"We're the last flight of the quill before the keyboard and the console take over," says Chris Barron, hyperkinetic mouthpiece for guitar-rock groove monsters the Spin Doctors.
"Our sound just kind of revealed itself to us," adds Toronto-bred guitarist Eric Schenkman, "like some kind of crazy sandwich that's exponential, where strange things happen and two plus two equals five."
Maybe that's the kind of math it takes to explain the Spin Doctors' supersonic ascent into the upper reaches of the rock photosphere. A less substantial band might have suffered whiplash during the rush from frat-band obscurity to the golden 500,000-albums-sold plateau. The Docs' debut disc on Epic Associated, Pocket Full of Kryptonite, was released in the fall of 1991 to resounding apathy and languished for months. Then, just when the label was ready to write Kryptonite off as a lost cause, AOR radio discovered "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong," an infectious single built around chunky guitar riffs that sound either like Steve Miller doing "Sweet Home Alabama" or Lynyrd Skynyrd doing "Rock 'n Me." (No, we didn't get it backward.)
A quick listen to Pocket Full of Kryptonite makes you wonder what took so long. This album contains more hooks than your doddering old uncle's tackle box, and has conjured up critical comparisons to everyone from the Grateful Dead, Steve Miller, and Jimi Hendrix to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Commodores. It's Sixties psychedelia, Seventies funk, and Nineties dance (minus synthesizers and drum machines) all rolled into one.
The Dead analogies probably have more to do with the devoted, neo-hippie cult that has sprung up around the rotating medicine men than with their music. The Doctors' roadies, for example, were culled from the ranks of the band's most loyal fans. Like the Dead, the revolving medicos have been known to lose track of time on-stage, often jamming furiously for more than two and a half hours. Bootleggers and assorted partisans and hangers-on are a ubiquitous presence at live gigs. And, like the Bay Area legends, the pirouetting physicians are impassioned without being overbearing. Success has not augmented their hat sizes.
Musically, however, the two bands diverge radically. For all their retro-rock appeal, the Spin Doctors are a consummate Nineties bar band, with more in common with the Black Crowes and Blues Traveler than graying necktie mogul Jerry Garcia. Cuts like "Jimmy Olsen's Blues," "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong," and the exuberant "Two Princes," spin Doc-rock with an unself-conscious vengeance that harks back to prime Stones and Who, but with an updated, Club MTV-informed backbeat.
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Speaking of the rock warhorses, bassist Mark White and drummer Aaron Comess form the tightest rhythm section this side of Entwistle-Moon or Wyman-Watts. The Doctors' cure is the result of a concerted team effort. Schenkman's guitar playing is equal parts Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Keith Richards. And, in the august tradition of lead singers/frontmen from Jagger to Bono to Hutchence, vocalist/poet-laureate Barron dips and jukes and crosscuts the backbeat like a swivel-hipped running back trapped behind the line of scrimmage on third and long.
Spinheads come from all walks of life. Drummer Anton Fig, of Letterman/"World's Most Dangerous Band" fame is a big fan, and in addition to jamming with Paul Schaefer and company in June, the band appeared on Saturday Night Live last weekend, no doubt enlarging their circle of popularity dramatically. The Spin Doctors bring a Springsteen-like fervor to their shows, often performing four or five gigs a week in different cities. At risk of losing big attitude points, they actually enjoy playing live, and aren't afraid to show it.
Neither are their fans.
THE SPIN DOCTORS perform at 9:00 p.m. Saturday at the Cameo Theatre, 1445 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, 532-0922. Tickets cost $15 and $17.