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Local Band Search: Tank Top U.S.A.

Between 1963 and today, rock ‘n’ roll is showing signs of age. First was its coming-of-age romance with changing the fate of a war in Vietnam. Then came the extended party in the ’70s with idolatry, excessive drug use and disco bashing. After protracted identity crises with early punk, ’80s synthesizers, suicidal renegades and the challenge of rap and hip-hop as the latest “voice of the people,” it’s tempting, if not ultimately satisfying and appropriate to rockophiles, for newer faces to look back with love. Local band Tank Top U.S.A. happens to be one of the more captivating groups to champion this nostalgia.

“I’d say we’re ’63,”said cofounder and mouthpiece of the band Thor Parker, referring to Tank Top U.S.A.’s aesthetic in contrast to the usual ’70s appeal of most retro rock bands, such as Jet. “We don’t play with distortion and we don’t look dirty; we’re cleaned up.”

The band essentially looks and sounds like The Monkeys playing surf music with a Hanna-Barbera production appeal. Other cultural tip-offs to identify the band are roller skates, aw-shucks smiles and hula-hoops. A hula-hoop contest was a main feature in the band’s debut performance over the summer, and is part of the quirky exception this band is attempting in the melodramatic hodgepodge of rock today with a freshman effort called Boots, Suits, and Cutes.

“The hardest thing about this band was finding people who understood what we were going for,” said Parker, who plays guitar while backing the vocals.

Parker and Bill Demarest, who also plays guitar and co-wrote the album, wanted to start a band where having fun could be the top priority. The rest of the crew includes Dan Williams on drums, Hank Watts on bass and lead singer Melanie James, a USF student.

What’s confounding is Tank Top U.S.A.’s official hip-to-be-square semblance while playing the straight-faced role in what may seem an ironic act. After all, 1963 already happened with not just The Monkeys, but also Jan and Dean, and Dick Dale, and even revivalists such as the B-52’s, who started fifteen years later. Indeed, contemporary bands of this genre, such as The Mooney Suzuki, The Hi-Fives and the 5, 6, 7, 8’s, seem to push the nostalgia card into another level. They have a Don Quixote brand of existentialism, a raw, energetic wish fulfillment that shames obligatory comments such as, ‘It’s been done before.’

What has been done before is music that relies more on creativity than talent, which is often the most memorable material in rock’s history. Parker, a senior at the Ringling School of Arts and Design, readily celebrates the musical limitations of his band. “If you combine the talent of our band, we have less than most musicians have in their pinky … we’re not in this to have people say, ‘those guys really rip.’ We want people to say, ‘You should go see those guys because they’re fun.'”

Tank Top U.S.A plays at The Neptune Lounge Sept. 10 and at State Theater on Sept. 11.