The 88 Play All Day and All of the Night

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You know that whole when-you-stop-trying-so-hard-things-will-naturally-fall-into-place thing people always yap about after a painful breakup? Apparently, it’s totally true.

Take the 88, for instance. They got dropped from a major label—and now they’re on tour as both opening act and backing band for Ray Davies of the Kinks. They’ve also recorded the song “Love Is the Thing” on an iPhone app, hawked Kenmores for Sears and backed up Elliot Smith.

“Since we got out of the other situation and are doing what we thought was right, all these great things are happening,” front man Keith Slettedahl says, checking in between shows with Davies. “As soon as we let go of that and I let go of those ideals, all these things started manifesting.”

Indeed, TV shows such as Weeds, How I Met Your Mother and Community keep knocking at the 88’s collective door. Music licensers, fans and more clamor for the band’s British-invasion-style pop glossiness, addictive hooks and feel-good lyrics—not to mention their bespoke style.

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Formed in 2003, the 88 have had a somewhat-revolving lineup, with two constants: singer/guitarist Slettedahl and Adam Merrin on keys, friends since their high-school days in Calabasas. Drummer Anthony Zimmitti has been around for the past five years, and bassist Todd O’Keefe joined the ranks in 2006 after leaving LA band the Green and Yellow TV. Their sophomore release, Over and Over (2005), won people over in a big way, catching the ears that match songs with action on the small and big screens, as well those of major-label types.

When the band signed to Island in 2007, they, like many bands before them, thought they had made it. Their stint at Island included working with such high-profile producers as Babyface (yes, Babyface) on their major-label release Not Only. . . But Also (2008). But the big time brought big problems. Not VH1 Behind the Music-esque tumult; more like a heart-wrenching, irreconcilable-differences divorce.

“It was probably all financial, if I’m being totally honest with myself,” Slettedahl says with a sigh. “You grow up with this dream in your head of a record deal. It was like we had reached this goal, but it was nothing like I thought it would be.”

With the split behind them—one that saw O’Keefe jump ship for a bit—they’re back to their sanguine selves. They’re playing smaller venues, jamming together and writing infectious pop ditties that are equal parts Kinks and Squeeze, just how they like it.

O’Keefe is also enthusiastically pliant post-Island. “We are happy playing everywhere,” the bassist says, okay with giving up the steady paycheck of a major label in exchange for retaining artistic control.

And just when the 88 were getting all chirpy about having no direction, no A&R people, no string of gigs lined up—Davies called. The 88’s former manager works with Davies, so when the Lola-loving Kink decided to hit the road with an opening act that could also plug in and rabble-rouse behind him, he asked the 88 to throw their name in the hat. The band nailed it.

Come Wednesday at the Grove of Anaheim, Slettedahl and the band will whop and wail through versions of “Lola,” “David Watts,” “Dead End Street” and maybe even some “Low Budget.” The band learned about 20 Kinks songs to stay on their toes during the month-long tour. (Davies has been known to honor requests scribbled on bits of paper or even disposable plates.)

“We have a bunch more in the repertoire,” Slettedahl says. “We’re just waiting for the go-ahead to unleash them.”

Performing with Davies is a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming, bucket-list item for the front man. “He’s the tops with me, the greatest ever,” says Slettedahl, who has earned his fair share of Davies comparisons. “The Beatles, he and Dylan are my biggest influences.

“The songs, the melodies, Ray’s voice, the sound of the band, everything. Though we never sat down and said, ‘Let’s sound like the Kinks,’ the influence has always been apparent. When you really love something, it’s bound to change you in some way, and it’s gonna come out whether you’re trying or not.”

So the 88 are officially clocking back in. “The four of us have never been more excited about playing music together,” O’Keefe says. “I’ve never experienced the way things are right now. . . . These four guys, it’s just really, really fun for us.”

The 88 perform with Ray Davies at the Grove of Anaheim, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 712-2700; Wed., 8:30 p.m. $45-$55. All ages.


This article appeared in print as "The 88, All Day and All of the Night: Well-respected men about town open for and back Ray Davies, collectively pinch selves."


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