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Stayin' Live

[whitespace] the Applicators Putting on the Wit: Michelle Hannigan (left) and Melanie Goldberg, collectively the Applicators, combine a punk-rock attitude with lyrical wit for a sound that's distinct and different.

The Applicators give the DIY spirit an invigorating dose of chutzpah

By Matt Koumaras

DESPITE LA NIÑA'S fury, local indiephiles flocked to see the Applicators at their UCSC Pizza Junxion gig in January. But it wasn't just the weather proving difficult. During the show's very first number, Michele Hannigan, the Applicators' spitfire guitarist and vocalist, blew out a tube in her amp.

After a furious hunt for a replacement, the Applicators blasted back into the tune's two-minute fictional romance, and the band's shimmying fans gave a fiery "up yours" to the next day's classes.

Meanwhile, drummer/vocalist Melanie Goldberg's jeans were stuck to the stool of her minimalist drum kit. After letting out a playful cry between songs, she ripped through the rest of the set, proving once again that mobility while rocking is overrated.

Despite these live misfortunes (though par for the course--a P.A. has been knocked down by dancers at every show), this two-piece outfit managed to crank out a set that stuck with me like a Tinky-Winky to Jerry Falwell.

The Applicators are a fine two-piece band of UCSC students (junior Hannigan and senior Goldberg) that smashes the black heart of professionalism in two and glues it all back together with sparks of sincerity. Their collective influences range from the pro-feminist anthems of the Runaways and X-Ray Spex to the zany wit of the Dickies--with the laughable swagger of the Rolling Stones thrown in for good measure.

Hannigan and Goldberg are doing something different from the rest of the Santa Cruz music scene with their "less-is-more" approach to pop music. Yes, their straight-ahead Ramones-style drumming and piercing guitar leads are brilliant, but what really separates the Applicators from the masses is the sheer chutzpah the members put into every chorus.

It's that sheer enthusiasm for playing that makes an Applicators show so great. It's obvious the two are having fun performing together from the jokes they share with each other and the audience during their shows. At an earlier show at the Saturn Cafe, the duo messed up during a song, then proceeded to stop and start the song all over. It's that essence I find extremely punk rock.

THE APPLICATORS began less than a year ago as the Panties, a moniker they kept until discovering an Oregon band had the same name. The Santa Cruz Panties changed their name on their own accord, after hearing various rumors of the other Panties "sucking."

After toying with the idea of naming themselves Always, the two decided upon the Applicators, a name that has a distinct British-punk feel to it like the Vibrators, Buzzcocks or Sex Pistols. (Coincidentally, Goldberg, their exuberant drummer, used to host Banana Splitz, a U.K. New Wave and pop-punk show on KZSC on Monday nights, and now is the host of Third Rail, the live remote broadcast of shows from Pizza Junxion at 8:30pm.)

I like the Applicators because with just a guitar, drums and sweet dual vocals, the band makes sure there isn't any pretension to ruin the simple D.I.Y. punk beauty that its songs are soaked in. Every sound rings true, and no song is bogged down by pointless guitar solos or flashy fits of "check out my musicianship" machismo. The Applicators bleed immediacy, and nothing seems artificial about them--what you see is what you get, and what you're getting is one of the most enjoyable live bands Santa Cruz has to offer.

"We try to bring things to the table in advance, but it usually doesn't work out that way," explains the demure Hannigan, when asked about the Applicators' creative process.

"Usually Melanie will play something on drums, and I'll join in and keep playing until we come up with something that works. Then we'll change it up a bit and switch back to the main part."

When asked about where she pulls such monolithic leads from, Hannigan crudely jokes, "out of my ass. ... We write a lot of songs about our friends because they get really excited about it."

"At live shows, I make up a lot of the lyrics," Goldberg adds. She maintains that most of her lyrics are nonsense, but that's to be expected from someone who grew up in L.A. idolizing the Dickies (a band known for its own smorgasbord of nonsensical tunes, like twisted versions of Paul Simon and Black Sabbath songs).

"Police Love," a newer Applicators song, was inspired by Goldberg's chance meeting with a buff man in a uniform. "He wasn't even a police officer," Goldberg says. "He might have been a Parks & Rec guy. He drove up beside me in a truck from out of nowhere. I looked at him and could see myself ending up with a guy in a uniform."

Her quick wit is crystal clear on lyrics like "Put your cuffs on me, I find you arresting."

RECORDED in one day by their friend Noel, the Applicators' demo, Washa Washa, has been held captive in my car stereo for weeks since its January release. Goldberg and Hannigan's explosive vocals, recorded in one take, exude chutzpah and energy.

Washa, Washa's definitely very low-fi and garagey, much like Bikini Kill's earlier raw recordings. On a few songs, you can hear chuckles and profanities during the choruses, an addition that's a hoot. "Queens of professionalism," as Hannigan herself once labeled them, they are not--and that's precisely why this group is so intriguing.

Goldberg, who also trades in her drums for a bass as a member of the local rock band the Beeties, is the Applicators' primary singer. Though she has been drumming for only six months, it's just a matter of time until the Dickies send her first-class fan mail.

"Tellyphone," with a twisted obscene phone call and charming "ring, ring, ring" chorus, has No. 1 hit written all over it. The frantic "Go-Rilla-Go" sounds like Poly Styrene and Siouxsie Sioux giving the Ramones a pep talk at the zoo. I challenge anyone to dispute the lyrical grace of Goldberg's "Everyone wants to know ... Who's that guy, oh, oh ... the one in the gorilla suit."

Hannigan, originally from Oakland and a former member of the band theRapeutic, unleashes piercing riffs that ignite even days later. Take one listen to the sticky Pete Shelley-like leads on "U Broke My Guitar" or the quirky '50s-ish rockabilly leads on "Skipping 'Round Just Luvin' Life" and try not moving any part of your body. Hannigan's helium-amped vocals and fashions (wristbands are go!) come straight out of the template for eternal rock iconhood.

The Applicators' January tour of Southern California with Olympia's the Nervous System was a success--they sold plenty of merchandise and established a new fan base outside the area. A 7-inch looms in the future as well as a cross-country tour with the Low Down and the Beeties in the summertime. One wonders, after coming back road warriors, have the Applicators been tainted by any vices of the rock & roll lifestyle?

"Sex, drugs and rock & roll," Goldberg states. "Nah, we're pretty boring actually."

Hannigan laughs in agreement. "Everything I do is A-OK. This band is my vice."

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From the March 3-10, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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