City Beat

by Natalie Nichols

1. The 88 is a throwback/modern rock act that mines the past like the
White Stripes or the Strokes, but, instead of rooting through early rock
’n’ roll or ’70s punk, chips away at the veins of quirky
British smart-pop.

2. Listening to the band’s debut album, Kind of Light, is like
eating multi-colored Life Savers one after the other – it’s
all pretty sweet, yet definitely varied, with notes of tart yellow, tranquil
green, jaunty red, and psychedelic orange.

3. The 88’s songs are written by singer-guitarist Keith Slettedahl.

4. He went to Calabasas High School with keyboardist-guitarist-producer
Adam Merrin.

5. With drummer Mark Vasapolli and bassist Carlos Torres, they formed
the Freeloaders.

6. When multi-instrumentalist Brandon Jay joined up, they became the

7. The band’s name comes from a French Kicks song.

8. They thought the title was about a piano (88 keys), but it actually
references NYC’s 88th precinct.

9. (It’s also the speed that Doc had to reach in Back to the Future:
88 mph.)

10. Their clever, odd-yet-melodic tunes are too often compared to the

11. But they evoke multitudes: Beatles, T. Rex, Bowie, XTC, Elliott Smith,

12. So give up playing spot-the-influence and just groove on their quirky

13. “Elbow Blues” is a standout tune: propulsive melody,
fluttery piano bits, lilting vocal harmonies. Dig it.

14. Hollywood concurs. A video of the song will play on a TV in Get Shorty
2: Be Cool.

15. In fact, the 88 is all over TV and movies these days.

16. “How Good It Can Be” was in an episode of The O.C., and
it’s on the soundtrack (out March 30).

17. “They played it at the very beginning of the show,” reports
Slettedahl, “so I didn’t have to watch the whole thing.”

18. That song was also in One Tree Hill.

19. “Coming Home” will be in the Ben Affleck flick Surviving

20. “It’s always weird,” says Slettedahl. “‘No
Use Left for Me’ got played in a bar scene in JAG. It was like,
how would they pick that?”

21. Danny Benair, of music marketing company Natural Energy Lab, hooked
up their first TV placements.

22. (Benair used to be in L.A. psych-pop act the Three O’Clock.)

23. The 88 has also charmed NPR, which included “Kind of Light”
on its new All Songs Considered 4 compilation.

24. And the players are charming indeed in the spiffy suits they always
wear on stage.

25. “It makes us look like a band,” Slettedahl says. “Otherwise,
we all look very different.”

26. Plus, it’s transformational: “You know how Gene Simmons
talked about, when he puts on the makeup, he changes?” asks Slettedahl.
“It’s kinda like that.”

27. They took their suits with them to Austin for South by Southwest
last week.

28. They played, like, two gigs a day there. And about a half-dozen shows
en route – their biggest mini-tour ever.

29. Keith and his girlfriend learned to silkscreen so they could make
tour T-shirts.

30. The farthest from home they’ve played is Washington, D.C.,
for the Lance Armstrong “Tour of Hope” cancer benefit last

31. “Seeing ourselves on a giant video screen was very trippy,”
recalls Slettedahl.

32. Even trippier, the concert was in a park next to the White House.

33. Did W. attend? “Not that I could tell,” says Slettedahl.

34. But they have had famous fans, including Kiefer “24”
Sutherland and the late Elliott Smith.

35. In fact, they backed Smith on a couple of his gigs last year.

36. Slettedahl had a weird dream before one show, involving a restaurant,
the keyboard, and the Lakers.

37. Not surprisingly, then, the 88 was among the saddened artists playing
tribute to Smith last November at the Henry Fonda Theater.

38. They did “Stupidity Tries,” “Can’t Make a
Sound,” and an unrecorded tune, “King’s Crossing.”

39. “It was just sad,” says Slettedahl, who is friendly with
Elliott’s sister Ashley. “You just feel terrible for everybody.”

40. They also played some Johnny Cash tunes during the Getty’s
tribute to the Man in Black last year.

41. And they also are all members of wacky Silver Lake kids’ group
Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang, currently making 12 videos for a DVD
of its self-titled debut.

42. Somehow, the 88’s still managing to write new tunes for another

43. In the meantime, KCRW (89.9 FM) and Indie 103 (103.1 FM) are still
rockin’ the old stuff.
44. Catch ’em at the House of Blues, opening for the Proclaimers,
on April 8.


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January 6
by Natalie Nichols
The 88, Kind of Light (EMK). Local lads make clever, melodic rock that’s oft-compared
to the Kinks but actually sounds very, very now. Yay for “Elbow Blues”!