This Friday night, of the hundreds of bands that will play New York City, Special Patrol Group will attempt to blow the doors off Arlene’s Grocery at 7pm. It’s a tall task to blow the doors off a rock-n-roll club. It’s taller when it’s 7pm.
But for Special Patrol Group, this is a sweet slot. Their fans, largely drawn from the coveted demographic overlap between young parents and parents of young children, require a decent bed time so they can make pancakes and attend soccer practice at 9 AM the next day.
I know Special Patrol Group because I met one of the founders of the band, Matthew DeMella, at one of those Saturday morning soccer practices a couple of years ago. He’s a music teacher, a dad, a husband, and a fellow harborer of inappropriate expectations for post-toddler soccer players. And after we talked about that stuff, he told me about his band.
Here at Bronx Banter, Alex lends us insights about the creative process, almost on a daily basis. One of the things that he says a lot, and that I take to heart, is that just showing up counts for more than you’d think. I think that’s a Woody thing. And when Matt told me about Special Patrol Group, I immediately thought about the importance of showing up.
Special Patrol Group was formed in 2005 and they’ve been recording and “touring” ever since. But when you’re a teacher, a dad, a husband; when you attend soccer practice, make pancakes, and consider those events as essential, what’s left? How the hell can you rock and roll in a sliver? Hint: a big part of the answer is having an amazing wife who says, “O.K.”
The band is comprised of four regular members. Matt and his brother Jon play guitar, Katie Patrizio provides the vocals on more than half the cuts, and Mike Blancafor is on drums. Logistics present as big a challenge as anything else.
Jon DeMella, gifted with not only musical talent but also the unflinching ability to advocate for gigs that the band may not actually deserve, does promotion. He’s awesome at it. He lives in Seattle. Katie Schmidt had to miss a gig last Halloween because she got snowed in and caught pneumonia. It would be like Derek Jeter missing three months of the season.
Special Patrol Group , as expected from a band that only plays four gigs a year, is not flawless. But they’re comfortable on stage and with each other and that gives them sufficient leeway to find their groove before long. When they do, they’re a mash of seventies and late-nineties influences that suggest a group of musicians who’ve been loving and leaving different kinds of music their whole lives.
The songs are intelligent, unafraid of complexity, and often contain some stretch that you will be humming to yourself on the way home. Matt says “Belle and Sebastian, Elvis Costello and Dinosaur Jr.” I think I hurt his feelings when I said “Pavement,” but that was intended to be a compliment.
After last year’s Halloween snowstorm, when their lead singer and most of their fans were unable to leave their homes, they played before an audience of two. Not their fault, but still, that had to sting. On some nights, they’ve had venues give them crap about not bringing enough paying customers through the door and they wonder why they signed up for this. But there are more nights when they fill it up. There are nights when the band clicks and the fans all get sitters and, in that sliver, they’re rock stars.
When Matt told me he was a teacher and had a band, I thought of Robert Pollard, the patron saint of teachers-with-bands. Pollard taught fourth grade as he pounded out a dozen lifetimes worth of dingy, unforgettable riffs. Guided By Voices was an influential band, and can mount credible reunion tours for each of their many incarnations. They packed in venues like Irving Plaza and Hammerstein Ballroom and us sardines chanted G-B-V until our throats ran red. And the prevailing wisdom on Guided By Voices is that they never made it.
“Making it” is important to most, and it’s attractive to all, but it’s an obvious trap. A saner calculation utilizes your own proprietary formula and measures things privately. I can’t speak for Special Patrol Group, but it strikes me that they wouldn’t dedicate this small space in their lives to something so big unless it made them feel good. They might aspire to more, but this is what they’ve got right now. And on Friday night they’re showing up, again, and that’s pretty great start.
For more information about the band and a list of available songs, click here.