Keanu and Pals Go for the Gold
by Mike Boehm
If a history called "The Decline and Fall of American Culture" ever gets written, rock band Dogstar will merit a footnote, right alongside the one about Kato Kaelin, talk-show host. Some kind of turning point has been reached when the national temperament, esteemed in our literature, legends and tall tales for its shrewd, hardheaded and pragmatic cast, has become so besotted by celebrity's allure that people will line up to spend lavishly on a musical attraction that is half fish out of water and half pig in a poke.
The fishy proposition in question, Dogstar, packed the Coach House Wednesday night at $22.50 a head. It did so on the strength of a single salable point: Keanu Reeves, bassist. Not only did the movie star's tall, dark, handsomely stubble-faced presence sell out the club at a ludicrous, unprecedented price for an otherwise unknown band with no available recordings and no musical reputation, but club owner Gary Folgner reported that several dozen fans turned up the afternoon of the long sold-out show, hoping to find a ticket or, if not that, catch a glimpse of Reeves on his way to the gig.
One hesitates to come down too hard on Dogs . . . er, Reeves' fans. Made up overwhelmingly of females in their teens and early 20s, but ranging to middle age, the audience was upbeat and enthusiastic, out for a girlishly squealing good time that took on an air of Beatlemania, Monkeemania and New Kids puppy love.
A pre-show poll of 14 listeners revealed that only one had seen a Dogstar show; a dozen admitted they hadn't any idea what the music would be like, while one said she had heard just a snippet on KROQ. The attraction, pure and simple, was being in the same room as the dreamy idol who saved Sandra Bullock and a rampaging L.A. city bus in "Speed."
Dogstar would be tolerable if its bassist were plain old Kenny Reeves. On its musical merits, the foursome would be a competent, mildly promising third-echelon band if ranked among other unsigned or independent-label grass-roots alternative rockers on the local scene.
Reeves and his buddies showed enough ability to be pegged as a band that could go somewhere if it figures out how to write more memorable and pointed songs. Its challenge is to be more than the generic KROQ-wanna-be it is now as it presents a paler, tamer, less-catchy version of such already-derivative alterna-rock grist as Sponge, Better Than Ezra and Bush.
What qualifies Dogstar for a figurative whipping is its decision to rise above its pedigree and exploit a star name to fetch big bucks. Had Reeves and company chosen to act like every other emerging band in their station and play the dives at $5 a head, open for touring headliners or appear on one of the Coach House's $8 local-band bills, they would have earned respect for their integrity and their willingness to get down in the trenches with their peers.
Instead, Dogstar took the star trip, charging what the star-struck traffic would bear and raking in something on the order of $10,000 for 70 minutes' work. Like the Eagles and Barbra Streisand last year, who at least were selling proven songs and skills, Reeves (who hardly needs the bucks) and his cronies (who apparently couldn't resist them) went for the big score.
Overlooking that drastic, credibility-sapping error, Reeves comported himself just about ideally, given the circumstances. Far from pandering, preening or stroking his ego, he came off as a bona fide member of the rock 'n' roll bass players' guild, a typically steadfast, self-possessed lot who tend to shun glitz and get the job done.
Clad in jeans, a flannel top and a T-shirt that read "Hollywood Hoops," Reeves (who wouldn't allow news photographers to shoot the band) held up his end of a tight, energetic rhythm section. He played purposefully, looking up only a few times to smile and acknowledge the crowd. He left the singing to his three band mates and approached a microphone only to utter the words "Thanks a lot, Coach House," near the end.
Guitarist Gregg Miller, drummer Rob Mailhouse and Bret Domrose, a blond, Dando-esque singer-guitarist, were almost as unassuming. Take away the celebrity factor and the celebrity economics, recast Dogstar as just another striving bar band, and there would be nothing obviously dislikable or shabby about it.
But this show wouldn't have happened without the celebrity factor and the out-of-control importance that factor now holds in American life. It was an English rocker, Morrissey, who sang the refrain "You just haven't earned it yet, baby."
It's a refrain that Americans need to start throwing back at anybody who tries to claim our time, money and energy without giving value based on skill, substance and a proven ability to deliver.