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Friday, September 13, 2013

The Booze comes full-circle with Star Bar reunion

The original Booze lineup (Jon Gleaton (from left), Brian Roberts, Randy Michael, Shane Human, and Chaz Tolliver) returns to the site of its first show.
  • Courtesy the Booze
  • The original Booze lineup (Jon Gleaton (from left), Brian Roberts, Randy Michael, Shane Human, and Chaz Tolliver) returns to the site of its first show.
Less than two years after party-starting rock revival band the Booze played its final show, the group's original lineup reunites tonight (Fri., Sept. 13), at the bar it once emptied, giving one of its earliest supporters, Star Bar co-owner Stephen Hudnall, a proper send-off. "Promoter Bryan Malone called and said Stephen is selling the Star Bar, and since the Booze is one of his favorite bands, he'd like to have them on stage one more time as owner," says guitarist and songwriter Randy Michael.

When the band made its live debut at the Star Bar in early 2006, the audience reception was hardly a sign of things to come. "We played five songs to three people, who all walked out," Michael says.

Though they did not laugh about their misfortune then, like they did during a recent conference call, they kept seeking future bookings. It also did not stop venues like the Star Bar from giving the Booze a place to iron out its sound.

Before that uneventful first show, the band had already recorded nearly an album's worth of material. The seeds of those recordings were sewn in July 2005, during a chance encounter between Michael and drummer Shane Human after a Butch Walker show. That's when Michael shared with Human an idea for a garage band he and vocalist Chaz Tolliver had been discussing with future collaborator Wes Flowers. From there, pieces fell into place for the original live lineup of Michael, Tolliver, Human, bassist Jon Gleaton, and guitarist Brian Roberts. Songs and recordings were also swiftly taking shape, as Roberts explains, a demo for the song "Over and Over" was cut the same day that he joined the fold.

As the live repertoire expanded well beyond five songs, the audience started sticking around. One benchmark moment came on January 6, 2007, when the Booze shared the Masquerade's stage with the Heart Attacks for the first time, making the band's soulful melodies and timeless riffs an instant hit with the local punk audience. "That show gave us Tuk Smith and Chase Noles' stamp of approval," said Michael. "Without that, we would have still been playing to an older audience."

Further expansion beyond the city's record collectors and punk scene followed, partly due to consistent airplay on 99x's all-local "Sunday School" program and a positive write-up of the band's 2007 debut album, Easy Beats in Modern Times, posted by celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. Not even a brief split in 2009 caused by Michael's move to London could halt the Booze, as the group resurrected itself in January 2010, fittingly at the Star Bar.

By late 2011, the Booze had reached a point, through constant touring, where it sustained itself financially. The group also seemed to be on a creative high, with its fourth and final album, At Maximum Volume, chock-full of gritty, blues-influenced toe-tappers like "Kick Me Where It Hurts" and "Wild One."

Though its members finally did not have to put money into the band, they were still seemingly broke due to all that time on the road. "When the band started, I was still in college, but by the end, I was working a 9-to-5 job," Tolliver says. "I just couldn't afford to constantly take off two weeks at a time to tour." Also, due to constant lineup changes, the Booze was spread out geographically, with guitarist Ricky Dover living in Knoxville, and drummer Pietro DiGennaro then residing in Baltimore. Because of these factors, the band's 2011 Halloween show at the Star Bar was its last.

Since the split, Michael has moved to Los Angeles to pursue a music and acting career. This created a bigger logistical nightmare, making future Booze shows appear to be a longshot. It has also kept Michael from ever seeing his longtime bandmates, making the show and its buildup a reunion in the truest sense. "I haven't seen Shane since 2010, and I haven't seen Chaz, my friend since seventh grade, and someone I still talk to on the phone, since the last Booze show," he says.

Things have finally come full-circle for the Booze. The bar that stubbornly supported the band when an audience of three weren't having it deserves as much credit for making this reunion happen, as a now large, loyal following pretty much guarantees a packed house tonight.

Little Five Fest, with the Booze, Ocha La Rocha, Nameless Nameless (Nirvana tribute), Siamese Dream (Smashing Pumpkins tribute), and Undone Americans (Weezer tribute). $10 or free with Little Five Fest wristband. 8 p.m. The Star Bar, 437 Moreland Ave. 404-681-9018.

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