A sign of either the smallness of St. Cloud's downtown area or the enormity of one sandwich shop's reputation, the disparate worlds of cover bands and original rock acts uncharacteristically met up over 6-inchers at Erbert & Gerbert's on a recent Friday night.
Two bands -- 10,000 Days (a Tool tribute group) and the Melismatics (pop-rockers who play their own songs) -- happened upon each other following their soundchecks at St. Cloud's two main rock clubs. Neither said a word to the other, but plenty was said by how their gigs would turn out.
A couple hours later at the Red Carpet, 10,000 Days drew several hundred people. Around the corner at the Rox Tavern, the Melismatics played to about 40.
The Melismatics never back down from a fight. They learned to stand tall a couple years ago at a club in Chicago, where they and another band from Minneapolis that shall remain nameless played to a paid attendance of four. Yep, four.
"We went up there and did our regular, full-on show," recounted frontman Ryan Smith, "and the other band sort of screwed around. They even made fun of us for giving it our all."
It turned out, one of the people in attendance that night was an advertising exec who would later hand the band a $15,000 check for use of one of its songs. "Every gig matters," was the moral of Smith's story.
The Melismatics lived up to that lesson at the Rox. Despite the meager crowd, the band played like it was at Madison Square Garden, making a DVD and double-disc live album. Smith's red-haired wife, who goes by the nickname Pony, provided undeniable sex appeal. Messy-haired bassist Mark Wade stole moves from Sid Vicious and Tommy Stinson. Drummer Ron Caron even hammered out a short drum solo. Rock 'n' roll was alive and well and thriving on a stomach of subs and Red Bull.
All the members of the Melismatics juggle everyday duties like these along with their band's ambitious schedule, which was around 100 gigs last year . "We'll come home for like two weeks and really, really work our asses off," Wade explained, "and then we'll go back on the road and work just as hard there. It's nuts. But it works out."
For this band, things seem to work out in weird and unforeseeable ways -- not unlike the encounter with the ad exec doling out 15 grand (even though their song never appeared in an ad). They also met the owner of an Indy race-car team at a show in Indianapolis, one of their most-frequented cities. He wound up putting the band's logo on the cone of two of his cars, one of which happened to crash on national TV last month (to the band's good fortune).
"I taped the race, and lo and behold, the ESPN2 cameras closed right in on 'The Melismatics,'" Caron enthusiastically recounted.
And then there was the chance meeting last year at a gig in Austin, Texas, with the guy who wound up producing the new Melismatics record -- around the same time he was also working on the Jonas Brothers' latest, craze-heightening No. 1 album.
"I saw their set and was like, 'Wow, they're really tight, and there are real rock stars in this band,'" recounted the producer, John Fields, who hails from Minneapolis, but now works mainly out of Los Angeles. "Then I saw them afterwards packing up all their gear super-efficiently in their hipster clothing. I could tell they're also a band that really works hard."