With a smile
“We are happy to serve you,” says guitarist Peter Mangus, wearing a black skirt and knee-high black and white striped stockings. “That’s what we do.”
And from the word “go,” that’s what Dead Waitress is all about—making sure the audience is thoroughly entertained. Their sound is rock with a heavy Weezer influence, but also laced with surf and punk rock, a touch of Pavement, and a dab or two of the Dead Milkmen. Their songs are short, punchy, and straight to the point.
Onstage, bassist Sasha Mereu is clearly the ringmaster of the group, and bringing his experience in theater to keep the audience engaged. “I’ve done mime, and I’ve done magic,” he says. “And I try to bring that theatricality to my performances. The crowd should be having fun.”
At a recent show at the Zephyr Lounge, Mereu raffled off odds and ends “from my last garage sale” between songs to keep things interesting. For answering the question “Who killed Laura Palmer?” one man won the fabulous prize of a trashy romance novel. To whoever could name five types of cheese was awarded a mix CD from 1991. Though their music could easily stand on its own, their onstage theatrics set them apart from most Reno bands, and the level of interaction between band and audience is bar-none.
Dead Waitress is fueled by Mangus and wife, Alice Venezio, who plays drums. Mereu and Mangus have been playing in various projects together since they were 12 years old. Mangus and Venezio played in a band called Red Waitress. When the bassist quit, Mangus called Mereu up: “Red Waitress is dead.” So Mereu volunteered for the job. Thus, the Waitress rose from the grave.
Onstage, Venezio got lost in her own world behind the kit, but never stopped laying down a steady beat that had many in the audience impressed. Mangus coupled heavy guitar riffs with some occasional twang, topped by occasionally cracked-voice nerdy vocals. Mereu’s bass work was loaded with rumbly bottom paired with top-end crunch, and his playing is far more interesting than that of your typical bass player. For one song he rapped, in another wailed in falsetto, and at one point the band covered “Glory Box” by Portishead, with him and Mangus singing, “Give me a reason to be … a woman.”
Mangus, 28, has been playing guitar since he was 9 years old and is the chief songwriter for the trio. But he only comes up with the starting point, and once an idea is turned over to the group, it becomes a joint effort. Mereu, also 28, started his musical career in marching band. He says he finds most of his practice time behind the wheel, and that, “If I have time to drive, then I have time to practice.” This is where he explores how he can make his voice fit into the tune, stretching it as far as it can go.
Venezio, 29, has only been playing the drums for two years. An audio engineer by day, she brings a level of dedication to her instrument that is abundantly clear—her face lost in a drummer’s fog as she maintained the force behind the evening’s entertainment.
The group admits that they sound a lot like Weezer, and they try to add an edge to the sound. But they don’t want to pigeonholed into one sound or genre. They’re currently working on their first album, and are trying to add some flavor reminiscent of Swedish black metal with a taste of porn soundtrack funk.
“No matter what,” says Mereu, “don’t be content with being comfortable. Always explore new music and never settle.”