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U2 gives L.A. band a taste of vertigo

The quartet of fans catches Bono's eye, then industry ears as it plugs in for an impromptu one-song dream gig.

November 04, 2005|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

Would-be starlets used to loiter at Schwab's Drug Store just waiting to be discovered, but that type of Cinderella story doesn't happen anymore, right? Well, on Tuesday night a rare bolt of show-biz lighting struck for a young L.A. band called Exit when they found themselves on stage with U2 and playing to a sold-out Staples Center.

Not only that, they rocked.

The all-female quartet barreled through the 1980 U2 song "Out of Control" with instruments lent to them by their heroes, and they got a standing ovation from the crowd and plenty of interest from the music industry folks in the audience. Atlantic Records, Sony BMG and Columbia Records are among the labels that have already contacted the group. Some music executives didn't even wait until the show was over, Blackberrying each other during the show trying to find out who the band was.

One of the executives interested in the band is Tim Devine, senior vice president of A&R for Columbia Records.

"I was very impressed with them and want to hear more," says Devine, who saw them at the concert. "The guitar player was exceptional, as is the drummer. The singer seemed a little nervous. But all of them went up there, grabbed the instruments and played with aplomb. I haven't heard their original material though," something Devine said he had asked for.

For now, Exit's original work is limited to a few MP3 files that can be found on the group's website, www.exit-band.com.

"It's been unbelievable, it was just magic," said 24-year-old drummer Pam Bluestein. "It was like a dream."

They also have a fan in Bono. "They're good!" the singer shouted to his band mate, the Edge. Then the singer picked up a water bottle and took a seat on stage, his body language that of a guy taking a lunch break.

The members of Exit had tickets for the floor section, and they showed up hours early to ensure they could get a spot close to the foot of the stage. They brought with them a homemade sign: "Bassist, Singer, Guitarist, Drummer -- The Girls Play Really Well," a play on a U2 lyric from the song "Vertigo." Bono saw the sign while he was singing "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" and pulled them up on stage.

"Come up," Bono said. "Larry would get the girl band on his birthday." That was a reference to U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr.'s celebrating his 44th birthday.

U2 has plucked fans from the crowd for years, either letting them participate in the show or simply to be serenaded, as Bono did with another female fan Tuesday night. On this current world tour, U2 has at least twice pulled bands up on stage, with mixed results: One of the groups was too shaky and the band getting paid to play finished the song themselves. But the members of Exit were focused on getting on stage and not blowing the chance.

"Being up there was like the eye of a hurricane, the energy and sound are amazing," bassist Susan Hamilton, 25, said. "I'm still shaking. I think we impressed U2 too. They were waiting around to see if we could do it, and you could tell they were surprised, I think. Luckily, we rocked it."

Exit began five years ago as a U2 tribute band, but they have ventured into their own material now. "We've been working toward getting into the studio, and if this helps that would be amazing," said Trevi Fligg, the 27-year-old singer.

For the time being, the rock 'n' roll fantasy still takes a backseat to their day jobs. On Thursday the group gathered at 6:30 a.m. at the offices of Quality Parking in Encino (the band's manager, Christine Lawrence, works there) to be photographed for the paper. It was the only time of day that their job schedules would allow it.

Guitarist Courtney Lavender, 24, said the sudden attention is surreal. "It's all utter madness. And it's wonderful." Bluestein said she had been contacted by a drum manufacturer about an endorsement deal for their cymbals. "Can you believe it?"

There may be no better stage to borrow than the one belonging to U2. The Staples show is part of a hot-ticket tour that will be among the top grossing road runs in rock this year. The band has also outgrown simple pop conventions -- with Bono's political activism, U2 has become larger than life. Tuesday's show was high on the celebrity quotient. Charlize Theron, Dennis Hopper, Salma Hayek, Winona Ryder and Val Kilmer were in the audience for both U2 and Exit.

Fligg said it would be hard for the young band to match the music moment they had with U2, but she did learn that arena crowds are more exciting than intimidating. "To get a taste of that, what it's like, that's what every band wants."

There was another insight gleaned during Exit's fleeting turn as arena rockers: Bono is short and sweet. "He came up to my shoulder," Fligg said. "I had flats on too. And he put his head on my shoulder. That was so cool."

As Bono said during Exit's time on stage: "It pays to advertise."

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