With the large number of bands that make the pilgrimage every year to Los Angeles for their “big break,” it can be hard for the few (remaining) locals to be heard, especially with the low percentage rate of those that are any good. But The 88 have been doing a respectable job at getting their eclectic pop-rock to L.A. audiences. Their debut album, Kind Of Light (EMK Records) has already garnered coverage in the pages of “Rolling Stone,” the “L.A. Times” and “L.A. Weekly,” and regular live stints like a month-long residency at Spaceland have helped to nurture an ever-growing fan base (which includes “24” star Kiefer Sutherland; recalls singer/guitarist Keith Slettedahl on meeting his new fan, “The little kid in me was like, “Oooh, TV guy!”). Though the band’s profile is aided by the presence of Brandon Jay (a.k.a. local cult figure Quazar), The 88’s popularity has more to do with their songs, which is how Weezer would sound if they spent less time obsessing about underage girls and more time listening to Kinks records. Slettedahl remains admirably lowkey about his music. “I like songs. I’m not as concerned with how they’re dressed up,” he notes. “I mean, obviously for me personally, I like a certain kind of sound, but there is a song in all that stuff. Bad modern country or modern pop stuff, a good song’s a good song.”
Slettedahl’s history is a unique though humble one. He didn’t pick up a guitar until after graduating from high school, and was 24 before he wrote his first song. It was after many a practice session with former classmate and future 88 piano player Adam Merrin that the idea to form a band slowly took hold, and the result was The Freeloaders. But after many years of basing themselves around mediocre songwriting (“They were more excuses to jam than actual well-written songs,” Slettedahl admits) that he worked up the courage to move past the songs-by-committee approach and lay his own compositions on the table. The decision was not an easy one, given his almost overriding self-consciousness. But thankfully, he did, and the band was changed irrevocably. First, though, Slettedahl had a lengthy drug addiction to beat, but after doing so, Brandon Jay joined the fold, and suggested a name for the band while he was at it. The Freeloaders morphed into The 88, which was taken the name from a French Kicks song (one of the songs on Kind of Light, “No Use Left For Me,” has a distinct Kicks sound).
Being that Slettedahl is now known as a hyper-prolific songwriter, it’s an easy guess that another album will be forthcoming. So will it be made up of the backlog of material that didn’t make it onto Kind Of Light? “Well, I think it’s going to be mostly newer [material], because I’m always most interested in what I’m doing now. I’m always thinking the new stuff is better than the other stuff.”
The 88 will perform at the The El Rey Theatre on March 27 with Superdrag and Ozma. For more information, visit www.the88.net
Next up, the great 88 continued to build their reputation as one of the most consistently awesome live acts in town.Maybe I’m a sucker for band members in suits, and it’s arguable how “underground” they are now that they’ve graced the pages of Rolling Stone and The Los Angeles Times, but the pure frenetic joy these guys broadcast across a dance floor cannot be denied. And it’s always good to see their frontman/guitarist Keith Slettedahl beaming like a beatific Buddy Holly. The highlight of their set (and the entire evening) was a spirited cover of “Suffragette City” led by an honest-to-goodness Amoeba staff member. The 88 sunk their collective teeth into the familiar riff, shaking up the crowd. I’m sure the fuzzy headed employee did Amoeba management proud. Just one word of advice: Next time, don’t forget the “wham, bam, thank you, ma’am!”You came this close to getting your cool card revoked on that one,my dear. http://www.campuscircle.net/socal/pdf/underground13.15.pdf
My regular readers, all two of you, have heard me rave about Eleni Mandell before, and I’ll gladly do it again.Heck, I could fill this entire column and several more singing her praises, but that would be quite a slight to her superb openers the 88, who are richly deserving of a column or two of their own. Local and close to magnificent, the band has been rocking the stereos of those smart enough to have picked up their sharp debut CD Kind of Light – but they’re best live. Keith Slettedahl is a powerhouse and the band’s early-’80s Elvis Costello vibe is positively irresistible. It’s a bit odd for them to be playing to the typically-stuffy concertgoers at the Derby, but maybe the 88 will loosen folks up for a change. It’d be worth stopping by to see.