Tuscadero, “Nancy Drew”
A while back I wrote that I had just missed getting tickets to see the reunited Unrest. Not long after I published that post, Unrest added a second, earlier Brooklyn date—which was actually the first show of their brief East Coast tour. I was double-lucky. I got a ticket, and also, the opening act for this first show was Unrest’s TeenBeat Records labelmates Tuscadero, another late-’90s D.C. band that I loved, regrouping just for one performance.
I first saw Tuscadero play in Boston in 1994. I remember thinking that they looked very young, practically kids, though on Monday night, Jack, the drummer, shouted something from the stage about being 43, so it turns out they were actually my age. I guess I was young then too. Part of what made them so much fun for me and for a lot of other fans was that they sang about points of reference that we shared. One of their songs was ostensibly about Pinky and Leather, the Happy Days characters from whom the band took its name. The above song—from Monday’s show, with Evelyn Hurley of Blast Off Country Style, yet another TeenBeat band from that era, on guest vocals—was about when your folks throw out your old stuff after you leave for college. (I find the third verse, which is primarily a list of Nancy Drew book titles, mysteriously brilliant.) But another part of why I liked them was that they were simply good—their songs were almost overpoweringly catchy.
Tuscadero had a kind of complicated label history. The songs I just mentioned are from their first album, The Pink Album—its cover looked like a marbled composition notebook—which came out on TeenBeat in 1994. Two years later a major label signed them and released the same album again, only with some of the songs re-recorded, a little more souped-up. In 1998 they put out a major label follow-up, My Way or the Highway. I was starting a music-writing career then, and I think it might have the been the second or third record I reviewed, enthusiastically, for Time Out New York. I remember being very excited to finally use some of the Spin-style hip-reviewer language I had absorbed over the years. (An aside: I just searched to see if my Tuscadero review lived on-line somewhere. It doesn’t, but in the process I came across another review I wrote around the same time of an album by a group called the Connells. I have no recollection of ever hearing this record; in fact, if I didn’t have the evidence in front of me, I would have said that I had never even heard of this band. Appropriately, I rated the Connells album two and a half stars, the reviewer’s default state of everything-lukewarmeyness.)
Good as it was, My Way or the Highway didn’t have a lot of traction. Maybe the indie fans felt betrayed by its more polished sound, or they were now listening to Cornershop instead, or something. Tuscadero broke up a year later, and they became ringed with sadness in my memory. It seemed as though a fickle market had played the devil with them, although maybe they didn’t want to play goofy songs forever and were fine with it. Maybe the sadness was just my own feeling that the musical landscape was changing, and that bands I had loved through the decade were breaking up, their members moving on to try different things or simply get back to regular life. At any rate, I locked Tuscadero away in some secret compartment of my heart.
When, on Monday night, the four members walked on-stage, picked up their instruments, and began to play, it was as though the doors of that compartment were blasted open. I later learned that they had all rehearsed together for the show only once, earlier that afternoon, but they sounded like they practiced together every day. The songs were big and thrilling. I was surprised to find I knew every lyric, that their music had been thrumming somewhere deep in my brain for over a decade. As I watched them play, years were compressed into mere seconds, and I was 42 and 25 at the same moment. The past wasn’t irrevocably gone—it had just waiting, like a genie in a bottle, to be brought to the present. Of course, it was all over in forty-five minutes, replaced by the melancholy realization that I can’t see the band play all the time—that it’s possible there may never be another Tuscadero show. But, for one evening, they brought me the happiness of meeting old friends I didn’t know how much I’d missed.