Kids in the Hall

“We're not a real band . . . but we want to be.”

Strange world, when the 20-year-old kid sitting next to you tells you—the interviewer, the gal who booked this little breakfast date to chat about his band and music and hopes and dreams—that his band isn't real, that they've only recorded five songs and played 10 gigs inside of a year, and that he hopes to one day, well, grow up, join the land of the big people, and maybe—if he's lucky—play in a “real” band. But he's got a point: these days, just about any kid with a guitar and a computer—and that's a lot of kids—can record a few songs, throw them up on the Internet, and BAM! He's got fans. Most of the time they're his friends, yes, but sometimes they're strangers, and pretty soon, he's not just playing in living rooms at house parties, but coffee shops and churches and dive bars and . . . wait. Those are actual gigs. Which is what bands do—play gigs. So what, necessarily, constitutes a “real” band, again?

Tough question. And it's one for which Micah Lewis, singer and guitarist for Los Alamitos band Lightmusic (also joined by Stevie Kugelburg, 18, on bass; Tess Shapiro, 20, on vocals; and Kevin Ferguson, 20, on drums) is in search of an answer.

“If you've got GarageBand on your laptop and a MySpace account, you've got a band,” he explains, going on to list at least three names I've never heard: Ironic Pancakes, Mandarin Dynasty, Friendship Hurricane. They're his buddies' “bands,” he adds, which is to say Mandarin Dynasty is “this one guy Michael,” and Friendship Hurricane is the side project of Lightmusic drummer Ferguson. And still, even with one-man bands and side projects—there's small talk of starting a label, too—none of it is “real.” OC isn't a “real” scene town like Omaha or Toronto or Portland or even Lawrence. Instead, it remains a would-be scene, a zygote of a scene, filled with dozens of bands and boys, just like Lewis, who run a risk of one day soon trading in those guitars for a salary and benefits. You know, joining the “real” world.

Or maybe not. For all this not-a-boy, not-yet-a-man talk, Lewis nonetheless kills with talent. He's a gifted storyteller with a rough-and-tumble voice that channels the very best of the Chapel Hill scene, circa 1992—when he was 6. Of the five or so songs the band has recorded, at least four—the ones available on their MySpace page,—show promise of someday making it on to a bona fide EP. There's the X-meets-Modest Mouse “Kid” and Pixies-meets-Modest Mouse “Aee,” (“Everybody uses math equations to describe us,” jokes Kugelburg. “It's like, Pixies-plus-Interpol-plus-crappy-Modest Mouse. I don't know where they get the Interpol.”) and also “She is Seventeen,” two and a half minutes of escalating harmonies and noise that are barely contained by the band before giving way to the remaining three minutes: faster, cleaner punkish melodies spliced with a hey-hey/hand clap chorus that could rival the very best of the Shins' hand-clap tracks.

But the real gem is “Used to Get It,” an acoustic opus penned by Lewis that brilliantly—and hauntingly, and maddeningly, and sadly—captures the real-life, overheard story of, yes, an elderly, gay, former navy shipman: “When I was in the Navy/I used to get so much dick/when the government pays me/I have some fun with it/72 and I still love to screw/and if you sit next to me I'll start talking to you/I said, 'What are you musing on?/What are you interested in?'/The only thing I still love is men.” It's the stuff of Sufjan Stevens and other modern day storytellers, the life of a gay septuagenarian as heard by the ears of a 20-year-old churchgoing kid from Los Al.

And the best part? Regardless of whether you hear it on a laptop or in a coffee shop, it is, without a doubt, real. Congratulations, guys, you're a real band now.

Lightmusic play with Yacht Club and Son of Heatwave at Plush Cafe, 207 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 738-5100. Sun., 7:30 p.m. $5. All ages. Bar for 21+.

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