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Surfin' Safari

The Beloved Invaders ride the wave.

Cannistraro enlisted Johnson and Shreve with the same query emerging just moments after a proper introduction. But as ramshackle as his recruitment process sounds, Cannistraro's band plans have worked remarkably well. With their perfectly nuanced leads, flawless rhythms, vintage Fender guitars and amps, and on-target stage persona, the Beloved Invaders are the real deal.

While some critics dismiss surf revivalism as retro kitsch, the Invaders "play it pretty straight," says Weaver. "We don't ham it up at all. I think people respond to the music."

Adds Cannistraro, "The initial attraction for people is the novelty. But it's lasted."

"It's like taking a step back in time," says Johnson. "We've got the look, we've got the instruments. We're very authentic about everything." Marked by twin guitars, tons of reverb, adrenal melodies and nary a lyric, the Beloved Invaders don't stray very far outside the boundaries of the genre, lines that were drawn long ago.

"One of the things that I like to strive for -- in any band that I play in -- is to be loyal to the genre, be genre specific and not try to be all things to all people," Cannistraro explains. "I think it's good to be a genre-specific band, because you really hone your craft in that one area."

Another hallmark of surf music remains essentially unchanged in the Beloved Invaders' modus operandi: "There's a beat that's pretty white," says Cannistraro. ("Very white," interjects Johnson.) "This is music that was the identity of a lot of white, middle-class teenagers. It's not so far from worldbeat -- it's just white America."

The bandmembers see surf as a refreshing antidote to what normally dominates the Boulder scene. "We do play songs," Cannistraro notes. "All you hear in Boulder are these jam bands, and we do play songs. There's very little improvising."

About thirty of the fifty songs that the Invaders have committed to memory are Ventures tunes, and the band's also written three oceanic originals, but the set is not strictly surf. There are also spy songs ("Peter Gunn," "Secret Agent Man" and the James Bond theme) and space songs ("Sputnik," "Out of Limits" -- on which Cannistraro makes very good use of his vintage Dynachord tape-echo rig -- and "Journey to the Stars"), with a few Latin and spaghetti Western numbers thrown in for good measure.

All of these tunes have one thing in common: "We're all about happy songs," says Johnson. "Music can be so angry these days. People should lighten up and listen to some surf music for a change instead of all that angst-ridden music out there."

"We don't play a lot of the darker, heavier surf music," Cannistraro says. "We don't do a lot of Dick Dale. We don't do any Link Wray." It all comes back to his long-cemented predilections: "I like music that's a little more melodic and a little less garage-y."

The light tone keeps everything upbeat for a reason, adds Johnson: "It's all about having fun."

"We get people dancing like crazy," says Shreve. "We owe a lot of that to our go-go dancers. All it takes is for them to do one move...and people just dive in." Impeccably dressed for the role with glossy wigs and calf-high platform boots, the Tootsies -- aka Traci Cantu and Valerie Serrano -- happily serve as inspirational eye candy for the crowd.

"We don't have to do anything," Cantu says. "We have our rings, we have our outfits on, just have a couple of drinks and go with the music."

A veteran of blues and jazz bands, Johnson's initiation into surf music came with the Beloved Invaders, and it was "a rude awakening," he remembers. "I thought it was going to be easier than it was, and it wasn't."

Johnson quickly realized that Cannistraro was a perfectionist. "He picked the bulk of the first forty songs," Johnson says. "He gave us tapes. He said, 'Come back and know these six songs next week,' real nonchalant-like. It was the first time I ever got chastised at rehearsal for being unprepared."

So while it hasn't been as easy as the Invaders make it look, the band has gelled in a very good way. The Invaders nabbed the opening slot for the upcoming Dick Dale show at the Bluebird in May and plan on recording a full-length disc at Boulder's Outmode Records for release later this year. And everybody in the band heaps compliments on the others' abilities and the band's overall chemistry. "If you like each other and you get along and it's a good vibe and everybody's happy, it makes up for so much," says Cannistraro. "It's more about human relationships than it is about musical virtuosity."

In the end, it's this combination of talent and chemistry that attracts many repeat customers. "The age group that we get is very cool," says Johnson, "from young kids to people who grew up listening to surf music. The older fans still enjoy getting very close to the band and listening the whole time. We all play loud and just blow them away because some of them are in their fifties and sixties, and they're like, 'I remember this.'"

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