DEAD IN THE HEAD. Kickstand Travolta guitarist Ben Kaplan feels the psychedelia flowing through his bonezz. The band plays Call the Office tomorrow.
By Dan Gladman
It's the distant future. An alien archaeologist is investigating the remains of a mid-sized Ontario town. The remains are from the year 1996.
Judging the artifacts, the alien archaeologist recounts the scene. Outside, the cold rain and snow are stealing people's faces right off their heads. Inside a cozy bar, a collection of people, ranging in size from 50-250, are enjoying beer, cigarettes, friends' company and danceable, comfortable, "happy" music.
A typical scene.
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The band playing is Kickstand Travolta. Largely unknown outside of London, the group continues to play ferociously on stage, driven by high-octane rehearsals and an endless love and desire to play music together.
It's a love which goes way beyond the craving for stardom. Some bands have more attitude and anger to display. Some like to pose a lot on stage. Some guys like to jump in the air when they play a key note on their guitar.
The six gentlemen in Kickstand like to jam. That means their songs are unpredictable if, during a live performance, something different sounds good, they will expand on it, charting unfamiliar territory, and taking those in attendance with them.
There are two lead vocalists: Rob Hedge, who plays a minor-chord laden acoustic guitar, and Ben Kaplan, who's spidery electric often leads the band on its explorations. They complement each other through their unmatching styles.
"I think my songwriting style is more based on vocal melody," Hedge says. "Ben's is more. . . after the song is written."
As a result, some songs, those with a dominant acoustic sound, last somewhere between three and five minutes. When the electric is at the forefront, tunes can run over 10 minutes.
There's little doubt that Kaplan brought a more aggressive edge to Kickstand when he joined almost a year ago. Soon after Kickstand's original guitarist, Barrett Lawrence, left the band, Kaplan's previous band, London's Borrowed Tyme, dispersed, making the coming together of Kaplan and Kickstand not only pleasing but inevitable.
"I'm pleased there's a vocalist who can match my singing philosophy," says Hedge.
The band has also assumed a philosophy matched by other like-minded bands in southern Ontario. Kaplan says that meeting as many bands as possible, especially out-of-towners, can only be beneficial.
"We have open communication with other bands," he says. "I talk with [Kitchener's] Fat Cats every couple of weeks. Though our music is very different, we complement each other well."
The bands have fans which tend to gravitate to related brands of music. Comparable bands in terms of fan base are New York's moe. and Ominous Seapods and Toronto's One Step Beyond and Gypsy Soul.
"Comparisons are the best way of describing someone's sound to someone who hasn't heard the band," says Hedge, aware that any roots band will be lumped in a category headed by the likes of Phish, Rusted Root, the Dave Matthews Band and even, Hootie and the Blowfish.
Hardly a moot point, references to these bands not only sum up a musical attitude, but they raise the eyebrows of potential fans. Beware Kickstand Travolta, though it plays a rollicking version of The Grateful Dead's "Shakedown Street," is not a cover band. A shared philosophy, which includes a willingness to play the occasional cover, more aptly defines the concept of the genre.
As do compliments.
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So the little furry creature from Mars is exploring the scene. "Kickstand Travolta?" he asks himself, or perhaps, "Wehweh, wehweh?" A band that plays for itself first and for its fans a close second. Funk, folk, psychedelic. Screeching electric, adorable congas and warped, never-before-heard keyboard.
Even an alien would tap his foot. If he had one.