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Alternative to Darkness

Light, Catchy Tunes Are Dada's Forte, Mixing Bright Textures, Sardonic Lyrics

July 04, 1996|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lollapalooza organizers broke the mold this year by booking heavy metal band Metallica as the headliner.

Still, the alterative-rock reins of that festival haven't loosened up enough to bring modern pure-pop bands into the mix, although Dada singer-bassist Joie Calio would love to see it happen.

"There's room for everybody--it's all just different styles of music, of art," Calio said during a recent phone interview. "There's no magic box it fits into. I mean, I still love 'Louie, Louie' on a Saturday night."

Until that day, Dada fans will have to content themselves with seeing the group in the more intimate surroundings of clubs like the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, where the L.A.-based modern-pop group appears Friday. The band--which also features singer-guitarist Michael Gurley, drummer Phil Leavitt, plus touring rhythm guitarist Buddy Gig--is wrapping up the second leg of a U.S. tour that began in April.

Dada first made a splash in 1992 with a pair of radio-friendly hits in "Dim" and its signature song, "Diz Nee Land," both drawn from its 300,000-selling debut album, "Puzzle."

The group mixes neo-psychedelic grooves and sardonic lyricism into potent, catchy and intelligent pop tunes. The trio colors its sound with the vocal tandem of the deeper-voiced Calio and whimsically oriented Gurley, while using the influence of the Kinks, the Who and Jimi Hendrix as a springboard for its own still-evolving pop 'n' roll.

With its new "El Subliminoso" album--following 1994's commercially disappointing "American Highway Flower"--the trio branches out stylistically to include funkier beats, more frequent guitar soloing and several autobiographical sketches.

In contrast to the bright textures that typify his pop songs, despair invaded the private world of Calio with the death two years ago of his mother. As part of his healing process, he expressed his feelings by turning to what he knows best.

"I was feeling depressed and experiencing kind of a delayed reaction to her death," Calio said. "It was like I was alone in this gloomy space, feeling invisible. . . . I couldn't call a friend even if I wanted to. Sometimes it hits you that heavy."

Emerging from the darkness, Calio penned two cathartic songs, "No One" and "Hollow Man," which include such melancholy words as these from the latter tune: "Hey, hey, I'm a hollow man / I've got nothing inside to hurt me again."

"El Subliminoso" has its lighter moments as well. Not your typical father-son relationship, the experience shared in "A Trip With Dad" isn't about a day at the beach or catching a ballgame together. It is, however, a true story, he said.

*

The song begins with Gurley singing, "I took a trip / A trip with my Dad / I packed the lunches / He scored the tabs." With its references to recreational drug use, along with similar sentiments expressed in the song "I Get High," the band may well catch flak from anti-drug forces.

"I don't care if people react negatively," insists Calio, who's in his 30s and lives in Woodland Hills. " 'Trip With My Dad' is a true story that our drummer told Mike and I, so we wrote a song about it. It wasn't a conscious effort about waving a flag or wearing a badge that says, 'Oh, we're hippies and we take drugs.'

"I did smoke pot, but I had to make a choice: Either quit or probably lose my voice. So I did quit," he said. "I'll admit, though, I do love my drinking--tequila, single malts and good champagne. I mean, life's a bitch sometimes. As far as I'm concerned, however you choose to get through it . . . hopefully without destroying yourself, is your business."

Rather than preach to fans, Calio prefers to let the band's music make the impressions, particularly in concert.

"When I was 5, I was the kind of kid who picked up a broom, looked in the mirror and thought I was in the Monkees or Beatles," he said. "Playing live is the greatest high that I've got control of in my life. I thrive on the attention and interaction it generates.

"I respond to the moment, whatever each night brings," he added. "Every show, I try to go somewhere, and I want to take the crowd along with me. I want them to feel we gave them what they came to see--or better yet, that they learned something about us they didn't know."

* Who: Dada.

* When: 8 p.m. Friday, with Nine Days Wonder.

* Where: The Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano.

* Whereabouts: Exit Interstate 5 at Camino Capistrano: go left. The Coach House is in the Esplanade Plaza, on the right.

* Wherewithal: $12.50-$14.50.

* Where to call: (714) 496-8930.

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