KEANU REEVES IS THE MUSIC FOR DOGSTAR FANS
Pearl Jam's tour bus will be pulling up to what's likely to be crowds of screaming women outside Toad's Place in New Haven today. And the screams will continue even though the fans will know Pearl Jam won't be on the bus.
In fact, performing inside will be an unsigned new band named Dogstar, whose only other connection to Pearl Jam, from whom they've rented the tour bus, is that they sometimes also play Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World'' as an encore.
Dogstar may be the first act without a recording contract to sell out the venerable club, which has seen similar excitement surrounding shows by the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.
The appeal of Dogstar -- for an audience that's never heard a note of its music -- comes chiefly from its silent bass player, a hunky guy whose only previous band experience was in the film that made him a star, "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.''
Keanu Reeves isn't the first Hollywood star to kick around in a rock band. Rhino Records' "Golden Throats'' series is made possible by actors whose stardom was enough to assure them a record contract (even if their musical talent was not).
Of Keanu's contemporaries, Johnny Depp turns up on the credits of some rock albums. River Phoenix had his own group before his death outside a nightclub where he had played.
Eddie Murphy tried doing a solo musical tour that played Toad's a few years back but didn't do as well as a stand-up date would have. Murphy had a backing band as good as a successful Hollywood actor could afford, including former Sly & the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham. Most of the members of The Call showed up a few years ago to back an unusual club tour by the grizzled character actor Harry Dean Stanton. And there was another band, The Package, led by tennis-star-turned-commentator John McEnroe, that did "so-so business,'' said a spokeswoman at Toad's.
Of course, there's a whole teen-idol branch of actors-turned-singers, including Rick Springfield, Jack Wagner and Joey Lawrence, the latest examples of which are Jamie Walters of "Beverly Hills 90120'' and David Hasslehoff of "Baywatch.''
But at a time when most actors would be doing talk-show circuits between such roles as "Johnny Mnemonic'' and "A Walk in the Clouds,'' Reeves is playing the rock-bar circuit.
The exotic-looking Reeves, 30, whose father is Hawaiian and Chinese, is used to following his own muse. He followed the mega-success of last summer's star-making "Speed'' by deciding to play a regional theater production of "Hamlet'' in Winnipeg last year.
By contract, Toad's has had to keep the Keanu appearance low-key. The band's name appears in advertisements with all names listed. The Reeves name, which commands a reported $7 million per film, has equal billing with Bret Domrose and Gregg Miller on vocals and guitar and Rob Mailhouse on drums.
Tonight's show is a bit of a homecoming for Mailhouse, a New Haven native who grew up in Branford and saw his first rock show at Toad's. Like Reeves, Mailhouse also has had more success on the screen than in the music business. He appeared (briefly) in "Speed'' with Reeves, played a gay executive who dated Elaine on a recent episode of "Seinfeld'' and has a recurring role on "Days of Our Lives'' as Det. Brian Scofield.
It was Mailhouse's love of hockey that led him to meet Reeves at a Hollywood supermarket in 1990. (Mailhouse, a Suffield Academy grad, was wearing a Washington Capitals jersey). The two of them jammed in a jazz configuration for a while before an old friend of Mailhouse's, Miller, moved to Los Angeles from New York and began to play clubs with the two, doing covers of songs by Joy Division and the Grateful Dead.
Domrose originally was hired by Miller to be a guitar technician for a show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles last year. But Domrose, who once played in the San Francisco punk band The Nuns, soon became the band's fourth member.
A six-date tour of Japan preceded the current 25-city tour, which continues through Aug. 20. And, according to publicist Amanda Fouraker, "the band that no one took seriously is generating major press and label interest.''
But at this point, at least, no one doubts it's Reeves presence that is selling out clubs.
"It's ridiculous,'' said Catherine Blossom, who books shows at Toad's, talking about all the calls the club has recieved. "And it's nearly all women.''
That kind of response hasn't come since, say, Bon Jovi played the club two years ago.
What's Dogstar's music like? Reeves, in the cover story in the current Vanity Fair, calls it "folky, but not Joan Baez folky.'' Mailhouse, in a Suffield Academy alumni newsletter, calls it "folk-meets-punk.'' USA Today describes it as "credible . . . noisy punk-grunge-pop.'' But that's one of the more positive reviews.
"People just don't get it,'' Mailhouse told Hartford free-lance journalist Tracy Tobin. "We're not The Who. This is just a hobby. We're just having fun.''
* Dogstar drummer Rob Mailhouse, left, and actor Keanu Reeves on bass jam at a recent concert at the Hard Rock Cafe in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Reeves is the band's big draw for most fans.
* Dogstar may be the first act without a recording contract to sell out Toad's Place in New Haven, thanks mostly to the fame of band member Keanu Reeves, far right. Others in the band are, from left, Bret Domrose, Gregg Miller and actor Rob Mailhouse.
Memo: Dogstar plays an all-ages show at Toad's Place, 300 York St., New Haven, tonight. Doors at 7; the music begins at 8:30 with sets by Katy's Dimples, Bishop and Cat Mercy. Tickets: $13.50 in advance, $15 at the door (if any are left by then). Information: 562-5589.