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Monkee business
The Click Five aim to be big ó really big, arena big, MTV big
BY SCOTT FRAMPTON
Related Links

Click Five's official Web site

Chris Rucker introduces readers to the Click Five.

NEW YORK ó The Click Five are a likable band ó itís at the core of their mission statement. Although they started up in a dilapidated house in Allston, the band ó four Berklee alums plus a friend lured from Purdue ó were created to be big. Really big. Arena big. MTV big. Theyíve been rigorous in honing the details of their radio-ready power pop and the tailoring of their matching black suits. The larger idea, however, the one that guides their every interaction, is remarkably simple: to be big, you have to make people happy. So their handshakes are firm and ready, and though they donít think of themselves as a "boy band," they take no offense at the tag. On stage, theyíre a marvel of crowd-pleasing energy and guitar-swaying choreography. They point to girls in the audience and toss them smiles and guitar picks. Their ambition is ingenuously unambiguous. The girls get so happy, they shake and cry.

Itís July 27, and the Click Five are at Radio City Music Hall to open for the Backstreet Boys on a tour thatíll hit the Tweeter Center this Sunday. So far, itís gone well, as did the Ashlee Simpson tour before it, on which they sold 8000 copies of a three-song single from the merch booth. In the meantime, radioís starting to catch on: Boston station Kiss 108 got the ball rolling, and other Top 40 outlets are following. A video has made quick inroads on MTVís tastemaking TRL. The New York stop on the tour is the nexus of promotion for the August 16 release of the Click Fiveís Lava/Atlantic debut, Greetings from Imrie House (so named for their Allston shithole). Over the next day, the band will appear on TRL and a local morning news show, do a video interview for the cable-TV arts magazine New York 360, and tape a segment for Sirius satellite radio. In between, there will be various press interviews and photo shoots and many runs to Starbucks for the mocha frappuccinos that keep the boys amped.

Radio City is a far cry from the tourís other stops at amphitheaters and theme-park arenas. Its Art Deco splendor was recently refurbished, and its gilt walls and ceiling sparkle. Tonight, a huge digital screen hangs above the vaunted stage, and for $2.99 a pop, it will display text messages sent via fansí cell phones, two at a time: "Heather says BSB rox my sox," "Penn Brook 05," "I LOVE MANSTEAK." The constant flicker of messages makes the venerable venue seem more like home room, and the distraction isnít a help to the nightís first act, KC Brown, who has trouble filling the big stage alone. An inchoate Britney, her dancing and singing are a bit awkward ó her high notes sound like a Yorkie with its hind legs caught under a lawnmower. An even more piercing shriek erupts when the young Brown throws a shout-out to her headlining benefactors.

When sheís done, the stage lights go up and her gear is cleared to reveal a drum kit flanked by two Marshall half-stacks and a monster Ampeg bass amp. It doesnít get much more rock than that, and itís as out of place here as the Click Fiveís arena-inspired antics were at the Abbey Lounge in Inman Square. Slowly, a huge "The Click Five" banner unfurls over the video screen to the titter of more than a few kids in the audience. Slowly, later, comes the realization that keyboard player Ben Romans is right when he tells me as we walk to Lavaís NYC offices, "This is the only chance for these kids to see and hear this kind of music."

The Click Fiveís power pop is quite different from the hip-popped soul stylings of the superannuated Boys or any of the former Mouseketeers who dominated Top 40 radio at the turn of the new century. Most contemporary pop is a formless extrusion of modern "hit" sounds; the Click Fiveís sound, though well scrubbed, has audible links to the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Cars. They know how to play their instruments, and the results recall a time when groups with names like the Raspberries and the Sweet poured from transistor radios. The Click Five could even pass for a Posies knockoff carved out of Ivory soap. For people of a certain age, this is welcome ó imagine a modern-day Monkees leading a power-pop restoration. But anyone old enough to remember the Sweet or even the Posies does not belong to the demo the Click Five are working to reach.

And they are working. As they bound onto the Radio City stage, each member waves to a different sections of the theater. Youíve seen their moves before, but not all at once like this. They fuse acts as variously over-the-top as Kiss and Devo with a rock ebullience that of late has been all too rare. The problem is, pop radio likes what itís played before, and itís not playing anything like this. Pop punk creeps into play lists only after significant support from modern-rock stations; most of the Top 40 hews closer to hip-hop, however watered down. No other bands are assailing the pop charts armed only with songs, harmonies, strong jaws, and good haircuts. The Click Five are Top 40 radioís Great White Hope.

"Weíre in the business of rocking," singer Eric Dill says with a sly grin. Heís explaining the suits, which is always everyoneís first question. "Our idea, ever since the beginning, was we wanted to take this as far as we possibly could, be as big as we can."

Wayne Sharp had tour-managed Kiss in the late no-make-up years, and he was looking for a band who were "not afraid of commerciality." After finding willing subjects at Imrie Road, he introduced them to local producer Mike Denneen, whoís known for his work with Fountains of Wayne, Letters to Cleo, and Aimee Mann. Denneen recorded their demos so completely that three of the four made it as-is onto the CD he eventually produced. From there, Sharp describes the A&R process as "very simple. You either got it or you didnít." Lava got it: a week after the band finished the disc, the label put them on the road with Ashlee Simpson.

It may have happened fast ó the band have been together only two years ó but itís not yet a fairy tale. "Part of the problem now, in terms of reaching a larger audience," says Lava senior vice-president Andy Karp, "is that everything is so niche-oriented and so segmented." Which means, beyond the industryís frantic two-handed search for its own ass, that music alone isnít enough to reach across an increasingly fragmented marketplace. Not only do the Click Five hark back to an earlier era in rock, they recall a time when a band could take over the world. There will be lots of songs in the waning days of summer that beg to be listened to with the windows down, the way "Pop Princess" or the single, "Just the Girl," do, but this bandís drive to succeed is as integral to their music as four-part harmonies and melodic ideas inspired by Pet Sounds.

"If youíre going to do it, do it," Dill says with a characteristic entrepreneurial zeal. "If youíre going to put on a stage show and go crazy and go wild, do it. If youíre going to throw your fist in the air, you extend it! You get your arm up there!"

The Click Five + Backstreet Boys | Tweeter Center, Mansfield | August 14 | 617.228.6000

The Click Five | Middle East | August 16 | 617.497.0576

 


Issue Date: August 12 - 18, 2005
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