Square Deal

All local bands face their obstacles. Some acts are considered too weird, others too straight. Some have

been jerked around by major labels, others have been signed by them. Descriptions - metal, progressive, alternative - tend to do more harm than good. That sound-guy at Washington Square is a real jerk....

The Planets get it from all sides. Because one of their number is music director at the Square, favoritism is alleged. For the same reason, the Planets are worshiped by false flatterers seeking personal gain. And house bands are often seen as lacking the drive and desire to move their careers ahead. "First of all," says bassist Doc Wiley, "the original reason we were hired at the Square was to do the Planets gig. Later I happened to end up doing the music directing for the club. Living Colour did the same deal at CBGB. It's not a conflict, because if we're not holding a crowd, we'd be fired."

Wiley doesn't deny occasional doses of grief caused by his dual role, but he does downplay the negative. And the local veteran culls some solid advice from his predicament. "The scene deserves people being more grown-up now," he says. "We have 200 bands gigging out, so we have to act accordingly. Of course there will always be some political fights, and people saying the Planets have a cushy situation. Of course we do! We worked our butts off for it."

His advice to those bands who envy the Planets' Square post: "Dennis [Britt] always said, `Invent your own gig.' And we did. If people are going to say, `Doc, you're an SOB for inventing your own gig,' okay. You go invent one. The band As One took us up on that. They took over Wednesday nights." And hump day, like Thursday, will become a reliable staple for Square habitues, or so the thinking goes. And the "invent a gig" approach isn't even new - Frank Falestra, for example, created a running Thursday night routine at Churchill's Hideaway, and other clubs have shown the willingness to turn over an off night to acts that could make a go.

On top of all this is the simple and obvious fact that the Planets are a mighty fine rock band. Theirs is the arena sound, big and full, where even minor licks used for color explode and ricochet. Paul Van Puffelen's drums are the pistons of a high-torque engine, always pushing songs along, and Wiley's bass savvy allows him to not only fill in blanks, but to set the pace alongside Rafael Tarrago's ringing guitar leads. Top that off with Brad Anderson's supercharged vocals and you've got smoke and fire. (Shockingly, at least to Sammy Hagar fans, Anderson is able to twist and churn lyrics while remaining on key. Weird, huh?)

Near the end of last year, Wiley, whose last band was Dashboard Saints, hooked up with Rafael Tarrago, who had left Apex. Paul Van Puffelen says that after touring as guitar technician for Nuclear Valdez, he was hungry. An audition was called, it turned into a jam, and by the time it ended, the yet-unformed band had three original songs. All they needed was a vocalist.

"Paul knew somebody in Duluth, Minnesota," Wiley recalls. "I thought, That's pretty far to go for a singer." Anderson wasn't real happy with the musical situation up north, and he was "floored" by the idea of being recruited by a band way down in Miami. "But I was also intrigued," he says. "I flew down in February and we got together." Things clicked. "After a week, I flew back home. I knew they weren't going to wait for me to pack up my life. I was managing a building and a convenience store up there. I left my skis, furniture, clothes, shook hands with my old man, said goodbye to my family, hopped in my '78 Buick, and drove down."

Anderson arrived on March 1, and the Planets debuted at the end of March at the Square's Thon '91 festival. "I jumped right into the fire," Anderson recalls. "I was helping at Thon as a roadie, too, and I must've met 500 band members, local rockers." Nothing like Duluth.

After evolving Thursdays into Planets night, the band adopted a policy of playing no other Dade clubs, which could lead to the perception that they can't. "We'll play Broward clubs," says Tarrago. "It's easy for us to get gigs. We barely have to make a call, because the phone's always ringing."

A tour of the East Coast is in the works, too. In their brief time together, the Planets have crafted fourteen solid originals, with several more in the works. They are currently recording a new, eight-song demo. "The nice thing about this outfit," Anderson offers, "is that we see songs through from the beginning as a band. Paul, the drummer, also plays guitar, and we all write." Puffelen, in fact, came up with the guitar part for the song "Aspirations."

With experience, well-drawn plans, and a fine demo, it seems clear that "the Square's house band" is also a top contender for a shot at national exposure. "I was in a good band with good gigs and good money and a good reputation," Tarrago says. "But I wasn't happy. I could've stayed and things would be easy, but I decided to cut, suffer awhile, and go for it. I want to make a record, sure, but what I really want to do is tour."

As the prospects for that evolve, the band members are continuing to learn from Miami. "You know," Wiley muses, "the big record companies think the consumer is stupid. But consumers aren't stupid. As default DJ at the Square, I get records fresh from the labels, and the kids will have this stuff before I do. One kid turned me on to Mudhoney, so I called their label, and they said the record wasn't even out yet."

As veterans, the Planetarians have learned much already, and they feel they're prepared for the big time. "There is a certain amount of integrity we won't compromise for the sake of a label deal," Wiley says. "We're sticking to what we call `Planetary Consciousness.' It's what the four of us conceive of, a sound, that's most important."

But they do desire a deal. As Anderson puts it, "I didn't come 2200 miles to play in a local band and hang out in Miami Beach. We're focused, determined, and serious.

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Greg Baker