Goofball-Free Rockists

Reality—and the encouraging prospect of an impending rent payment—sometimes hits you like a sock full of quarters. Huntington Beach's Death On Wednesday felt just such a blow last year after a series of gigs opening for Social Distortion.

"There's nothing worse than touring with Social Distortion and then going back to a day job, kissing people's asses," says bassist Kevin Smith.

As tragedies go, it's not the worst thing ever. But to go from nights performing with your heroes to bleary-eyed mornings waiting tables has got to prey on the mind.

After a long period of gigging at loser bars and friends' parties, Death On Wednesday last year landed some choice opening slots for Social Distortion at the House of Blues and, by all accounts, gave the performances of their lives. They soon found themselves warming up the crowd for the likes of the Reverend Horton Heat, Dancehall Crashers and Sugarcult. They got good reviews for Buying the Lie, their debut indie full-length.

But all that work and goodwill only goes so far, at least at this stage of their career. It certainly didn't catapult the band from relative obscurity to watching their videos flash across MTV.

They're hoping their days will improve soon, though. The band are finishing work on a three-song EP, which their management company plans to shop to big labels and concert bookers. Then comes the really tough part—finding out if the record-buying public is ready for Death's particular brand of meat-and-potatoes rock & roll in the current waiting-for-the-next-big-thing climate. Death On Wednesday's version of traditional rock has nothing to do with DJs, synthesizers or a retinue of backup singers. Instead, they propagate the simple, basic arrangement of drums-bass-guitar, high-octane rhythms, two-fisted guitar chords and straightforward tales about feeling lousy, where to score the next kick and the eternal, never-ending search for the Good Time.

No one in the band is older than 26, but their style of rock would have fit in perfectly during the first wave of SoCal punk, when bands like X—and, yep, Social D—were injecting a punked-up energy into old rockabilly rhythms.

"We wanted to keep the real rock & roll alive," says guitarist Jeff Saenz.

Though the Social D influence is obvious, they're not trying to be Social D—look beyond the tattoos and surly expressions, please. They're also not trying to mimic the dorky goofball antics of today's more popular kiddie punk bands like Sum 41 and Blink-182, which alone is refreshing.

Still, as their shows attest, the band's greatest strength is their live sets. At a recent Detroit Bar gig, the prettiest girls in the audience mouthed the lyrics to all their songs, and the punkers (along with several standard-issue rock & roll dirtbags) bopped along with the beat.

Will this sort of fire and excitement translate into something bigger? Something that won't force the members to paste fake smiles on their mugs in the hopes of earning a decent tip? Something that can yank them out of the rock & roll limbo they're in?

Maybe. Just maybe.

Death On Wednesday perform with Longfellow and Handsome Devil at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067; Fri., 7:30 p.m. $10. All ages.


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