With their squeaky clean good looks, gold necklaces, platinum 'dos, and wisps of facial hair, you'd think the R&B band Youngstown, which just released its debut, Let's Roll, came straight outta Orlando (the home of like-minded acts such as 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys). But, as its name suggests, Youngstown -- singers Dallas (James Dallas), D.C. (David Yeager), and Sammy (Sammy Lopez) -- are from Northeast Ohio. Sort of. It turns out the band started in Atlanta and Kansas City, Missouri, but moved to Youngstown in 1995 (Yeager has roots there, but Dallas is from Kansas City, and Lopez was born in Rochester, New York). The band remained in Youngstown until two months ago, at which point it moved to L.A., where it now resides. But if you didn't see Youngstown perform in the area while it was developing its act, that's because it didn't play out much.
"We kind of hibernated," admits Dallas, speaking via phone from Disneyland in Anaheim, California, where the band is rehearsing for a Disney special that will air in February. "We didn't go out much. Our idea of going out was going to the movies. We were unknown by a lot of people. We did one show in the Beeghly Center, but that was it."
With ballads such as "Whenever You Need Me" and "Remember," the band takes on themes like heartbreak and puppy love -- not the kind of hard-knock stuff you'd associate with the ghetto. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the trio has adopted a working-class motif by naming itself Youngstown (the city is, after all, associated with steel mills and mobsters) in an attempt to give itself a rougher edge (remember Vanilla Ice's falsified claims of motorcross championships and growing up in the 'hood?).
"I feel like our album is a little bit harder," Dallas explains. "I definitely feel like, because of our limited training, we are going out on a natural raw vibe. We might have benefited from learning (choreographed dance) techniques, but that would also take away from the uniqueness we have. Everything we do is raw."
Raw isn't exactly the word that comes to mind when you hear a ballad like "Angel," which, sung almost completely falsetto, features giddy-as-a-schoolboy lines such as "Like an angel I'll fly to you so you don't have to cry no more." In the equally plaintive "The Prince You Charmed," the band croons about finding true love while faux strings chime and a synthetic drumbeat thumps gently in the background. Its overly emotional delivery on Let's Roll hasn't stopped the band from finding success, however, as the single "I'll Be Your Everything" is already a minor hit (it's also on the Inspector Gadget soundtrack). While the band is clearly riding on the coattails of other boy bands, it doesn't want to be known as a boy band.
"[The term "boy band'] is just something society has labeled groups such as ourselves," Dallas says. "I don't know why they never call the black vocal groups boy bands. It's OK for 20 million R&B bands to come out and not be labeled as boy bands. I don't understand that whole way of thinking."
With a European tour in the works this month and a New Year's Eve gig in Orlando (where else?), Dallas isn't sure when, if ever, the band will perform in Youngstown. "We would like to perform in Youngstown," he says tentatively. "We're just waiting for the right moment."
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According to guitarist Nathan Kilker, the jam-oriented band The Andy Johnson Explosion has a pool of some 70 songs (about three-quarters of which are original) from which it picks and chooses when it plays live. For live shows, it's a definite advantage to be able to vary set lists from one night to the next, as Kilker explains. "You'll never see the same show twice from us. You get that with a lot of local bands who play the same songs and have the same moves."
But when it came time to picking and choosing the tracks that would be on its first full-length CD, The Ghost of 'Lectricity, the roots- and folk-oriented Cleveland band -- which, in addition to Kilker, includes singer Aidan Kilker, guitarist Ryan McMaster, and bassist Joe Watters -- had a hard time deciding which nine tracks would make the final cut.
"We had to pick songs that go together, and it was hard to go through them," Kilker says, adding that the jam band scene in Cleveland is anything but thriving. "We're trying to create more of a scene here, but it's hard, because there's so much dance clubbing. I've been frustrated with coming up the ranks. I expected to see more of a community, and it's not here. I want to try to at least build some of it, but also look at other places we need to go to in the region."
The Andy Johnson Explosion will play with Strip at the Agora Ballroom at 9 p.m. on December 4. Tickets are $6. For more information, call 216-241-5555.
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As of December 2, Thursday nights at Trilogy (2325 Elm Street) will be hosted by a new trio of DJs who call themselves the Audio Prostitutes (their night will be called "Insomnia"). DJ Exile promises it will provide "an alternative to everything Cleveland" and will feature a variety of "harder-edged music," ranging from new metal (Korn and Limp Bizkit) to techno (Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin, Prodigy). Doors will open at 9 p.m., and there's a $5 cover. For more information, call 216-226-7000. -- Jeff Niesel
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