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Motley Crew: Mandonna pay tribute.

Who's That Girl?

Mandonna take on the Material One herself

By Joy Lanzendorfer

Certain female performers--Barbra Streisand, Cher and Joan Rivers, among them--tend to attract male imitators. These entertainers, with their blend of larger-than-life flamboyancy and manly features, are naturals for the dubious flattery of impersonation.

Madonna is no exception. Whether sashaying around in a pink Marilyn Monroe dress, vogueing or desperately trying to regain some attention (and somehow succeeding) by kissing Britney Spears on MTV, Madonna offers a wealth of material for any imitator.

Or so Mandonna have found. The all-male Madonna tribute band say that the Material Girl's more than 20-year career gives them almost more material than they can handle. The band, who are pulling into the Mystic Theatre on July 17, do more than just play Madonna's songs; their show is a regular production.

"Our lead singer, Mark Edwards, does 10 or more costume changes during the show," says bass player Charlie Moto by phone. "He wears everything from a flasher trench coat to his underwear and go-go boots. There's always pink boas flying around. I don't even know what's going to happen most of the time."

Though one or two tattered bride gowns may appear onstage, Mandonna is still all man. The seven mostly straight band members aren't female impersonators and sing all the songs in bass and tenor keys. The lead singer even has a beard.

Along with the vocal differences, Mandonna play the music differently, as well. The band use traditional bass and guitars instead of Madonna's electronic instrumentation. "Most people aren't going to notice that the music is different," says Moto. "But the overall effect is that it's a little bit more macho or powerful."

The band formed last year after seeing several all-female tribute bands, like Iron Maidens and AC/DShe, rock the house while covering traditionally male metal hits. Mostly part-time musicians with day jobs (Moto, for example, is a patent lawyer), the members of Mandonna had been trying to make it on the club scene for years with original projects. Few of them had seen much success.

But when they saw the female tribute bands, they were inspired to do the same thing with a reversed-gender twist. After knocking around a few names like Janet Jackson and Cher, they settled on Madonna.

Mandonna took off right away. Within three months of performing, the band was booking Bay Area clubs none of its members could have gotten as individual performers before.

"It's frustrating to do original projects for 10 to 15 years and have to convince people to come and see you," says Moto. "I decided I didn't want people to do me a favor when they see me. I wanted them to have fun, which they do now."

There has been such a demand that Mandonna are making a DVD of their performances, complete with mock videos and interviews. (For more information, visit the band's website at www.mandonna.com.) No one in the band is at the point where they can give up their day jobs, but that milestone may be coming.

According to Moto, the audience at a Mandonna show tends to be a mix of gay men, middle-aged women and older Madonna fans. But lately, they have started to see teenagers, too. "At Slims, which is an all-ages club, we've started to see these contingencies of 13-year-old girls who come with their moms," he says. "I don't know how they even know who Madonna is, but they stand at the front of the stage and watch us."

Adolescent fans make sense, since the 1980s are all the rage among teenagers these days, and Mandonna mostly plays Madonna's hits from the '80s, like "Borderline," "Like a Virgin" and "Holiday."

The band plan to learn some of Madonna's more recent work, though the electronic hoops, rhythms and computer techniques of her newer hits don't translate as well to rock instruments. But the band are working on it and hope to be able to debut new material soon.

The Material Girl herself hasn't met Mandonna, though her label, Maverick Records, contacted the band about sending someone to a show.

"We would welcome it," says Moto. "It's not like we're trying to make fun of her. I went to her show two weeks ago. She's an amazing entertainer who has changed how people think of rock performances. We're just taking the spirit of what she did and trying to re-create it in some way."


Mandonna find out what it feels like for a girl on Saturday, July 17, at the Mystic Theatre, 23 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 9pm. $10 (21 and over). 707.765.2121.


Radio, Radio

There's a new radio station in town, and you can call it just plain BOB. Playing an all-hits format, BOB 96.7-FM is an exciting new concept from Canada--not usually known as a national hotbed of exciting new concepts. According to Wine Country Radio executive David Gross, the format, specializing in drawing from 40 years' worth of hits, is "four miles wide and one inch deep." Gross explains, "The play list is wide, but we don't play deeply from album tracks." He further enthuses, "It's like an iPod for the masses."

BOB is the brainchild of one Bob (yep) Sinclair, owner of Sinclair Media, which in turn owns Wine Country Radio, the conglomerate that produces the alt-goodness of KRSH 95.9-FM, the Spanish-language station KXTS 100.9-FM and the younger hip-hop and pop channel KSXY 98.7-FM. With an ear for the high-spending 25- to 54-year-old demographic of aging young folks, BOB--which debuted June 25--plays an all-hit format of music from the '60s to the present. Having replaced the oldies programming on that signal, BOB offers an "un-format," Gross says. In addition to urging listeners to "Turn your knob to BOB," the station's slogan boasts, "We play anything!"

When asked if that means that BOB is a return to the FM glories of yore when a cut from West Side Story might be followed by an Eric Satie track followed by the Grateful Dead followed by the Sex Pistols, Gross is patient.

"That," he says, "was an entirely different era."

At the other end of the spectrum and dial is KSVY 91.3-FM, a new bilingual station serving the Sonoma Valley. Supported by the Common Bond nonprofit community foundation, which is dedicated to "bridging Sonoma's cultures," KSVY launched in March and already has some 64 programs and over 70 DJs. According to program director Marc Armstrong, one of the most popular shows is a lunchtime slot devoted to modern Mexican tunes playing Spanish rap and other current music. Another hot slot is a weekly two-hour talk program devoted to the French lawn bowling game, petanc. Two hours, every single week? Armstrong laughs. "Yeah, and they eventually get around to talking about the game, too."

With a 2.5-kilowatt signal reaching Glen Ellen to Schellville and sometimes Petaluma, KSVY isn't for every car radio. But it does stream live over the Internet at www.ksvy.org. A recent dial-up listen ranged from Philip Glass to an obscure Dr. John cut to some guitar-heavy pop. Just like, in fact, an entirely different era.

--Gretchen Giles

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From the July 7-13, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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