PT Road Trip

Saturday, April 26, 1997 By Linda Stonehocker and Shari Lloyd, with special thanks to J Robert Parks

Most people wouldn't consider a trip to Milwaukee from Chicago much of an undertaking, but our pioneer ancestors would have, and so do Linda, Shari and J Robert when they're traveling on behalf of The Phantom Tollbooth. They recently spent a Saturday driving almost 200 miles to meet with newly promoted editor Chris Parks, shop for music at Something More, get first-hand reports from GMA week participants, share a meal and a 77's club date.

When the Tollbooth interviewed Mike Roe six weeks ago, the future of the band looked questionable, as each member was actively pursuing their own interests. Individual doubts seemed to have vanished this night, though, as the reunited trio took the stage and appeared happy to be there. As Bruce Spencer beat out the opening to Tom Tom Blues, the Light Club's disco lasers swept through the smoke. Mark Harmon's big grin shone through his flying mane while the building starting rumbling in sympathy to his bass, and Mike Roe, sporting a new pompadour, made it clear he had his groove back. In fine voice, he masterfully led the 77's through the set wringing an endless variety of sounds and styles from two axes with every lick mirrored on his face.

They played like they sound on the records, no small feat for a band that has been through so many personnel changes. They played like they were having fun. During songs like "Rocks In Your Head," "Wild Blue," "Tattoo," "Pearls Before Swine," "Lost Gods," "The Jig is Up," the fans sat appreciatively at their feet in rapt attention--too respectful, perhaps, because Mike made them stand for his greatest tribute piece, "Nobody s Fault But Mine," winding up the show with a little "Hound Dog" for fun. The show was all ages, and some of the best dancers were seven or eight-years old, brought by their parents to learn from the masters. They could get no better introduction to what Christian rock is all about.

Before the show, the audience had been asked to write down song requests which were amazingly filled after the first set. It was a long wait for the encore, but then the fun began as audience members pulled requests out of a hat. The band had already played a lot of the favorites, but they honored their commitment to play 'em as they were called: "Quail," "Ping Pong over the Abyss," "Renaissance Man," "Ba, Ba, Ba," even a little "Jesus Loves You, Brian Wilson," although Mike was quick to point out that that's another band's song. Nothing was too old or ridiculous for them to tackle.

You never know what you'll get at a 77's show. Their eleven-year reputation as an incredible live band is partly based on their unpredictability and risk-taking. Part of the excitement is whether or not you'll catch them on a good night. Bad vocals and burnt-out performances from fatigue and illness are common touring problems for these very human musicians, who are known to turn all their problems around the very next night and give the audience a show of legendary proportions. On this April Saturday, the excitement came from the all-requests second half. On the way home, the Phantom Tollbooth staff agreed--the 77's know their strength lies in their hard-core fans. It's nice to be noticed.

Copyrightę 1997 The Phantom Tollbooth