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Ska's 'Reverse' Revolution

Pop music: O.C.'s Teen Heroes aim to take third wave's latest cycle in a different direction.

April 24, 1998|JENNIFER VINEYARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Until recently, third wave meant ska, and its center was Southern California. Now another cycle of musical rebirth is starting, and once again it may be centered here.

Third wave pop already thrives in Los Angeles--they commemorate it with Poptopia--and Orange County is waking up to it, even if it has to supplant ska in the process.

"There's a ska homicide coming soon," Teen Heroes singer-guitarist Jesse Wilder said. "It's a renaissance in the making."

It's more like a ska suicide. The answer to Reel Big Fish's tribute "Whatever Happened to Suburban Rhythm?": Ska went pop.

Suburban Rhythm, the considerably influential ska band known for its madman antics and novelty songs, set the tone when it regrouped about three years ago as the power pop Action League.

Wilder calls this third wave pop cycle "rev," for reverse revolution.

"It started with Action League, certainly," he said, "but it takes it in a different direction than power pop, in reverse, really, so it has to be called something else, to force people to think about it. There has to be another way of saying, 'We're not ska, we're not punk, and we're from Orange County.' "

Removed a generation from the L.A. pop scene, where highly regarded but commercially unproven bands such as the Negro Problem and Cockeyed Ghost take cues from the three Bs (Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach, the Beatles), O.C.'s younger set--which also includes the Killingtons--favors the two Cs (the Cars, Elvis Costello) and more new wave than it would like to admit.

In its three years of existence, Teen Heroes has served as something of a way station for local ska refugees. Besides Wilder, who defected from the Scholars, they've housed members from Reel Big Fish (RBF's trumpet player/vocalist Scott Klopfenstein has played drums and second guitar in the Heroes; RBF drummer Andrew Gonzalez also took a turn), as well as Ex-Presidents drummer James Kochen, My Superhero drummer Chris Clawson and Action League drummer Carlos de la Garza.

Keyboard player Isaiah "Ikey" Owens fills in when he's not pulling a shift with the jazz-ska leaning Pocket Lent or Sublime-spawned Long Beach Dub All Stars.

Though decidedly more stable now--with drummer Jeremiah Farchik, guitarist Pete Berberich and bassist Alexis Haretakis completing the lineup--Teen Heroes nevertheless benefited from those shaky times, having recruited more than their fair share of closet pop listeners from the ska scene.

With their debut album, "Audio Satellite" (out this week on Glue Factory Records), which puts keyboards where most O.C. bands would put horns, they're giving O.C.'s pop scene the giddy glow it needs to shine alongside L.A.'s.

Perhaps because these O.C. bands tend to be a full decade younger than the Silver Lake thirtysomethings squeezing the pop juice, they don't always seem to have as much to say--no wordplay as swordplay here.

"I don't explain things very well," Wilder conceded, "but there's neat things flying around, you know?"

The lack of poetic artifice can be a good thing. While the first Teen Heroes single, "Radio Listener," intends to make some of the same points as Elvis Costello's more searing indictment "Radio, Radio," it's more heartfelt than witty.

In his disdain for commercialized fluff, Wilder inadvertently creates something so sweet and catchy it might as well be on the radio too.

When new wave came out of punk, it was sugarcoated with dance beats. For this new wave, coming out of ska, the sugarcoating is one of simplicity and sincerity.

*

* Teen Heroes, along with Action League, Pressure, Killingtons, Iron-ons, Split Decision, Catch-22, Superstars, BHB play tonight in the Forum at Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. 6 p.m. $5. (714) 432-5914, Ext. 28254. Also Sunday at the Fullerton Earth Day Festival, a free outdoor event at the Hub Cafe/Fullerton Amtrak Station parking lot at Harbor Boulevard and Commonwealth Avenue, starting at 11 a.m. and featuring 11 other bands. (714) 871-2233.

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