The Loose Cannon 

West Oakland's Domeshots are inoffensive, polite, workmanlike. Good thing the drummer's a bit unruly.

The Domeshots almost nail their "humble hard rock band sans cliché" image during an interview at Zeitgeist in San Francisco this afternoon, but the new drummer keeps sabotaging it. Dave Criss, a mere infant at 23, must've misplaced his "talking points" memo, which would've included all the mundane, uncontroversial facts and aspirations: Band hails from West Oakland. Debut, self-titled album out this week across the West Coast. Very down-to-earth guys, no egos. All about winning fans one-by-one. Working hard. Helping other bands. And ultimately making good, interesting hard rock.

Okay, but then there's Criss, a member of the eight-year-old 'Shots for only ten months. Thus, he's a bit wider-eyed. "We're poor, but we still get to live the rock star lifestyle," he says. "Free drinks and chicks, yeah."

His three bandmates readjust themselves on their barstools and get a little quieter.

"When I'm not playing drums, honestly, I like to smoke weed and drive around. That's just what I like to do."

The other guys just look at him: the fresh face, the childlike smile, the single eyebrow piercing.

"If a major record label offered to, like, go down on us and give us $15 million, then we might sign a record deal, but until then we'll do it on our own."

More bandmate head-shaking and "Please don't put this in the article" pleas.

"We're going to be the System of a Down for 2004," Criss blurts out, climactically.

Doh! White knuckles on wet beer glasses. The official Domeshots line is clarified: We do not want to be System of a Down. Never mind loose-lipped Criss.

"We still treat him like the new guy," guitarist Jim Seichas finally says. "Dave, we left something in the van, go get it."

Everyone laughs. The band's interview technique needs some final tweaks as the four Concord natives mutate from larva to pupa in the Hard Rock Circle of Life. But a little off-message boasting hardly matters, because onstage the Domeshots work together as seamlessly and effectively as Voltron on Aderall.

It's all in the name: Domeshots, an aural smack to the head. The sound is a sort of Incubus-meets-Helmet mélange, meaning mosh pits break out in even the sparsest crowds, while underage girls seem to constantly stare with big eyes at the cute guys.

"The Domeshots could give lessons in how to perform a live show," raved one reviewer at PowerSlave.com. All right, so singer/frontman Dan Alexander offers lesson one: Don't be boring. It seems simple enough, notes the shorter, thicker Domeshot with the icy blue eyes, and wavy Mozart hair. But how many bands just sleepwalk through their sets if they don't see enough people in the crowd? Contrarily, whether it's two people or two hundred before him, Alexander's all over the stage, racing around, crouching down, standing statue-straight, and occasionally mosh-pitting himself.

His bandmates mirror that enthusiasm. "I play every show like it's my last," bassist Eric Tamo adds. "I don't think about it. It's just how the music makes me feel." Evidently, he feels like scissor-kicking and wielding the bass like a spastic appendage. None of that "Stand in the corner and play the bottom of the power chord" nonsense -- Tamo leaps and thrashs and spits gobs of water into the air. His red-goateed leprechaun grin stretches ear to ear; even people who don't like the Domeshots musically get sucked in by his infectious enthusiasm. "This guy comes up to me after one show and he's got the leather, the black boots, the studded belt, the tattoos, tons of piercings, he just looks nuts," Eric recalls. "And he says, 'I don't even know what it is, or if I like it, but you are insane.' And I'm like, 'I'm insane?' Awesome."

Then there's Seichas, monkey-humping the drum kit between guitar riffs if he feels like it. He's quieter, darker, more broody than the rest -- he's the businessman, the one who makes sure everyone gets a receipt on tour. Yet onstage, his guitar matches Alexander's ferocious vocals note for note.

"It's the defining conflict of the band," Alexander says. "Jim always wants to play it harder, more metal. And I'm always fighting for more melody."

Back to Criss on drums, though. Formerly serving as Domeshots tour manager, the superfan got promoted when the band's original drummer balked at the group's excessive touring schedule. "We're all jaded musicians," Tamo notes. They have an 185-show tour itinerary this year, which means endless nights crashing in the van or on random living room floors, eating on a $2-a-day per diem, and enduring those phone calls wherein your parents loudly speculate as to when you're gonna get a real job: "My dad knows exactly how much money I don't make," Tamo says.

Criss underscores why anyone would subject themselves to this: He's played drums for years, loved the shots, and describes his new gig with the band as a "dream come true." His honesty and transparent love for the Working Rock Band Lifestyle make him the group's most endearing member, not to mention emblematic of what the Domeshots hope to stand for.

"Our only rule is that nothing is contrived," Seichas says. Meaning, no pyrotechnics, synchronized dance moves, or flashy clothes. "We wear belts to keep our pants up. I wear T-shirts because I don't like the way my nipples look. It's as simple as that." The Domeshots don't want an "image." Images are for crappy rock stars with bad attitudes. But some sort of public band persona is inevitable -- The Domeshots has invaded the racks at Tower, Amoeba, Rasputin, Aquarius. More press interviews loom. An image will inevitably form. Most of the Domeshots prefer the "down-to-earth, musicianship-oriented" vibe, but maybe the drummer's sabotage isn't such a bad thing.

Think of Criss as the window into the childhood id of rock music: a magical land of parties and girls and touring and money and an actually interesting post-adolescence. He's the unmitigated inner voice of four perpetual kids who went to high school in Concord and started out playing in the jazz band, only dreaming that something like the Domeshots' existence was actually attainable full-time. That dream is a reality now, with all the fine print intact: the tyranny of the tour budget, cutthroat reporters, hard-knock reviewers, hardwood floors. Offstage, the Domeshots (Criss especially) still come off green, just like the young kids who love their shows. Let's hope that naïveté fades as slowly as possible, unhinged drummer and all.

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