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House of Fools pays some dues

by Jordan Green

The manager reclines in a couch fronted by a coffee table that will rapidly accumulate empty beer bottles and well-utilized ashtrays. He wears his brown hair modestly shorn and possesses a comfortable athletic demeanor, an easygoing temperament. While clutching a sweating bottle of Budweiser, he appears to pay close attention to details.

Presently the two lead guitarists from House of Fools walk into the band lounge here in the basement of the Greene Street club.

“Where you guys been?” asks the manager, a southern Californian named Lonny Olinick.

“Been around,” says David McLaughlin, the one with shorter hair.

“Around?” Olinick asks.

“Around.”

They flop down on the couches, looking a little haggard. Then McLaughlin changes the subject.

“This shit is so behind,” he says.

In a moment, Josh King, who is the lead singer, primary songwriter and in many ways the public face of the band, appears. More than 18 months ago they were playing their first official show at the now-defunct Ace’s Basement and finalizing a record deal with the Los Angeles-based Drive-Thru Records.

King’s face has lost some of its softness and the hint of a stubble shadows his chin and cheeks. He wears a white T-shirt and jeans ripped above the knees. The salt-of-the-earth rock-star look suggests Duane Allman, and though the band’s sound is rooted in the same era as the inaugural period of Southern rock, House of Fools’ sound borrows more from the pop sensibility of the Bay City Rollers and the pretension of Queen.

Tonight marks the release party for House of Fools’ debut extended-play CD on Drive Thru. Ten thousand copies have been pressed, and half that number have been shipped. The songs for a full-length record to be released sometime next year have already been recorded and Olinick expects the master to be shipped back the next day.

“I wish we could put out a twenty-song album,” King says. “The fourth quarter is a bad time to put out a new album.”

Olinick will later add: “The EP is kind of a tool to get them out there playing in front of more people. Next year we’ll do more aggressive marketing. This band is exceptionally good live, so we’re not looking to sell a million units in a day, but our goal is to make them into a viable touring act that can survive on the road. From what I can see, it’s working so far.”

Just now, there are more immediate details to attend to before House of Fools conquers the world. The first band has reportedly started five minutes late, and a rough stage change pushed the next band still further back. Five bands are booked between 8 p.m. and midnight, when the venue management will evict the rock crowd to clear room for an NC A&T University homecoming party. Olinick has been upstairs advocating for his headliner act.

“They said, ‘Oh, it will be cool,'” he reports. “I said, ‘No it won’t be cool. Get the show on schedule.'”

As the first three bands perform the club’s main floor remains only partially occupied, and many audience members cruise the upper floor looking for diversion and social interaction. When the members of House of Fools carry their instruments onstage and check sound, audience members pack tightly in front of the stage and a giddy expectation settles over the room. Young heterosexual couples make out not far from the stage.

From the first note by House of Fools the audience is captivated. The band is all of a sudden kinetically alive to the moment, King gazing into the crowd and occasionally pointing and laughing as he sings and strums an acoustic guitar, McLaughlin building a latticework of notes as his fellow guitarist Joel Kiser strangles operatic flourishes from his axe and Jeff Linn playing bass that effortlessly transitions from a loping country honk to shimmering sinew in the mold of Adam Clayton.

“How you guys doing tonight?” King asks after the first song.

A wave of appreciative applause ripples from the front to the back of the room.

“That’s all?”

They cheer again, even more loudly this time. Then he claps his hands above his head, setting example.

“Thank you guys so much.”

By the time the third song comes around most of the audience is singing along straight from the first verse. The female sex dominates the first rows in front of the stage, but the boys give them close competition for passionate devotion to the band, mimicking their heartfelt declarations and demonstrating identification with the songs’ sentiments of vulnerability and youthful joy-seeking.

At its best the band lays a foundation of icy, pop hypnosis, periodically erupting into cascading guitar solo vamps, with interludes of Beatlesque piano-playing by Matt Bowers and concluding with a finale of crushing three-guitar orchestral maneuvers under the stage lights. Time signatures change with the ease of the Beatles’ “Day in the Life” or Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” The audience chants feverishly: “Fight, fight, fight.” They jab their fingers into the air in unison.

Then as soon as the show has begun, it seems, it’s over. The voice of a member of the management team creaks over the intercom, instructing, “Empty your drinks and exit on your left.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com

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