Saturday, February 15, 2014

Dramarama - 1982-1994, 2003-?

Dramarama were an odd band, and are even more odd now that they're sort of back. They were New Jersey rock in the early eighties, they were semi-alternative before that term was even a thing, they were constructing songs with elaborate stories spun in them and they wrote rocking good tunes. They're a swaggery, bluesy kinda rock band, as influenced by the Rolling Stones and the Faces as they were their native superstar Bruce Springsteen.

I can't even remember how I got exposed to Dramarama. I think I may have randomly stumbled across "Anything Anything" when I was listening to the college radio station in town late one night and the song stuck with me. I know I was already listening to them by the time their album "Vinyl" came out in 1991, still their best album in my opinion.

"Anything Anything" is often a lot of people's first exposure to the band, and not even the actual studio recording, but their live version from the China Club. That version became the default version that was played pretty much everywhere. The band wasn't a huge success in their native Jersey, but they were getting a ton of radio play in LA (with people actually calling up asking for "the song that goes 'Anything anything') so they relocated out there.

By 1991, they had signed to Elektra and recorded "Vinyl" with a bunch of people. The album gained some radio play and it seemed like the band was starting to get some notice. (Hell, I even found this video of them playing on David Letterman!)

Check out that early 90's ponytail! I always wanted to grow my hair like that when I was younger, but my hair (back when I had hair...) was naturally curly, so that wasn't going to happen. The album gained some traction and the band did pretty well for a time. It didn't hurt that "Vinyl" was a great album loaded with a bunch of wonderful songs. Come 1993, the band was still going strong and released "hi-fi sci-fi," which featured the song "Work For Food," which was everywhere for a while. It was another great song, and I remember hearing it actually get more mainstream radio play.

Alas, it was not to be. After their tour wrapped up, the band closed up shop and called it a day. And that could've been the end of the story, except that it wasn't.

So John Easdale, Dramarama's lead singer, started playing solo gigs in LA several years later, except a member of his backing band, Mark Englert, was actually a member of Dramarama. Then in 2004, VH1 got Dramarama back together for an episode of their show "Bands Reunited." And the whole thing just stuck. There was a new interest in the band, so they stuck together and eventually put out a new album, "everybody dies," which had some good songs on it, but wasn't a home run by any stretch of the imagination. It's good, don't get me wrong, but it's not the lofty heights of "Vinyl."

That said, the title track ranks up there with the band's best stuff, as even this hard-to-hear live version can attest to. The band still plays here and there live, but there hasn't been a new album since "everybody dies" almost a decade ago. You could do worse than to get some of the highlights from the band, though, and let me leave you with "Last Cigarette," which has a wonderful bar-room vibe.

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