Rocket Roll | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Rocket Roll 

Intergalactic rockers The Phenomenauts drop in and tune out on City Weekly.

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It’s late at night in the City Weekly offices. Bill Frost is passed out drunk on his desk; I’m soon to meet a similar fate. We await transmission from a presumably spacebound band called The Phenomenauts. At the stroke of 11:30 (perhaps not coincidentally coinciding with the end of a Blind Date rerun), the teletype (or what you’d call AOL Instant Messenger) perks up and begins to tick. The transmission begins cryptically; the first line reads: Transmission:

It’s singer-guitarist Commander Angel Nova. He writes that The Phenomenauts are transmitting directly from The Command Center, located in Earth’s Capitol: Oakland, in the California System. We had hoped to test City Weekly’s new billion-dollar communications system with an Earth-to-Phenomenauts interview--that was not to be. Instead, Nova and I communicate through cable modem ($200), broadband connection ($50/month) and the Internet (priceless--for now, anyway). It will simply have to do.

Many people believe we are from outer space, Nova writes. In fact, we are based here on Earth.

Though not aliens--or so they insist--the Phenomenauts have an invaders-from-Mars booking ethos. They tend to appear at shows, then set up and play as if on the bill--or just perform outside venues after the show. Sometimes they employ more devious means. For instance, The Phenomenauts raided the 2003 Warped Tour by showing up as if invited then ensuring they remained on the tour by cooking breakfast (breakfast burritos, if you want specifics; Warped honcho Kevin Lyman cared for them a great deal) for Warped Tour bands and hierarchy--and also playing far-out sets of their sci-fi punk-rockabilly (not psychobilly) tunes.

Sinister bastard geniuses, The Phenomenauts.

This begs the question: Commander Angel Nova, did The Phenomenauts come by their Salt Lake City gig (this Friday at the Lo-Fi Café) legitimately, or have you again commandeered the stage?

We have many people in many places doing many things, Nova writes. The Phenomenauts are not just the band members, they are thousands of crewm’n, cadets, and hypercadets--all doing their part to defend this great planet.

Defend from what, one wonders. It could be any number of things, from Southern Baptists to smirking chimps to weapons of mass destruction or reality TV. This latter evil, in the form of bad music, is evidently the band’s nemesis. They rebuke it under the battle cry, Science and Honor.

We are sworn to save Earth from the forces who wish to undo and stop progress, says Nova. Unfortunately, they have taken control, and we must use unconventional means to get the word out.

Unconventional means A. the ambush or commando gigs, and B. the music, made with utter disregard for current pre-fab, lab-created, made-for-radio sounds. On the Phenomenauts’ second album, Re-Entry, the band draws strength from rockabilly, punk, ’60s garage rock and new wave and blends them into what they call Rocket Roll. It’s original and inspired while still accessible to contemporary ears. It’s catchy, like space madness.

Nova explains that this music works because it’s an evolutionary fact that old rock & roll and the new stuff, so long as it’s good, both complement one another (like, he says, the words evolutionary and fact) and transcend generation.

All music is an amalgam of different kinds of music, he points out. White musicians borrowed the blues and Chuck Berry borrowed country and it became rock & roll. Jamaicans heard it and it became ska. English punk rockers heard that and it became The Clash. Music is evolution in action.

The Phenomenauts live show puts this statement to the test. The band, bedecked in B-flicky Devo: The Next Generation uniforms, performs with flair, precision and soul. The music is foremost, but gimmickry adds a horse-dose of fun with gadgets they invented using a little thing called science. Among these gadgets: Nova’s Theramatic Helmerator (a helmet containing a playable theremin) and a hopped-up leafblower that rockets toilet paper at the crowd (The Streamerator).

It’s great fun, and once word gets around, The Phenomenauts’ guerrilla gigs might prove unnecessary. They could, you know, get gigs on their own merit and moxie. That would sit just fine with Commander Angel Nova.

[Commando] performances take the most bravery, he writes. Bravery is only fun in retrospect. We will still probably do some, but if we don’t have to, we don’t want to. Wewould rather the whole world gets behind Science and Honor.

That, or stare down the business end of The Streamerator. It’s late at City Weekly now and sleep deprivation leads me to ponder the pros and cons of each fate. I suppose it would come down to the brand of toilet paper, I think to myself before realizing I’ve drifted. I being to type another question, but Commander Angel Nova has left. The final line reads: End Transmission.

THE PHENOMENAUTS With Big D & the Kids Table. Lo-Fi Café, 127 S. West Temple. Friday Feb. 18, 7 p.m.

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