Red Planet, a hard candy quartet from SF, wants to rock you into orbit—or something like that
Face it. Van Halen never was the same without the egotistical, hedonistic antics of frontman David Lee Roth. Most local bands, for fear of rejection by peers, would never admit Van Halen had a good moment.
Red Planet guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Chris Dunn, on the other hand, is pictured on the back sleeve of Let’s Degenerate, the band’s latest album, with the cover of the ridiculously over the top Van Halen II resting on his chest (which partially obscures his Mötley Crüe T-shirt) while he holds a blond Telecaster with an Eddie-style tape job aloft; copies of Van Halen’s 1984 and Fair Warning are positioned nearby, among a few empty Budweisers.
Kudos to Red Planet, a San Francisco band that flies the flag of American rock ’n’ roll without shame.
Let’s Degenerate was released a few months ago by Gearhead Records, a label launched by the hot rod/beer rock magazine of the same name, which often polybags 7-inch singles with its issues. Let’s Degenerate’s predecessor, Revolution 33, came out on Gearhead last year. Gearhead’s roster includes “Demons,” Mensen, the Pattern and the Hives, to name a few. But Red Planet is Gearhead’s trump card; the band has garnered a considerable buzz in Northern California and, consequently, has become a sizeable club draw in these parts—playing such local haunts as the True Love Coffeehouse, Old Ironsides (where it performs this Friday) and Davis’ G Street Pub.
Let’s Degenerate boasts some of the best originals heard anywhere these days—songs like “Get Back at You” and “Orbit.” The album’s unabashed rockers give subtle nods to ’80s pop crunch; the tunes flow remarkably well, with such tracks as the awesome title number giving an obvious thumb’s up to the likes of Cheap Trick, the Ramones, the Cars and, locally, the Groovie Ghoulies.
It takes a well-oiled machine to produce that kind of rock ’n’ roll and, like any working band, each member has his essential duties that help make the machine run smoother. “It’s kinda like the A-Team, the soldiers of fortune that escaped into the Los Angeles underground,” explains bassist Gordon Evans, Red Planet’s resident funny guy, in an e-mail interview with the band. “Jeremy [Powers, on vocals and guitar] is Faceman; he gets the girls and deals with the public. I am Hannibal; I love it when a plan comes together. John [Messier, on drums] is B.A. Baracus, the tough guy who drives the van, and Chris is Murdock, the crazy one with multiple personalities.”
And pity the fool who doubts the ability of unadulterated rock ’n’ roll to transform an audience and pull in new victims. “It seems the more we go to a town, the bigger it gets,” says Powers, who shares the band’s guitar and vocal duties with Dunn. “The more we came up [to Sacramento], the more people would come out. Now we have a group of people who come out every time we come to town.” Perhaps any newfound allegiance on the audience’s part might have something to do with Red Planet’s raucous live shows. Apparently, something’s hitting a nerve.
With an international tour in the works—the band plans to tour Europe next month—Red Planet’s upward momentum is undeniable. Where, exactly, is the band growing in popularity? “Everywhere we play, really,” Powers calculates. “Does going from five people at a show in L.A. to 15 count as growth?” asks Dunn, a question he soon answers: “I think so.” (It’s safe to say that, these days, the head count at any given Red Planet show is slightly higher than 15.)
Today, Northern California, tomorrow America—does Red Planet have the goods to rule the world?