Punk-Pop Godfathers

The Mr. T Experience: a Berkeley quartet that has endured numerous lineup changes
The Mr. T Experience pities the fool who would count it out

The moment you stop and think everything is really going great is usually when it all starts to go south in a hurry.

One might assume that Dr. Frank - having pretty much seen it all as helmsman of Berkeley, California, power-pop punksters The Mr. T Experience for nearly 20 years, 11 albums, and countless DIY tours - would almost certainly heed this truism. But as he stifles a cough in the back of the quartet's van, the surprisingly still-good-natured singer-guitarist rues having tempted fate a day earlier at a Burger King in upstate New York.

"I was sitting there telling my bass player Bobby that it's such a blast to be in a rock 'n' roll band, that this could not be any better, and that I was amazed I was feeling all right, and then three seconds later I realized I wasn't."

Short of flipping the ol' Econoline on the freeway or having a bunch of gear ripped off, few things can derail a tour as quickly as a nasty case of the flu. And now that MTX has finally gotten back on the road for their first full-scale national outing since 2000 - supporting the new Yesterday Rules, arguably their finest recording to date - the band can ill afford to let their leader's sickness mangle their momentum.

"My voice is the one thing you can't fix with duct tape, so it's become this big project that everyone's working on," Dr. Frank chuckles. "They've all been rushing around like a bunch of Oompa Loompas looking for medicine and various home remedies. What usually ends up working for me is a combination of Jim Beam and Fisherman's Friends cough drops. But, you know, I have faith that there's a very slight chance that complete disaster can somehow be averted."

Indeed, this is hardly unfamiliar ground for the closing-in-on-40 frontman. MTX has fashioned a lengthy, curious career out of either barely surviving on the edge of utter collapse, or actually crossing over that edge and then improbably springing back to life.

They were branded "too punk" by some for their sloppy, irreverent 1986 debut, Everyone's Entitled to Their Own Opinion. A decade later they were slagged as "not punk enough" for daring to incorporate acoustic guitars and horns into their Ramones-inspired rambunctiousness.

The Mr. T Experience

with the Bad Apples,
41 Gorgeous Blocks

Thursday, March 4
603 Red River, Austin
They have broken up numerous times, endured more lineup changes than this year's Yankees, and danced on the semi-obscure poverty line while watching such progenies as Green Day and the Offspring - and later the Blink-182s and Sum 41s of the world - ride their influence to the heights of fame and fortune. As they put it in their self-deprecating1996 ditty "Dumb Little Band": "Our friends are all busy with their own affairs/becoming punk rock millionaires/they're taping their live album at the Hollywood Bowl/we're taping our flyers to the telephone pole."

Yet despite their perennial underdog status, MTX has pushed onward, maintaining a relatively small but exceptionally devoted contingent of fans and, just as importantly, getting markedly better with each subsequent release. Yesterday Rules finds Dr. Frank in tremendous songwriting form both musically and lyrically, bringing richly layered, Mod-like textures and a sharp, sardonic wit to his relationship blues. While the rowdy three-chord crunch of opener "She's Not a Flower" is a direct portal to MTX's past, songs like "The Boyfriend Box" and "Sorry for Freaking Out on the Phone Last Night" swing with the kind of jangle-and-chime guitars and appealing harmonies you would find on the Elvis Costello/Paul Weller side of punk.

"Our band has never been more alive than it is right now, and we just gotta find a way to get it out there, to capture the doubters who may have inaccurately pegged us as the 'poor man's Green Day' or the people who have never heard us before," he says. "There was supposed to be a review of the album in Rolling Stone but it got killed, and that would have been the most mainstream visibility we've ever really gotten. Some of our fans said to me, 'Why would you wanna be in that magazine anyways?' But one person was all for it, and he likened it to being the guy in the cartoon who finds the dancing frog that'll only do the vaudeville songs when he's looking, and when everyone else is around it'll just go 'ribbit.' Exposure like that would say to the world that hey, this frog really does sing and dance. And I can't come up with a better way to describe the position that we're in." •

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