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Lunching with Lobstar.

By James Porter

MAY 26, 1998:  In rock, more than any other kind of music, haircut and attitude define you sharply. This explains why Lobstar, a straight-up bossa nova combo in the Sergio Mendes vein, has been playing, rather than some upscale lite-jazz place, alternative rock clubs and holding their own. Although all eight members come from rock backgrounds, they don't even treat it like an indie-rock in-joke (and good for them - nothing worse than to see one of those "camp" gags fail). Aaron Rothenberg, Lobstar guitarist, doesn't worry about any identity crisis with his rock peers.

"We got surprisingly positive responses," Rothenberg muses over tea at Earwax. "When we first started playing we weren't so great, but I think we lost a certain amount of people [in the audience] right off the bat. But the ones who stuck it out are, to a greater extent, not really educated about the music. They're into it because it sorta goes against the grain and it's sort of refreshing." However, "the band is a different story," Rothenberg notes. "It's very very hard to keep within that theme because we're all rock 'n' roll players who want to bust out," he says. But that's the interesting part about their Brazilian stylings. "It's not a completely conscious take on the music. It's what happens when people play one form of music their entire life, listen to another form of music, and then seriously attempt another form without overextending ourselves."

The band formed a year-and-a-half and quite a few lineups ago. The current personnel consists of saxist Andy Creighton, drummer Mia Park, Rothenberg, saxist Kelly Argyle, Jason McDermott (lead vocals/guitar), Steve Raden (keyboards), John Moore (percussion) and (not pictured) bassist Robert Devious (pronounced "devwah").

"Initially the concept was a little up in the air," Rothenberg admits. "Originally me and Jason were gonna form a psychedelic band. It didn't come to fruition. Anyway, he was very much into tangos, he was very into bossa nova, and we played for a little while and he decided 'what the hell, I'm just gonna do whatever I want to do,' so he gave me some bossa nova tapes - 'this is what we're gonna be doing.'" Starting with the basic works of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto and a pinch of Sade, "we got together with a vibes player and a guitar player who's still in the band, John Moore. We played around with that for six months, played a few parties, barbecues, broke that up, restarted again, brought in horn players."

In the process of all this fine tuning, they started to get a grip on their abilities. "We were aiming to be a bit more experimental at the beginning. But there's eight people that play music in the band and it's just too chaotic like that. We decided that we had to stick with a more bossa-nova format," eschewing any left-of-center ideas. At the moment, Rothenberg admits. "We're still working on our sound." Although it's respectful, "it's not similar to pure bossa nova in a lot of ways. The horn arrangements are done in a more R&B way. They follow the chords and it's set. There's not a lot of soloing, in that respect. The rhythms are bossa nova - we do some of the contrapuntal rhythms with the horns."

The band has caught on just enough that they've been gigging in Michigan, including one show opening for Pat McDonald (formerly half of Timbuk 3 - remember "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"?). For a band that hasn't released anything yet (although they're wrapping up a demo tape), the shows did tremendously well. Future gigs include the Beat Kitchen on the May 24, and a spot as part of Laura Cohen and Christopher Ellis' "Vaudeville Night" (June 17 at Mary-Arrchie Theater), although they would like to crack the private party circuit. Do they foresee other bossa nova bands getting a piece of the action, with clubs offering tango lessons on "Brazilian night," a la the whole Mighty Blue Swing set?

"We're sort of hitting the other end of that wave," Rothenberg says, recognizing that some audiences latch on to them as a sub-Combustible Edison. "We're not stalking any particular niche because we're still defining ourselves."

1998 in review: Junior Wells. Carl Perkins. Eddie Rabbitt. Linda McCartney. Wendy O. Williams. Tammy Wynette. Rob Pilatus from Milli Vanilli. Junior Kimbrough. The Black Lone Ranger. Rose Maddox. Grandpa Jones. And now Frank Sinatra. Let's think about living, okay?

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