Breakfast burritos. Should the Phenomenauts ascend to pop stardom and intergalactic glory, they'll have the breakfast burritos to thank. Pancakes, too, and sausage links and French toast. The way to the heart of commercial punk, apparently, is through its stomach.
Major Jimmy Boom, drummer, is explaining how his Oakland space-rockabilly band has scammed its way onto the Warped Tour, the magnificently overblown corporate-punk summer camp. Dateline: Seattle, 2003, early July. "They didn't know who we were," he says. "We showed up at six o'clock in the morning, and we pretty much just followed the line of buses in. Then we played, and the main guys that set up the tour came over and said, 'Who the fuck are these guys?'
"The next morning, we got up and cooked everybody breakfast in Portland. The first people we hit were the people that actually make the passes. We actually brought them a breakfast burrito, right to their door, right where they make the passes at, and said, 'Hey, here's a breakfast burrito. And we're on the tour. We'd like to get our passes.' And they took our picture, they did all the stuff, and we got the passes."
Officially, the Phenomenauts aren't playing the Warped Tour. They had no invitation, no press, no money, no cushy stage slot, and no encouragement. But they've set out to follow the tour anyway, for a solid month and a half, armed with guile, tenacity, and a spatula.
Jimmy is proud of this. "Today the main guy, Kevin Lyman, came up and said 'Yeah, you guys, you know, I could've kicked you off a long time ago. But I like the breakfasts. You're alright guys. You're contributing enough to the tour. So you can keep on going.' So that's pretty much what it is. Cookin' breakfast. Food."
Meet the East Bay's craftiest, ballsiest band.
Commander Angel Nova, guitar and vocals: A pithy half-Greek with slicked-back, jet-black hair (he's the only remotely rockabilly-lookin' dude in the bunch), Angel kicks off every performance by shouting "Gimme a go or no-go to rock!" After determining his bandmates' equipment is working properly, he leads a countdown, backwards from ten to blast-off, whereupon a tank of carbon dioxide blows plumes of smoke out into the audience and the spectacle begins. He drives a 2081 Toyota Corolla and employs sarcasm in 80 percent of his daily conversation.
Corporal Joebot, guitar and vocals: In a disastrous jumping-on-the-bed accident, a ceiling fan sliced off part of Joebot's head. Thus, he now wears a theremin helmet (also known as a "therimatic helmerator") and speaks in a robotic monotone when it occurs to him to stay in character and he's not too tired. Occasionally he sings through a bullhorn. He writes songs about having sex with your television: "Why was I programmed to feel pain?" he laments. His stroke of genius is "Jamboree" (as in "space jamboree"), theme song to the greatest Elvis movie never made, the one that resembles Barbarella. Joebot is tall, thin, and endlessly expressive. He entertains himself on the road by launching into operatic renditions of old TV theme songs. His Reading Rainbow is fabulous.
Captain Chreehos, bass: Though completely bald and forced to wear goggles due to spectral radiation, Captain Chreehos keeps his spirits up by masterminding the Warped Tour breakfast assault, though a couple weeks into the tour his day job forces him back to Oakland. He's very quiet, but it's a thoughtful -- not brooding -- silence. The first time you catch him frowning you assume he's angry with you, but he's really just trying to decide whether to use milk or water in his banana pancake mix. His arms bear tattoos of the Italian phrases for "champion" and "I will think," the latter because "I got into some trouble with my girlfriend, and the only way I'm gonna fuckin' remember is to tattoo it on my arm."
Major Jimmy Boom, drums: "I get to pick how fast we play the songs," Jimmy notes proudly. He's also the primary pilot of the Phenomabomber, the absurdly adorned Phenomenauts tour bus. (We'll come back to that.) Jimmy is the band's most consistently cheerful member: He calls people "bro" a lot. Onstage, he often looks insanely happy. And if his mother didn't live near the Phoenix Warped Tour venue, and didn't have a pool, everyone in the band would be dead.
Professor Greg Arius, Moog, arsenal manager: Eschewing the official Phenomenauts onstage uniform (a blue and red Star Trek-lookin' space blazer, Dickies, and black sneakers), Professor Greg instead wears a white lab coat. He's primarily the band's official showman, lighting Jimmy Boom's cymbals on fire midsong, blasting the crowd with silly string, and wielding the Rocketerator (a modified bike pump and sprinkler system that fires cardboard rockets) and the Toilet Paperator (which unloads a full roll of TP in a long, arcing stream). He's patented a hypnotic onstage dance in which he does the Twist and snaps his fingers in time. Also, the weird face from the cover of the Dead Kennedys' album Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death is tattooed on his bicep.
Dirty Old Colonel, band manager: A bit older and surlier than his charges, Dirty Old Colonel's manner is split 70/30 between irritable and jovial. He growls a lot and disappears intermittently when he hasn't gotten enough sleep. He minces people, not words. As we join the band for a four-day jaunt along their Warped Tour scam, he greets us in San Francisco with a dire warning: "This fuckin' tour is a motherfucker, man."
It's half-past six on a sleepy, ash-gray Saturday morning, and Phenomabomber Beta is rolling mightily across the upper deck of the Bay Bridge.
Phenomabomber Beta is a 1995 Dodge "Wide One" van whose exterior is adorned with several pounds of random junk: Toy rayguns, beat-up computer parts (motherboards, mouses, keyboards), VCR displays, a Tamagotchi, a slide projector, a birth-control pillbox, and several mixing bowls serving as the rear boosters. Silver spray paint coats every inch of it. It's an art van that compels fellow motorists to drive off the road in shock. Its brethren include Phenomabomber Alpha (a similar-looking '83 Dodge, now retired after too many breakdowns) and the Phenomenator (the aforementioned 2081 Corolla, immortalized in Angel's aptly named go-go surf tune "The Phenomenator").
Though acknowledging their van's role as the ultimate conversation piece, the boys are a little tired of that conversation. Specifically, the three questions they're constantly asked:
1. "How long did it take you to do this?" (A couple barbecues.)
2. "What kind of glue did you use?" (The really strong kind.)
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