September 25 2002
Arts and Entertainment
IT WAS AN early spring afternoon circa '97 when Dr. Frank checked in from a truck stop somewhere outside of St. Louis. His band, the Mr. T Experience, unsung pop punk hero-gems of the East Bay, had drawn the opening slot for Reel Big Fish and some similar pantload-type band in a package tour designed to ride the updraft of the Green Day-Rancid-Offspring explosion. But the story wasn't whether Frank and his boys were going to catch a lift to the next level but rather that at that point the band even existed. After years of creating sterling, well-thought-out punk rock but never being able to field a solid lineup for long, MTX was ready to fold tent and limp off into the sunset in '94. Then a high school kid named Joel Reader came along, revitalizing the flagging outfit when he was asked to play bass a superfan's dream gig.
The band's resurgence as a pure pop punk three-piece was instantaneous and captured on two marvy releases, '95's Love Is Dead and '97's Revenge Is Sweet and So Are You (both on Lookout!). This period featured the most spirited and wry writing of Frank's already formidable career, and he heaped praise on Reader, going so far as to single him out as the reason Mr. T was still in business. A short time after the interview, the Tour That Never Broke Anyone ended, Reel Big Fish disappeared from the radar screen forever, and Joel Reader, the kid who saved a band, left MTX because it turned out there wasn't room enough in the band for two songwriters.
And so, not too much later, a little three-piece called the Plus Ones reared its head, got rehearsed, got recorded, and released their first EP, On the List (Coldfront). It was good, melodic stuff a supercharged affair that married Reader's former band's tight sound to the aesthetics of the Kinks and the sweetness of the Raspberries that still translated to the loud-fast crowd. Then, in an ironic twist, the Plus Ones went to shit when their own protracted personnel shuffle shut the band down.
They finally reemerged this year with two original members, a second guitarist, and a plan to leave their pop punk home behind. Their second disc, It's a Calling (Asian Man), finds them practically reinvented as a straight-up power-pop combo. It's all three-part harmonies, big, loud chords, self-referential angst, and just enough second guitar to keep them tuff enough for the kiddies. You can fill in the suspect list with the usual Weezer blah, blah, blah, but it's of little importance. It's a great album no matter what tag you want to stick on it. The real point of interest is Reader trying not only to distance himself from his mentor but also to bury him and the rest of the doubters in the sand. When the world believes you shot your load at 17, it's nice come back at 22 and prove them all wrong.
E-mail John O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org.