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Dance Time

Dust off those zoot suits--the Monsters of Swing are coming to town.

March 24, 2000|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A sea of well-dressed hoofers, all of whom can dance better than you, are descending on the Poinsettia City for the epic Super Bowl of swing, the Fifth Annual Monsters of Swing weekend at the Ventura Theatre. In one of the few instances for which men gladly shop and then actually compliment one another on their clothes, the weekend will be filled with zany zoot-suiters. Adding zip will be three nights of live music and 2 1/2 days of dance lessons that could conceivably turn an oak into a junior Fred Astaire. The instructors are definitely the varsity, arriving from all over the country and beyond--even as far as Germany.

Providing the soundtrack for all this well-choreographed revelry tonight will be the Jive Aces and the Speakeasy Spies. The Swingtips and Lee Press-On & the Nails will play Saturday night, with Swingerhead providing the music Sunday evening.

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Swing dancing, a hybrid of the Charleston and ragtime, started in Harlem at the Savoy Theatre in the late 1920s. A further refinement, the Lindy Hop, was named after pilot Charles Lindbergh. A few years later, as Benny Goodman became popular, swing music was introduced to the white population. But swing has never been more popular.

You, me and the cat are probably the only ones that can't swing dance in the new millennium, and there's no reason for that. There's a swing dance or swing dance lesson somewhere nearly every night of the week. Ventura's own Big Bad Voodoo Daddy helped revive swing a few years ago through their weekly shows at the Derby in Hollywood and the surprise success of their appearance in the movie "Swingers."

Swing is especially big in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Lee Press-On & the Nails are one of the big reasons people have kept swinging in the Bay Area for the last six years. The band has created its own brand of horror movie swing with an army of spiffily dressed players and Lee Press-On coming off like a swinging Gomez Addams. The band plays everything from originals to Warner Bros. cartoon music and even a swing version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash."

Lee Press-On discussed the latest developments in swing during a recent phone interview.

Is swing getting bigger, smaller or staying the same?

Things are growing slowly but surely. Swing has been around for about 65 years now, and it has already bottomed out, so we're beginning to rebuild.

Are there still a million members in your band?

We've pared it down to 10 members now, so technically, we're still a big band. You actually have to learn more than three chords to play in a swing band.

How is swing dancing different from whatever it is those Deadheads used to do?

You have to actually touch your partner as opposed to just idly spinning. Swing dancing requires more planning.

Suppose you dance like an oak tree?

Your basic swing dance step isn't that hard. I think Al Gore could really use some swing dance lessons.

How many times have you played the Monsters of Swing?

This will be our third Monsters of Swing. It's fun seeing hundreds of people all focused on the same thing--the scene, the music and the history. It seems like every time we get a little tired of it all, we go to the Monsters of Swing and it rejuvenates us.

In addition to all the people in expensive clothes, who goes to these things?

You don't have to dance to go. A lot of people do, of course, but a lot also just watch. We get all these crazy rock 'n' roll kids that we have today that are taking a step forward by taking a step backward.

How would you describe your version of swing?

Nitro-burning funny swing.

How many albums do you have now?

We have two albums. We just released our new one. It's called "Swing Is Dead." The first one we recorded live in one night, and this one was recorded in a studio, so it's a little more professional.

What's the plan for the band?

It's too early to tell yet. But I can tell you one thing--the album will be a huge hit and I will become the king of the world or else the title is right and swing is dead and we'll have to reenter the work force.

DETAILS

Monsters of Swing 2000 at the Ventura Theatre, 26 Chestnut St., tonight, Saturday and Sunday. Jive Aces (9 p.m.) and Speakeasy Spies (11 p.m.) today; Swingtips (9 p.m.) and Lee Press-On & the Nails (11 p.m.) Saturday; Swingerhead (9 and 11 p.m.) Sunday; cost varies; 643-3166.

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If you can't afford a zoot suit, a T-shirt and five bucks will get you into one of the funniest shows of the year, Nerf Herder at Skate Street in Ventura. There will probably be more laughers than dancers at this one because, on the Goofball Rock Scale, Santa Barbara's Nerf Herder surpasses the Ziggens and perhaps is on par with the Rugburns. Also on the bill, and firm believers in fun, are the Army of Freshmen and Sugarcult.

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