Spirit of '76

Three of the four members of '76 Pinto reside in the Boulder area, but that doesn't stop the act's Louisville-based drummer, Pat Gill, from saying nasty things about the musicians who live there. That '76 Pinto shares so little in common with the typical Boulder combo is, he claims, "a plus--because they're all a bunch of fucking idiots." He goes on to explain why he believes that Boulder club bookers have been reluctant to hire the band: "It's too rockin', too loud, and people can't deal with it. It's not just a fucking twenty-minute jam session. The songs are regimented. There's a fucking verse, a chorus, a bridge and an ending. And they're the same every fucking night, man. We're sorry, but we actually practice."

These comments imply that Gill has a chip the size of Rhode Island on his shoulder. But that doesn't mean the music of '76 Pinto is angry or inaccessible. On the contrary, the sounds made by Gill, bassist Shark and singer/guitarists Jason Mannell and Chris DePinto are squarely in the modern-rock tradition. "We play tight, hard pop songs," Gill says--and this straightforward approach has helped make the six-month-old outfit among the most engaging vehicles on local roads right now.

None of the players is a music-scene virgin. Gill pounded the skins for the sort-of-defunct Feds, who trod local stages throughout the Nineties, and he spent his formative years playing alongside current Guns N' Roses keyboardist Dizzy Reed in a conglomeration initially formed to compete in a sixth-grade talent show. The group, known at various times as the Hairy Bananas, Black Pearl and Bootleg and the Violators, had numerous shifts in personnel over its decade or so of existence, but Gill asserts that Reed (given name: Darren) was "always the best and most dedicated player. Plus he had his parents' money." The elder Reeds bankrolled their son during the two years he hung out in Los Angeles prior to joining GN'R--and because Axel Rose and company have logged more vacation time of late than George Hamilton, Gill says, "I think he needs money now, too."

As for Mannell, a native of Australia, his primary claim to fame rests on the seven years he spent as part of a successful Sydney pub band called Buzz. DePinto, meanwhile, was half of Chris and Maggie, a regionally acclaimed folk duo. The Maggie in the aforementioned equation is the richly talented Maggie Simpson, to whom DePinto is still happily married. However, DePinto says that the couple's artistic liaison eventually succumbed to professional pressures. "When you get into bed with your business partner, go out on a date with your business partner, have breakfast with your business partner and mow the lawn with your business partner, it just gets a little tiring," he relates. "So it was definitely a lot of stress on our relationship. But the best thing about performing as Chris and Maggie was that it was just a lot of fun to play and travel with your best friend. I know it sounds really corny, but it's true."

Fortunately, DePinto had other friends in the Front Range music community. After deciding to start a new band, he called Shark, whom he had met at a Boulder music store two years earlier, and Gill, another longtime acquaintance. Mannell completed the lineup; he was suggested to the trio by Wil Masisak, a mutual pal who owns Boulder's Broken Records label. The four soon found that they shared a common ethos that a half-drunk Gill, imported microbrew in hand, sums up best. "I'm not a great drummer," he confesses, "but I'm great at what I do. And basically, that's the key to the whole thing. We're all excellent mediocre players."

DePinto seconds this emotion. He points out that the group auditioned a handful of drummers other than Gill and found that "they were generally pretty good. But they wanted to do something challenging--and we weren't it."

For proof of this assertion, look no further than Miami to Vegas, the group's debut CD, which is slated for a late March release. If rough mixes available at press time are any indication, listeners will hardly need a map to follow '76 Pinto's creative itinerary. "This World Tonight" alternates between shimmering, sensitively rendered verses about an unnamed woman's search for love and identity and a chorus whose guitar riffs are brazen enough to make Pete Townshend sit up and take notice. "Toothbrush and a Suitcase" visits similar lyrical turf in the midst of an effective Gin Blossoms-style assault, while the Mannell-penned "Lousy Little Shit" is a rather cryptic screed that's propelled by Mannell's crystal-clear singing and Gill's unexpectedly spunky rhythm track.

Other songs don't work quite as well, in part because chief songwriters DePinto and Mannell are sometimes guilty of overselling lackluster material. (Of course, judging from the state of the current alternative-rock charts, this shortcoming may prove no hindrance at all.) But the beefy beat laid down by Gill and Shark makes up for a multitude of sins and has helped the group appeal to a fan base that's too old to embrace gangsta rap but too young to have shed any tears over the prospect of TCI dropping VH1 from its cable systems. The crowd at a recent Market 41 set by the band matched these demographics--and Mannell reports that the dance floor stayed full from the third song on. "And it wasn't just our friends," DePinto insists.

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