Planet Clair 

The Chocolate Watchband

Band names go in and out of fashion, the '80s being the most ridiculous since people created names that were almost complete sentences (Not Drowning, Waving; When People Were Shorter and Lived Near the Water; And Also the Trees; Curiosity Killed the Cat).The 90s were a great microcosm of trendy band names (forgive Planet Clairsup1s brief lapse into Andy Rooney space-time here). First, there were the bands with girl names in their titles: Janes Addiction, For Love Not Lisa, Alice in Chains, Marys Danish, Alice Donut, etc. Another persistent genre was the Ace Hardware theme, in bands like Helmet, Tool, Shellac, Pavement, and Gravel. It was really only the 60s that rivaled the 90s in band-name copycat themes, the best of which chose food as their touchstone: Vanilla Fudge, Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and a band that will be performing tonight at the Cafe Du Nord, the Chocolate Watchband.

The band kicks off this years Baypop tribute to pop, which always opens up with a Bay Area band from back in the day. Everyone got into the idea of making the opening night a celebration of San Francisco pop, says East Bay swing hipster Alec Palao, a DJ and an oldies compiler for both the Ace label and the new Rhino rare 60s box, Nuggets II. Usually when people think of of SF they think of the Dead and Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and all that stuff. Those are great bands, but there's so much more. More stuff, like the Beau Brummels, the Count Five, and the Syndicate of Sound, the last of which is playing Baypop on Saturday night at 330 Ritch Street.

Groups like the Chocolate Watchband from the South Bay were very popular in their day, and they would pack the clubs. But that doesn't mean that anyone else in the country was paying much notice. "They didn't mean zilch as far as any kind of success was concerned," says Palao. "So instead they became this kind of mysterious band that had one or two albums with weird covers and weird-sounding tracks." And just the sort of thing that scrawny charmkin geeks get a real stiffy for today, but the Seeds set won't take too kindly to the new stuff the band has been cranking out as of late.

"Dave [Aguilar, the singer], being the kind of guy he is, wanted to play some new stuff, but it didn't work out. They got a bad reaction," says Palao. "So he came to me and said, 'Look, we need you to play bass, and we need you to teach us how to sound like we used to!' So I pointed some things out to them: cut out the '80s sounds here, get back to the fuzz and keep it simple; keep it straight." Good advice.

Planet Clair called up Aguilar in Boston, where he works as an astronomer (groovy!) to give him a welcome before he came out. "It's been a very strange trip for all of us to come back and do this," he says. "I haven't wanted to play the Bay Area because there's a lot of ghosts there." The band started regrouping after thirty years of not playing together, and by all accounts they put on some great shows -- until they broke out the new stuff.

"What's hardest for us now [in recording our new stuff] is finding those original guitar tones, because we don't use that stuff anymore," Aguilar says. "It was all in the amps. And to come up with that [exact sound again] is a staggering proposition. We came close on some of the tones, and some of 'em we just didn't care, and I added some more keyboard and synthesizer stuff I'd been doing. [The new record is] a straight-ahead rocking album. It opens up in deep outer space then hits you in the eyes with a sledgehammer and just takes off like a ... um..."


"No, more like a pro-life bomber that just lit a short fuse." Zoiks. "But what we did in New York when we played recently, we played all of our old stuff for the first half, then we said, 'Now we'd like to play about six new songs off our new album.' People said, 'That's not old Watchband!' And about half of 'em left the room to go get a beer. I don't entirely understand it because it's damn good music, but then again I understand the other side of it. I went and saw Bo Diddley the other night here in Boston, and the second half was him doing his new rap music. I walked out. I didn't pay to see Bo Diddley rap. That's why when we play Wednesday night we'll play one new song off our CD, but the rest of it will be all old Watchband. I'm just curious if it'll be the old Bay Area audience that heard us with the Dead and stuff like that."

"It's gonna be young garage hipsters."

"Oh wow, then they are just going to love it. We are going to rip through a hot set of old Watchband stuff. And it blazes, it really does."


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