It is two hours prior to the 8 p.m. show time and a long line of mostly white youths ranging from Abercrombie and Fitch-clad preppies to paper-thin females donning black New York Dolls T-shirts and thick, matching eyeliner stand like racehorses waiting to be let out of the gate. The instant the hallowed doors of The House of Blues burst open (and after everyone gets frisked by the friendly security guards thinly veiling their bulging muscles behind bright yellow polo shirts) the mob, predominantly consisting of well-tended-to teens, will tear forward like rabid wolves in order to secure a coveted spot near the front of the stage.
Amid the expressionless faces of passing Downtown Disney tourists, desperate fans try in vain to obtain tickets to the sold-out show. The constant murmur of “Got Strokes tickets?” heightened the buzz of anticipation as my associate and I checked the Guest Box to get our tickets – the list had finally arrived, and we were directed to the rear entrance of the stage. As we waited outside for someone to lead us to Green Room No. 1 so that I could interview the members of Longwave, strands of Bob Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo” and boyish laughter could be heard emanating through the open windows of The Strokes’ tour bus. The band, an ensemble of shaggy hairdos and vintage thrift store-chic threads attached to lean 20-something year old frames, stepped off their home-on-wheels and gazed at the bright beams of light peircing the sky.
“Do they always have those spotlights up?” inquired Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond.
“They’re for us, man … they’re gonna spell out The Strokes,” mused drummer Fabrizio Moretti, who had on a pink, Velvet Underground T-shirt. The garment stuck to his torso like a wet napkin. The fun-loving Manhattanites introduced themselves to me politely before disappearing backstage. I would soon be led in the same direction to interview their pals from Longwave.
When I entered the room, lead voclaist/guitarist Steve Schlitz, guitarist Shannon Ferguson, bassist Dave Marchese and drummer Mike James were lounging on plush sofas while sipping from 6 oz. Coke cans and sampling a tasty-looking spread of grilled chicken breasts and shrimp cocktails. The 20-year-olds from Longwave appeared quite content with their posh surroundings and rock star accomodations.
“It’s a ‘Longwave’ to the top if you want to rock ‘n’ roll,” jested Schlitz when asked about the future of guitar-driven rock a la The Strokes and themselves. Both bands definitely fall into the guitar-driven, power pop category – tight tunes propelled by melodic chord changes, wherein noodling and jamming are as unwelcome as synthetic, thudding bass or mid-song rapping. Unlike the night’s headliner though, Longwave opts for a more ambient, sweeping sound that successfully borrows from British imports such as Radiohead and U2. In addition to the formerly mentioned, Schlitz also cites R.E.M., David Bowie (especially the Brian Eno produced albums), Velvet Underground, The Clash and The Pixies as musical influences. In explaining how all the outer-world guitar effects that permeate their latest EP (Extended Play) are produced, Ferguson laughed and replied, “Delay pedal … it’s all done with a delay pedal.”
Before another question could be brought to Longwave’s attention, Moretti (Strokes drummer) slinked into the room with a youthful glow in his eyes and a Cheshire cat grin across his face.
“Hey, can I hang out with you guys?” whined the playful New Yorker.
After inspecting the room, the band’s equipment (“What a crazy suitcase you guys have”), and horsing around with Jason Oliva (Longwave’s new tour manager, a visual artist friend from New York), Moretti glanced down at my notepad and chuckled.
“Oh, dude, this is an interview …. I’m sorry, man …. You know, Madison Square Garden was sold-out for these guys,” quipped Moretti with a giggle as he returned to the room across the hall where his own band was relaxing.
Prior to recording their latest EP, Longwave recorded Endsongs, a full-length album for Lunacy, a tiny New York City label.
“That was something we did as a demo before we were even really a band yet,” Schlitz explained when we finally got past subjects such as minor league hockey teams and back to music. “We recorded it and did everything ourselves – Shannon engineered it.”
“I’m pretty good at that,” voiced Ferguson with a minor glint in his eye.
The same man who produced The Strokes’ This Is It, Gordon Raphael, aided in the recording of their latest effort.
“Yep, we did most of it ourselves and some with Gordon, who did their record (points to the hallway where members of The Strokes are sipping Beck’s beer and smoking cigarettes) – ‘The Storks,'” Schlitz said affectionately.
Schlitz attributes musical maturation to the higher quality of their new disc.
“Endsongs is not quite as realized as the EP,” Schlitz said. “The EP is a little dirtier sounding, a little bit cooler, we had more ideas.”
So how exactly did Longwave, without a current record deal, get paired with The Strokes for a national tour?
“A lot of sordid activity, if you know what I mean,” Schlitz allowed in a mock, hushed tone.
“Bribes and payoffs – the music industry is a very dirty business,” added Marchese.
In truth, good fortune and a man named Ryan Gentles are responsible for the profitable pairing.
“These ‘Stumps,’ we’ve known them for a little over a year and a half,” Schlitz conceded. “Their manager (Gentles) used to book the Mercury Lounge in New York and we knew him.”
Certain dates during the tour call for Longwave to play alone, such as the other night when The Strokes had a different type of gig to attend.
We stopped the show in the middle of a song last night to watch The Strokes play on Saturday Night Live … had a TV set up for the audience,” Steve enthused.
For now, Longwave doesn’t seem to mind crossing the country as The Strokes kid brother. Longwave’s tour manager sees it as a great opportunity.
“It’s just a matter of time before they get signed to a major label – this exposure to younger crowds has been phenomenal – in New York they can only play to drinking, over 21 crowd,” Olivia said as we stood surveying the packed house anxiously awaiting the parting of the curtains. Within moments, Longwave would whip the crowd into a frenzy.
On stage, Schlitz and Ferguson bare little resemblance to the calm, docile, gentlemen who granted me an interview. Alternating between clamping down on his guitar and clutching the mike with both hands while his curly blond tresses fall halfway down his face, Schlitz intones each word with watt-intensive energy while Ferguson’s guitar leaps and soars in and around the rhythm section of bassist Marchese and drummer James. After the second song, “Make Me Believe,” Schlitz rushed the speaker box with the body of his six-string, creating a cacophony of feedback. The audience applauded Schlitz’s prowess on stage and the music washing across the capacity-filled room. The third song of the night, “Tidal Wave,” the first cut off their new EP, elicited an even stronger response, prompting Schlitz to acknowledge the crowd with a “thank you” before breaking into “Exit,” another highlight from their latest release.
Upon firing the final note from his guitar, Ferguson slammed his instrument down full force onto the stage in an act that smacked of pure emotion rather than scripted histrionics. He marched off, followed by James, into the wings while Schlitz created a sonic explosion by pounding his guitar and then raw hands into the pedals and speaker cabinets that surrounded him until every last sound wave had been extracted and exhausted. The young rocker stomped off the stage followed by Marchese, who waved thankfully to the sea of people blanketing the band with adulation.
Longwave did not upstage their pals, The Strokes, but they did not appear to be out of their league, either. The Strokes sounded very similar to their album, even a couple new songs thrown into the set were hard to distinguish from those drawn from their breakthrough debut Is This It. The most interesting song on the set list was “N.Y.C. Cops,” a tune that takes shots at Gotham’s men in blue and was pulled from the album after Sept. 11. Lead singer Julian Casablanca’s Lou Reed-esque, detached vocals mirror his plain blue T-shirt, disheveled hair, worn jeans and old burnt-orange Salvation Army jacket appearance. One moment of Casablanca’s crouching down toward the audience and the sound of young girls squealing eclipsed that of the sound system – the man could do no wrong.
On the way out, I heard some teenage girls mutter something about “that cute singer with the hair in his eyes from Longwave.” Frontman Schlitz and company have a long way to go before they start such a ruckus on their own, but if Monday night’s show and their latest EP are any indication, there just might be two “next big things” hailing from beneath the shadow of Lady Liberty’s torch.
- For more information about Longwave go to
- Simi Bhullar contributed to this story.
- Wade Tatangelo can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.