocket: slow, deliberate, a little afraid something's gonna pop off. Everyone has changed into their gig outfits—nice white shirts, slacks, cagey and confident poker faces—except Nick, who, he says, lives his life in a gig outfit. He's very circumspect when it comes to the subject of Mod—what he calls (always with a grimace) the "M-word"—and rightfully so, when RAF logos are as prevalent and credible as anarchy signs. But you couldn't peel the rigid idealism and supreme confidence of the My Generation Who from the Intelligista without taking off their skins.