They describe their style as "geek rock." And one look at the five members of the Fullerenes confirms their geek status. At a recent show in Eastpointe, three wore glasses, all wore ties, and everyone looked too smart to be cool (except maybe the drummer, but aren't drummers always cooler than smart?). You also get the idea right away from the packaging on their 2000 CD Better Dating through Technology, with its subtitle Helpful Advice for the Modern Teen and pictures of 1950s kids at the malt shop interspersed with images of science. It's a promise of intelligent, goofy humor.
The band delivers on this promise, not only in lyrics of songs like "Gravitational Pull" ("Don't worry, we won't shoot off into space") and "Anna" ("Anna, Anna, that's her name / You spell it backwards, spelled the same"), but also in the musicality. The polished sound on the CD is challenging, multitextured, and just plain fun. It reminds me of cruisin' in high school to the sounds of the Police, the Kinks, or Elvis Costello. You can't help bopping your head to the bouncy, catchy tunes driven by nonstop furious drums. At the same time, a single song might go through several distinct changes in rhythm, tempo, and vocal style.
The Fullerenes take their vocal cues from the Beach Boys, with close harmonies, comically high notes, and multilayered choruses in which they nearly trip over each other but somehow manage to pull it off. In many songs they do a kind of descant, sung over the top of the main melody, with extra lyrics thrown in — as if they have more to say than any song really has room for. They pack each line with as many syllables as will fit, use creative phrasing to get it all out, and simply don't leave any space in their arrangements.
But this isn't just heady stuff. Like every smart boy who wishes he were cool enough to get the girl, the Fullerenes are looking for love. Four of the seventeen songs on the CD are named after girls, and most of the others are sweet or silly love tunes. Similarly, the creative instrumentation never gets in the way of danceable pop-rock that would be at home on old forty-fives.
Of course, all this can be hard to sustain live. The Fullerenes recorded their CD as a power trio. Since then, guitarist Clint Hoagland has found a new drummer (Steve Bekkala) and bassist (Kevin Krzyzanski) and added a second guitarist (Craig Peters). Ryan Arnholt has moved to guitar and Hoagland to keyboards. The pumping energy is still there, but it takes a lot of practice and a careful soundman to keep the overlapping vocals and dense music from sounding muddy and crunched. No matter — you'll still want to dance when the Fullerenes take the stage at the Blind Pig on Wednesday, May 22.