Supagroup’s latest album cover spoofs the Enter the Dragon movie poster, picturing the band in a kung fu totem above scenes of ass-kicking, explosions, motorcycles, skulls, dragons, headphones and helicopters. Singer-guitarist Chris Lee and his brother, lead guitarist Benji Lee, play karate champ Jim Kelly and the legendary Bruce Lee (no relation, although the brothers are of Chinese descent), respectively; Chris’ hands are extended in a kung-fu pose while Benji wields nunchaku. The message is implied by the hierarchy of the images, but it’s also spelled out, lest it elude anyone: Supagroup Rules.
Chris Lee says the New Orleans-based band was originally going to call the album Get Awesome, but went with Rules as a serious goof. “We were like, f'k it'let’s say we rule. Why not? Why shouldn’t we? No one else is saying it. Rappers talk s't about how awesome they are all the time, but no rock bands do it anymore. I think it’s a shame.”
While Lee seems to forget legions of chest-beating, self-referential and aggrandizing meathead bands, he’s onto something. “No rock bands do it anymore.” Supposing “it” equals “rule,” how many bands are doing “it” nowadays? Not many. Ruling has indeed become a forgotten art, and Lee’s right: It is a lowdown, dirty, cryin’ shame. But at least it birthed Supagroup.
“We started this band,” Chris Lee likes to say, “because we wanted to play the music we weren’t hearing that we wanted to hear.” That would be party rock'huge, stomping, blues-based, anthemic rock & roll a la AC/DC and Aerosmith with big guitars, bigger choruses and the biggest balls of them all.
Fast forward through five years, three albums and countless shows: the New Orleans-based quartet is among a growing cabal of underground bands (including but not limited to The Supersuckers, Honky, Grady, et al) that says ruling'let’s define it as “kicking ass” and “giving the people what they want”'is its own reward.
When Supagroup plugs in and revs their guitars like mechanically crossbred Hemi-Harleys and Lee proclaims, “We are Supagroup'you must be the USA!” it’s less Spinal Tap than sheer magic. As Supagroup sweats songs and guitar solos, inhibitions cower back by the restrooms and fists compulsively shoot skyward. Everybody in the room, including the band, forgets that there is anything in the world but this night, these beers and this music.
The music. That’s a huge part of the reason for the communal atmosphere. Supagroup is playing the last strain of naturally evolved roots music, what you might call “pure” or “trad” rock & roll. Prior to the formation of countless rock splinter factions, this simple, unaffected music was the last to capture the imagination and attention of most of the world. Everybody has at least one album by AC/DC or Aerosmith or Mtley Cre, and chances are it’s on the top shelf. Almost anybody can relate to Supagroup.
The ultimate testimonial comes from none other than Alice Cooper, on the record as saying, “These boys are the first band I’ve had open for me since Guns N’ Roses to get a standing ovation every night. It takes charisma to make it in rock & roll, and these kids have it in spades.” Those are sage words from the world’s foremost rock showman, and many happy folks, regular Joes privileged enough to have witnessed Supagroup in the act of ruling, will back him up.
But even as the fans pile up and accolades roll in (publications from Billboard to the Village Voice to Rolling Stone agree with Cooper that Supagroup rules), the band is wary of getting too high on itself. Supagroup rules according to a set of rules.
“We take our performance seriously,” says Lee, “but we try not to take ourselves seriously.” They see themselves, he furthers, as facilitators of a good time. In that sense, Supagroup is on a heroic mission like Jim Kelly and Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, only they’re battling uptightness instead of drug kingpins. In these days when you have to wear irony when you rock out, Supagroup is out to restore the irony-free good time.
“It’s not easy to do,” Lee says, “but you basically just have to demand that people participate.” Just the same, he continues, “the rules we impose on people are the rules people impose on us.”
This is to say, if the band wants the crowd to let its hair down and rock out, so shall they. Other than that, Supagroup has only one other rule: We’ll play anywhere anytime for anyone for any kind of fans,” says Lee, “just our No. 1 rule is we have to have a case of beer. Money is great, but it’s extraneous. If we don’t get beer, we won’t play. We’ll be f'kin’ bitches about it.” SUPAGROUPUrban Lounge241 S. 500 EastMonday, June 610 p.m.746-0558