Curtis Ross The Tampa Tribune, May 31st, 2002
Next big thing?
Every band is a local band.
The Beatles may belong to the ages but at one time they were just the hottest band in Liverpool. Prior to that, they only dreamed of being the hottest band in Liverpool.
Tampa bands such as Blues Image and the Outlaws can tell similar tales of going from local glory to national acclaim.
So who knows? That band you see sweating it out on a bar's cramped stage this weekend might just be the toast of "TRL" this time next year.
But whether their sights are set on the top of the charts or just the next gig, the Bay area abounds with bands playing original music of all stripes.
We offer brief profiles of but four of those here. Many more can be tracked through Friday Extra's Clubs and Concerts listings. And 30 of them will be singing Beatles songs tomorrow at Skipper's Smokehouse (Story, Page 16).
They've got hopes and dreams and songs and CDs. T-shirts and stickers, even. Check them out and say you saw'em when.
Handshake Squad's pop music comes from a different place.
That other place, for founding members Rob Constable and Dave Rogers, is the world of classical and experimental music.
"We were trying to write pop songs but they came out all weird and wrong," says Constable with a laugh.
Weird, maybe. Wrong, hardly.
Squad songs such as "There's Something Wrong With Nancy" and " I Know Two Guys Named Hilton Jones" may zig-zag where other pop songs stay on the straight and narrow. But they're filled with hooks and will have listeners humming along in spite of themselves.
"I don't think the music is inaccessible," says Constable.
"I wonder a lot how weird it really is," says drummer Devon Brady. "I don't think there's anything in there that's any weirder than anything the Beatles might have done."
Listeners can judge for themselves Saturday when Handshake Squad displays its take on the Beatles at WMNF's tribute show; and on the "Sgt. Pepper's" tribute album, on which it remakes "A Day in the Life."
Constable and Rogers (both guitar and keyboards) began working together in 1996. The current lineup, with drummer Devon Brady and bassist Joel Brown, began performing in early 1999.
The quartet's debut was at the Bonk Festival, Tampa's annual series of experimental and avant-garde music, which also has featured compositions by Constable and Rogers.
The Squad was voted 1999's "best experimental band" by the Weekly Planet.
"And best experimental theater troupe," Brady adds.
"That was a misprint," Constable admits, "but we went with it."
Weekly Planet, May 15-May 21, 2002
At the New World Brewery
8:15 p.m., Handshake Squad Iconoclastic musical geniuses run amok with instruments, toys and instrumental toys to rewrite the pop rule book and drop your jaw.
WMNF Community Radio, May Program Guide 2002
Named "Best Experimental Band" by Tampa Bay's Weekly Planet Newspaper in 1999 and 2001, Handshake Squad has played from New York's Knitting Factory and Mercury Lounge to Gainesville's Common Ground Cafe.
Handshake Squad plays tuneful music loaded with hooks while constantly distracted by avant-garde perversions and obtuse rhythmic energies that keep the listener guessing. Now add a clarinet, French horn, accordion, banjo and various handmade noisemakers/processors and computer generated CD cues to the usual guitar/bass/ drums. Their live sets are carefully planned programs of songs that jerk and blend into one another as though controlled by a drunken DJ.
Can it still be "Pop"? You decide.
Weekly Planet, April 10-April 16, 2002
Corey Jane Holt
Gig of the week alert: You've gotta be here. You get Handshake Squad's incomparable blend of peerless musical ability, encyclopedic pop knowledge, insatiable curiosity, and, er, childlike psychosis, a must-see on any bill. You get the impassioned, handcrafted, blended whisky-driven, almost-Celtic roots-punk of Pagan Saints, who make up for not falling down any more by being airtight and exceptionally consistent. And on top of that, you get two ladies that you probably thought you might never see again - peerless singer-songwriter Maggie Council and instrumental diva Corey Jane Holt (formerly of Clang and Great Big New Ones). And they're all playing to raise money for the production of Handshake Squad's next disc. How's that for solidarity? /April 14, Skipper's Smokehouse
WMNF Community Radio, Winter Program Guide 2002
Named Best Experimental Band in 1999 and 2001 by the Weekly Planet, Handshake Squad mixes musical genres and styles and delivers them like machine gun fire at their audience. No time to breathe, the songs flow or jerk into one another as though controlled by a drunken DJ. You'll love it, but you won't know why - and you might hate yourself in the morning.
Weekly Planet - BEST OF THE BAY Issue, September 20-26, 2001
BEST EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC
Rob Constable, David Rogers, Devon Brady and Joel Brown Know A LOT about music. That's why they're able to fuck it up with such consistent success. The members of Handshake Squad seem to indulge in what might be described as musical reverse-engineering. They look at everyone else's music, take it apart, strip it down to its most fundamental parts. Then they walk away from it, and build their own, applying those concepts to their own fundamentals to produce their own result. Or maybe they just get off on making weird-ass music. Broken keyboards, toys, hollow pieces of metal - if it produces a tone, it has probably been fooled around with by one of these guys, and that fooling around has probably led to something surprisingly listenable.
Curtis Ross, The Tampa Tribune, August 17, 2001
Concert Offers Offbeat Echoes Of Other Elvis
TAMPA - A crowd estimated at 700 crammed Skipper's Smokehouse Saturday night to wish Elvis Costello a happy birthday.
The show was a benefit for listener-supported radio station WNMF, 88.5 FM, one of the few places on the Bay area dial where a listener might hear Costello.
Flee, or "Fleevis Costello." host of 1VNINF program "bloods For Moderns," served as master of ceremonies, introducing hands and leading the crowd in a pledge of allegiance: to Costello.
Costello has explored an array of musical styles, and the bands playing Saturday night took that spirit to heart, putting individual spins on an array of Costello material.
Ronny Elliott and the Nationals gave the manic "Mystery Dance" a slow, creepy reading. The Straight-Up Blues Band gave a straight-up rendition of "Pump It Up." The soulful vocals were miles away from Costello's angry sneer but somehow seemed appropriate.
Ghetto Love Sugar took "Chewing Gum" into spacey. fusion territory. Spacious International's lengthy "Watching the Detectives" was filled with synthesized bleeps and might have been the evening's most radical reworking of a Costello number.
On the other hand, Rock Steady@8's ska version of "Detectives" seemed closer to the original mark. The Unrequited Loves appended a rave-up climax to "Tiny Steps," taking the tune back to Costello's mid'60s roots.
Handshake Squad's set was one of the evening's most inspired. "Clean Money" featured reckless shifts in tempo that threatened to sabotage the song but never quite did. "Hoover Factory" was almost as strange and beautiful as Costello's original. And "Sunday's Best' sounded like a nightmare beer garden sing along complete with banjo and French horn.
Weekly Planet - BEST OF THE BAY Issue, October 14-20, 1999
BEST EXPERIMENTAL (BAND)
The Handshake Squad
Though they've only just recently begun peeking their heads out of the hallowed halls of academia again, this ever-mutating band of scholars and art punks takes the cake for making experimental music fun. Led by David Roger, BONK Festival president, and Robert Constable, BONK VP and director of the Slavin Electronic Studio at New College, the current lineup also features member Devon Brady of the Experimental Skeleton art collective and Joel Brown (of Joel Brown's Nirvana). With hypnotic samples, a capella choruses and enough pop hooks to wake a dead Clang, The Handshake Squad have delighted audiences from the Spinnaker to the New World, and - well, only those two places, but we hope there's more to come in the near future.
Michael Laskow, Home Recording Magazine, June 1996
'Handshake Squad', Mary Likes the Tom Toms
Equipment: Akai GX 4000D 1/4 track and Onkyo 9200 1/4 track analog reel-to-reel, both with custom spindles to run at "about 15ips," TEAC 124 Syncaset 2 Carvin CM90E condenser mics, Mac SE30 with "Speak Easy" voice synthesis program, Ensoniq DP/4 FX, Tascam DA30 DAT for mix, DigiTech Whammy 1/, Carvin DC150 guitar, drums and assorted percussion.
Here's one just for fun. Rob and his friend David Rogers have an unusual method of recording: they use three analog 2-tracks and hand-sync them to get some pretty cool results. Some might call the result music; I think I'll call it performance art.
The use of the Speak Easy voice synthesis program on the lead vocal is very innovative. The end result is a little bit like what your digital answering machine might do to make "music" after you go to bed.
The song 'Mary Likes the Tom Toms' is quirky and really defies any clear cut description, but it goes a long way to show how much fun two creative people can have with the barest minimum of equipment. The experimenting that they did with varying tapes speeds and tape direction can be a blast. I remember dabbling in the absurd in the early part of my career, and trust me when I tell you there were days when the research paid off later on.
The guys mention that they really had to plan out their production because of all the machine to machine bouncing they had to do. The good planning paid off. The track is pretty clean, all things considered.
Summary: I got a real kick out this tape. If you get to hear this, I hope you can enjoy it in the same spirit that I did.