Surfin' Safari

The Beloved Invaders ride the wave.

It's a balmy, hazy afternoon in Southern California, and the ocean is beckoning. The year is 1960. On this day, the Ventures have a number-two hit called "Walk, Don't Run" in heavy rotation on AM radio, and surf music is just about as bitchin' as it gets. From a garage in El Segundo comes a steady stream of resonant reverb and danceable backbeat. Inside, two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer are wailing away, playing the latest Ventures B-side with methodical energy, never uttering a single lyric. Earlier, they went surfing together at dawn.

Basically, all these guys do is play, surf, cruise for chicks, write wicked surfing-inspired instrumentals and, if they have to, work. On Friday nights they escape the garage, clean themselves up with the aid of pomade, aftershave and matching suits, and head out to a club on the Pacific Coast Highway -- the Pitcher House -- for three relatively effortless, one-hour sets of surf tunes. Of course, this is only on those Friday nights when they're not on their way to the Manhattan Beach pier to surf.

Similar scenes are playing out all through the Los Angeles sprawl, in garage after garage, club after club, in places like Pasadena, Oxnard and Long Beach. Few of these bands are destined to enjoy the success of the Ventures, but that's fine with them: Stardom would only put a crimp in their surfing schedule.

The Beloved Invaders are gathered here today to play some happy songs.
The Beloved Invaders are gathered here today to play some happy songs.

Details

9 p.m. Saturday, March 3, $5, 303-830-6700
Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue

Meanwhile, across the country in Boston, little Bob Cannistraro, all of seven years old, is listening for the first time to a Ventures record -- a copy of "Walk, Don't Run" that his older sister brought home. He immediately wants to play guitar like the Ventures more than anything else in the world.

Fast-forward four years to 1964. Beatle- mania has crossed the Atlantic. The Ventures, knowing that they've been displaced, jet over to Japan to mine terrain that will later be exploited by Cheap Trick and Spinal Tap. The Japanese welcome them with open arms and, as a nod to the concurrent British Invasion in the United States, dub them the "beloved invaders." A year later, Japanese filmmakers produce a hopelessly cheesy clone of the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, called The Beloved Invaders, with the Ventures.

Fast-forward again to the late '70s. An adolescent Scott Johnson first attempts to surf the south swell at Laguna Beach. After that, he makes an annual habit of heading to SoCal.

Fast-forward one last time to the present. Bob "Motor" Cannistraro is closer to El Segundo than he was in 1960, but he's much farther from the ocean. He's on stage at Boulder's Redfish, sporting a Cheshire-cat grin, dressed in a sharp, powder-blue sport jacket with a black tie, and he's playing a mean lead guitar on a Ventures tune. Backing him are three guys in matching suits, guys who look exactly like the El Segundans at the Pitcher House in 1960. (Okay, so they're a little older than those guys.) Because this is Boulder, you've got the standard assortment of well-to-do types, sorority sisters and techno-hippies in the crowd, and very few of them have ever surfed Manhattan Beach. (Some of these people may never even leave Boulder.) This doesn't matter one iota -- the dance floor is packed.

Cannistraro's band is the Beloved Invaders, a Boulder-based surf act that sounds quite a bit like the Ventures -- or as their rhythm guitarist, Boulder native Eric Shreve, puts it, "the Ventures on steroids." Along with Shreve and Cannistraro, the aforementioned Scott Johnson is also on the Redfish stage, manning the bass. He's still in the habit of surfing Laguna Beach every year, trips he sandwiches between countless snowboarding and mountain-biking excursions. On the skins, Mark Weaver pounds out the backbeat. Like Cannistraro, Weaver grew up listening to surf -- in Wheat Ridge -- but was eventually swept away by the cultural tidal wave that was the British Invasion. As he launches into "Pipeline," the boogying crowd takes cues from the Tootsies, the Invaders' naturally sexy bookend go-go dancers.

Based on this gig, surf music doesn't seem to be out of style. Maybe it never was. Look at it this way: What other sport or leisure activity inspired an entire musical genre? Not bowling. Not basketball. Even TV commercials for today's extreme sports are underpinned by the speedy, snaky slink of surf. In recent years, the Denver region has seen numerous surf- influenced acts pop up on area stages, with Maraca 5-0, the Hellmen and the Orangu-Tones, among others, incorporating surf elements into their own diverse acts. For the Beloved Invaders and their fans, this stuff is just as hip as it was in 1960. "It's just good music," Cannistraro explains. "Good music is good music, and good music is timeless."

With this philosophy in mind, Cannistraro began planning the current, "hardcore" version of the Beloved Invaders in 1998. (There was also a short-lived incarnation that played around Denver and Boulder for six months in the mid-'90s.) "It was a lark at first," he says. "I said, 'This'll be fun for a yuk.'"

"Bob and I met at a salsa dance class," recalls Weaver. After Cannistraro learned that Weaver was a drummer, he says, "the next words out of his mouth were, 'You want to join a surf band?' He didn't know anything about the music that I played, how well I played, or anything else."

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