Chad Rogers is all confidence as he steps up to the microphone. Clad in a red plaid shirt, with a thick beard on his chin and a guitar slung over his shoulder, the Bobby Dazzlers singer stands front-and-center on the performance side of Foam on Cherokee Street, the rest of his band poised and ready behind him. Sound check is done — Rogers and bassist Pete Millar chose Blue Oyster Cult's "Burnin' for You" to get their levels right, contorting the word "burning" into a CCR "Proud Mary" accent for added effect: "Boynin', boynin', boynin' for you." The 40 or 50 people filling out the small space have been called to the front with promises of a "high-energy" show. If there was a stage in this venue it would be "set," as the saying goes.
Rogers surveys the scene and begins to speak.
"Alright, alright," he begins. "Our album is called Champion and this song called 'Champ-'" His voice suddenly cracks as he speaks, while simultaneously he drops his pick. Several friends in the crowd laugh and jeer at the unfortunate, yet somehow perfect, timing.
"Oh. Oh no. Party foul," Rogers says, bending down to retrieve the pick. Composed once again, he does away with the typical band-banter formalities: "Yo, let's just play fucking music."
With that inauspicious start, the Bobby Dazzlers proceed to rip into a tight 30-minute set of garage-rock madness, heavy and catchy at once, with hooks and high tempos and all-around reckless abandon. Rogers is clearly the showman, wild-eyed and animated and cracking wise throughout the set, but his charisma never outshines the work of his bandmates. Drummer Jack Stevens keeps the beat steady and propulsive, never slowing down even when a lesser beatkeeper would have grown fatigued. Bassist Millar's rumbling low end adds to the guitars' chord progressions rather than simply mimicking them — a reliable mark of a great bassist. Lead guitarist Sean Gartner, quite simply, fucking shreds.
The May 19 show serves as the release party for the band's debut EP, the aforementioned Champion. It was recorded in mid-September by Ben Majchrzak at St. Louis' Native Sound studio, just two months after the group's first show.
But while the band is relatively new, it has considerable pedigree: Over the years its members have played in such local favorites as the Breaks, Speedboats, Arthur & the Librarian, Victoria, the Hibernauts and Dear Vincent. Stevens currently also plays in Union Rags — or "Onion Rangs," as his Dazzler bandmates joke. Those collected years of experience are evident throughout the rock-solid set, with each player locked in and operating ably as a laser-focused unit.
On the sidewalk outside the venue after the show, the band members trade jokes and stories, ruminating on the differences between this group and their previous output. Still shiny with sweat from the energetic performance, they frequently add to and build upon each other's thoughts, displaying a palpable camaraderie.
"The cool thing about our band is that we've all been in other bands before and there's been drama. Or not even drama as much as complication, and we were writing really complex songs that are like fighting over certain things," Rogers explains. "And then with this band it's just kinda like, I write a song, then Pete writes a song and then we just bring it in, and then it's basically done."
"I think this is the least effort any of have put into making good songs," Gartner adds.
"This band is fucking easy," Rogers agrees.
It would be folly to interpret that laid-back approach as laziness, though — especially considering the band's background. Its earliest seeds were planted in high-level neuroscience.
Rogers, who earned his doctorate in psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, had moved to Boston to do post-doc work in neuroscience at Brandeis University. He met Millar in the program.
"I was doing neuroscience research on how aging and hearing loss affect brain function and structure," Rogers says.
"I was in a different lab that also studied old people, but it was more just memory. Studied how memory declines in old age, and Alzheimer's disease," Millar says.
When it came time for his own doctorate, Millar was choosing between Wash. U and UCLA. Rogers put his thumb on the scale for St. Louis: "I said, 'Go to Wash. U, 'cause it's way better because of the people who you're working with, but we'd also be able to play in a band together,'" Rogers laughs. "I think that gave it the extra kick."
The two musicians both moved to St. Louis in the fall of 2014, and by January 2015 they were already practicing with Stevens, Rogers' previous bandmate in the Hibernauts. Gartner joined a month later, and the band started rehearsing at his house in Dogtown, equipped with a foosball table on the porch and a "dumbass cat that will just lay in the middle of the street and attract cars."
For Rogers it was a homecoming in more ways than one.
"When I used to play in Dear Vincent, all the Dear Vincent guys lived in that house," he says. "And then I moved to Boston and they all moved out, and then Sean took that house over and it ended up becoming the Bobby Dazzlers' house. So they say you can never go home again, but I went home again and it's fucking awesome. It really rules."
As for future plans, the band already has a second EP, Crusher. Recorded in the same sessions as Champion, it's lined up for a July 22 release at Blank Space.
"Champion is definitely the poppier one; it definitely has more of a pop influence," Rogers says. "And then Crusher is gonna be like the heavier tracks that we played tonight."
Asked about the ongoing local garage rock boom, in which the Bobby Dazzlers plays a significant part — the band was recently nominated for an RFT Music Award as Best Garage Rock band, alongside the Brainstems, Kenshiro's, Shitstorm and Tiger Rider — Rogers is concise.
"It fucking sounds raw and awesome. Don't even fucking think about it; just fucking love it, dance to it and have a good time," he says. "We're just here to have a party. I mean, this is my therapy. We just do this 'cause it's fucking awesome."