Thursday, May 17, 2001
"You know how it is in a band, you kind of get tired of each other," Danger Bob guitarist Andy Morton says. "It's not that you get tired of the people, you get tired of arguing your points."
But from 1992 to 1999, Danger Bob scored many points with area audiences. Thus, after nearly two years in hibernation Â or possibly exile Â the band will hold a reunion extravaganza this weekend, with appearances Friday at The Hurricane and Saturday at The Bottleneck.
The Lawrence quartet (Morton, drummer Kenny Gall, bassist Jason Lovell and singer Karl Michelbach) came into being during the alt-rock explosion of the early '90s and maintained a significant presence up through the band's final performance on July 31, 1999. As with many Lawrence acts, Danger Bob began to splinter while at its most popular.
"Everybody wanted to do different things with it," Morton explains. "Karl had already decided he was going to move. We knew when it was going to end. At that point, we decided Â whether it was suicide or not Â we were going to try and do another album. We actually spent a longer time on that record ("Girls of the Big 12") than we did any of the others."
Eventually, Gall moved to the musician-friendly city of Austin, Tex., with the members of his other Lawrence group The Playthings. Michelbach made interim stops in San Francisco, Calif., and Minneapolis, Minn., before settling in Flagstaff, Ariz., to help out with the family ranch.
Morton and Lovell held camp in Lawrence, both kicking around in the ubiquitous '80s cover throwback Star 80. And, while working as a Bottleneck bartender, Morton started the popular Sunday trivia game Smackdown! at the club (which this week featured a category devoted to Danger Bob compositions). Though the various personal situations had definitely changed for the former band members, the seeds of a reunion were far from dormant.
"We had talked about it a year ago, and it just wasn't right yet," Morton remembers. "I think everybody was still trying to figure out what they were doing in their private lives. This came up a few months ago when Karl was in town, and somebody asked about a reunion show. We started going through the typical 'Maybe some day.' Then Karl kind of turned and looked at me and said, 'Actually, I've been thinking about this.'"
Bobbing for an identity
Danger Bob originally began its descent into poppy amusement by performing at open mikes and house parties. The lineup was slightly different, with drummer Chris Bulgren (who would soon join The Bubble Boys) behind the kit, but the group's cheeky attitude was much the same. This approach first manifested itself in the studio with an 11-song demo tape in '94, which was winkingly named "The Joshua Tree." (In deference to U2, the cassette was divided into the Adam Side and Bono Side.) The success of selling these baubles at local shows led to the first of three full-length CDs, "Le Pop Shoppe," but not without a vital change.
"When Chris Bulgren moved to Spain for a semester, Kenny wormed his way into the band," Morton remembers.
During this time, Danger Bob increasingly became proficient at a mix of upbeat rock ditties and quirky lyrics that touched on pop culture and urban myths, taking aim at some atypical targets (Scientology anyone?). But the foursome also began to earn a reputation for goofy antics and unpredictable stage shows.
"We had confetti guns and bubble machines," remembers Michelbach. "We even built this 7-foot-tall go-go cage out of wood and Christmas lights, and we'd invite members of the audience to go up and dance in it. At some shows, the amount of people who tried to get in at one time was kind of like a clown car. That lasted about two or three shows before we got tired of hauling it around."
Michelbach also recalls an out-of-town gig where the band specifically printed up phony tour T-shirts to impress and confuse unsuspecting concertgoers.
"The shirts were from the 'I'm a pean, European' tour," the singer says. "And they were filled with a bunch of fake overseas dates, like in Oslo, London and Hamburg. We refer to them as the rare European shirts."
By the time Danger Bob had issued its signature record "MegaVega$," the band was arguably the most consistent live draw among local acts. This led to a headlining appearance at the 1998 Kansas City/Lawrence Area Music Awards (Klammies). Even though the members wore pajamas onstage, they were surprisingly restrained Â the reason for this was that they had set up an "event" in case they won a Klammy in one of the multiple categories (including Album of the Year) that they were nominated. They had convinced Jennifer Attockni, an American Indian friend of theirs, to accept the award in their name, parodying Marlon Brando's stunt involving Sacheen Littlefeather when he refused to acknowledge his 1972 Oscar for "The Godfather" because of the American government's insensitivity to its native peoples. As hilarious as it was offensive, the idea was never executed because the band went home empty handed that night.
Yet as irreverent as Danger Bob was, not all the experiences amounted to fun and games. Morton remembers a few poopy moments thrown in with the poppy ones.
"It's hard to top the day our van broke down, we got caught with illegal plates and no insurance, had to hitch a ride with a meth dealer who was 'making her rounds,' got to the festival and had two knuckleheads throwing our own beer cans at our head and all hell breaking loose in the crowd," he says. "Front to back, that day blew."
Winning over the crowd
Now that the members of Danger Bob have put some distance between their inevitable friction, the four are a bit more introspective when trying to analyze what made the band so appealing Â especially during a time when heavy, serious acts were ruling the airwaves.
"I think audiences gravitated toward the show," Morton explains. "It was always different, especially when we went out. We'd try tricks we'd done at home, and they didn't work as well on the road ... So we were forced to think off the tops of our heads; 'What can we do to turn a night that may have been going poorly, and turn it around as quickly as possible and keep them?' We got really good at that. We could turn a bad show into a good one no matter how horrible it was. Whether it be the venue or our playing or Jason passing out onstage, you name it, we could fix the situation."
The hometown and regional victories didn't exactly translate to a national identity for the group. Despite strong local sales that led to various A&R; reps sniffing around town, Danger Bob was unable to secure a record deal. Morton is comfortable summarizing the type of success the band achieved.
"When it comes down to it, we could call places and get shows," Morton says. "We didn't have to play the games at that point. We were lucky in that aspect, because bars knew that we brought in people and what the band was about. And we always ended up playing new places that we'd end up liking, and they'd invite us back. No, we never got signed Â and we went through a point when that was really important to us. When it didn't happen, everybody stepped back, took a breath and said, 'Screw it.'"
Danger Bob managed to release an impressive collection of four full-length albums and a four-song holiday EP, "For Unlawful Christmas Knowledge." The band's catchy songs such as "Church 'Em Danno," "Smileyberg" and "The Hook" garnered substantial area airplay. More than anything, though, Danger Bob became a benchmark for humor. Throughout the interview, Morton (who was known almost exclusively at one point as Andy Bob) dispenses witty quips about the band with unfailing speed.
If you're going to find a Danger Bob record in a music store, what's it filed under?
What would be the name of a Danger Bob tribute band?
"I think there already is a Danger Bob tribute band Â they're called Blink-182."
But as funny a guy as he is, Morton obviously took the band very seriously. And he now sees Lawrence as an environment that could learn a few lessons from Danger Bob's example.
"Bands have gotten kind of lazy around here," he says. "I don't think they're putting on a show. They're going out and playing their songs, but you need that little extra to bring more people in. Some of them are indifferent about promoting themselves. But it's starting to turn around. Bands are starting to get their friends to come. They're putting on more interesting shows and really working for it. That's what it's all about. It took us seven years. There wasn't a year where we sat on our asses. We were always trying to come up with something new."
And because of that approach, what kind of legacy did Danger Bob achieve?
"Constantly since the last show it's been, 'When are you guys going to do it again?' There were times I was even hearing we were playing. That was actually a rumor we didn't start," he says laughing. "Apparently people are interested in at least seeing us again. I don't think anybody wants us back around permanently."