To characterize Big Dipper's April 25 reunion show at Southpaw as a time warp is a considerable understatement. Along with fellow double-decade rockers Great Plains and Antietam, these gray, wrinkled and/or bald rockers held court on stage at Southpaw in a manner reminiscent of, well, the good ol' days. A modest audience of family, friends, longtime fans and the random diaper hipster attended to listen, support, and worship this quartet, last seen in its original incarnation in the early '90s. As such, the evening had all the trappings of a rock sermon:
• The scrappy opening acts.
• The dramatic wait for Big Dipper's grand entrance, punctuated by the droning soundtrack of MC 900 Ft. Jesus (and other sad sample-noodling relics of the early '90s) and the venue's signature deep velvet curtain.
• The explosive intro of said band with its muscle-stroking "Guitar Named Desire."
• The blue banter wherein audience demanded, "Take off your shirt!" to which bassist/vocalist Steve Michener responded coolly, "Take off yours."
• Requests were requested, but generally unfulfilled.
• Strings were broken.
• A tech earned his paycheck.
• A standing O was met with an encore.
• And the crowd went home spent and gay.
Just another Friday at the Church of Rock.
However, what set the proceedings apart was the casual acknowledgment of this artifice. At one point in the past, each of these bands kinda, sorta, maybe considered rockness as not just a way of life, but also as a career. Big Dipper came closest by getting signed to Epic in the early '90s and even released one album, Slam. But the experience prompted a familiar gag reflex: The album was promptly slammed (no pun) and the band was dropped. As guitarist/vocalist Gary Waleik asks in the liner notes to the band's new anthology on Merge, Supercluster, the band disbanded to the unsettlingly existentialist question, "Why continue?"
So, while the night had all the trappings of a rock sermon, the truth is it was told not through the perspective of fundamentalist parishioners but of testy teens. Everyone knew how the story would go, but they were ready and willing to laugh all the way to the end. From the opening Schlitz-filled stomp of Great Plains -- who posed the night's most memorable question, "Why do punk-rock guys go out with new-wave girls?" -- to the all-together-now sing-along of "A Song to be Beautiful" (complete with mock cue cards), both bands and audience played their part to a tee in reenacting the past with a shit-eating grin. Consider the following:
• A disembodied hand appeared between the closed curtains to flash the Texas Longhorns while Big Dipper set up, prompting hoots and hollers.
• "Guitar Named Desire" was immediately followed by an awkward pause while Jeff Oliphant fixed his drums -- and the first of many catcalls.
• Michener's aforementioned response to said catcalls was followed by, "Was that my wife?"
• Requests were generally unnecessary because the set was already packed with highlights.
• While Goffrier's strings were changed, the band passed the time by playing another song.
• The tech was paid in beer instead of cash (okay, that's made up, but it's highly plausible).
• The encore's standing O was met with the closing of the curtain, the raising of the house lights, and the proverbial boo.
• And the crowd still went home to relieve their babysitters and ease their aching legs and livers from a hard-earned night of standing and drinking.
The men of Big Dipper are now old enough to see the younger bums actually outliving them, but they can still have fun on the way out.
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