Local music: The Washington Beach Bums

  • Photo by Eric Wagner
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From the November 15, 2012 edition

“What would The Washington Beach Bums do?” is a reasonable question posed at the outset of the Columbus rock band’s debut album. The inevitable answer doubles as the album title: Party!

That proclamation comes after gang shouts of “Pizza! Beer! Weed! All I need!” that serve as a suitable mission statement for a band designed to distill the lighter side of hedonism. It’s as if they hijacked Queens of the Stone Age’s nihilistic smirk “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and its miscreant grocery list of “nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol” plus “c-c-c-c-c-cocaine” and replaced the lowlife vibes with a more good-natured Midwest debauchery.

Put bluntly, the Beach Bums are putting the fun back in rock. Or maybe they’re putting the rock back in fun.

“I think the partying came before the music, if it was a chicken and egg thing,” singer-guitarist Pretty Frank Dynamite said.

Added singer-keyboardist Joey Pizza: “We were just partying all the time anyway. People assumed we were a band.”

The group’s name stems from Washington Beach, a term some North Campus musicians and artists borrowed from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City a decade ago to describe their neighborhood. It’s not really in use anymore, but that makes it a fine fit for a unit whose ebullient approach to rock feels downright old-fashioned.

“We’d see so many bands that were just gloomy and depressing, just boring,” said singer-percussionist Johnny Spacebuxxx, whose Spacebuxxx Records is putting Party! on vinyl. Such self-important fare was too common for this crew’s liking when they banded together in 2009.

Not so the Beach Bums; their performances are jovial and rowdy as hell. The next one comes Friday at Ace of Cups, where they’ll celebrate Party! alongside fellow partiers Day Creeper, Tree of Snakes and DJ Detox.

Part of the appeal is the songwriting, which strikes a balance between frankly relatable and gleefully absurd. “Livin’ the Dream” is a paycheck-to-paycheck tale designed as a rebuttal to the Growing Pains theme song. “Bad Taste” and “Community Bike” explicate the promise of loose women, while “Land of a Thousand Ex-Girlfriends” deals with the fallout from such encounters. “Hound Dog Blues” reaches untold heights by crossing a Springsteen-style workingman’s lament with an Andrew W.K.-style anthem.

“A lot of them are written while partying,” Pretty Frank explained.

Spacebuxxx described the methodology: “Someone makes a joke, and it’s like, ‘Alright, that’s a song.’”

The laughs go a long way toward explaining the appeal, but there’s pure pop craftsmanship behind the group’s self-described blend of The Replacements and Sam Sham & the Pharaohs. Assistance from a boisterous rotating cast of horn players and backup singers helps too, especially when every member approaches every song like a lead singer. (“We have more singing than any band ever,” Spacebuxxx said.) Festivities are bound to erupt when a stage full of friends is belting out “Whenever I drink a Four Loko, I don’t remember anything at all!”

Whether this formula works away from home is yet to be discovered. After a disastrous turn in Bowling Green two years back that involved bassist Gary Bitter cutting his hand open and the band getting kicked out of the bar without pay, they’re finally doing some regional gigs this winter.

As for getting more of the Beach Bums’ 100-plus songs on wax? It’s somewhere down the to-do list, Joey Pizza said: “The priority for this band is, like, figuring out where the after party is tonight.”