Catchy as Catchy Can

On my personal list of least favorite things to do, driving the length of the Meadowbrook Parkway is usually second only to gum surgery. After getting stuck in traffic recently with my 10- and 13-year-old cousins as passengers, though, I have realized just how much I love my periodontist. While oral surgery has indeed caused me considerable amounts of pain, at no point during the ordeal have I ever been called an "old fuck." Thanks to my young relatives, I can't say the same for driving on the Meadowbrook.

It wasn't my constant demand that they stop bickering that made the pair of pre-teens brand me as over-the-hill, but my taste in music. As we shuffled through the selections on the CD player, waiting for a three-car pile-up at the Old Country Road exit to be cleared, every song was met with groans of disgust from the two young critics. In a matter of minutes it became clear that my self image of being a somewhat hip 30-something was nothing more than a delusion. The kids soon set me straight, explaining that "Orgy is played out," REM "only sings boring songs" and Everclear "just plain sucks."

I was just about to brand myself hopelessly out of touch when the fuzzy bass beats and feel-good guitar riffs of WCF's "Homecoming" hit their ears. While the song was not exactly met with a chorus of accolades from the pint-sized Kurt Loders, they did like it enough to sit through four more tracks from the band's first full-length effort, Who's Listening, before asking what was on K-Rock.

If most kids today are anything like my cousins, that may just make WCF the next big thing in pop rock. If that statement puts a lot of pressure on the ensemble's members, who haven't even finished their first week of freshman classes, so be it. They best get used to it, because rarely is a band so perfectly placed to make its mark in the musical marketplace as is this quintet of postpubescent boys from Babylon. As the music industry continues to carve rock into its narrowest niches, the moment when subdivision of divisions of genres can't be divvied up anymore is close at hand. At that point, some band will come along that joins together all the far-reaching factions— a band boasting a sound so broad-based that it appeals to all ages, colors and sexes; a winning combination of instantly-appealing, hook-laden melodies, Everyman lyrics and earnest, boyish charm. WCF could be that band.

"Rock music is going to be the next big thing," says 18-year-old guitarist Thomas Gambino, explaining why the climate is right for WCF to climb the charts. "A few years ago when New Kids on the Block hit it big, that's happening right now with the Backstreet Boys and all those bands. Then Nirvana came out and wiped the slate clean. Everyone is waiting for that kind of change to happen now. It's a cycle. It turns over every decade."

While comparisons with Kurt Cobain and company are not completely unfounded, WCF never sounds as dark or desperate as even the most upbeat Nirvana number. In fact, many of its songs are downright happy. When the band does experiment with heavier tracks, such as the churning "Meant for You," it uses pounding drums and grinding guitars to add depth to major-key choruses— giving the songs an air of desperation without rendering them depressing. First formed three years ago by guitarists, vocalists and longtime friends Brian Funk and Michael Longo, WCF opted to perfect this power-pop approach to rock despite the overwhelming acceptance of more aggressive styles of music, both nationwide and on Long Island.

"I think the reason punk and ska are so big here has more to do with culture than it does with music. I don't think the kids like the music as much as being part of the punk-rock scene," says the soon-to-be-19 Longo. "It's just another clique, another football team. The kids who couldn't throw the ball started listening to punk rock, forming their own clique and excluding the jocks. It's just as bad."

That's not to say that the group (which also includes bassist David Ferraro and newly-acquired drummer Dan Lazerek) dislikes punk or ska or any other sound-of-the-moment sound. In fact, the fivesome has garnered valuable exposure pairing with many of the Island's most well-respected genre bands— including a gig with present day darlings Edna's Goldfish at the Vanderbilt in Plainview. It's just that while other bands are content to become cookie-cutter replicas, WCF uses elements of ska and punk— along with new wave synth, '60s beach music and AOR rock— to produce a newly familiar, blended sound that cuts across musical categories.

But rocking hard enough to please a mosh pit in Plainview is a very small step on the road to becoming a pop phenomenon. Despite its numerous talents, local fame and good timing, the band has a way to go up the ladder of success. While the guys are looking forward to playing their first out-of-town gig next month in Binghamton, they have yet to find a label to release the new album. For now, the band has only pressed promotional copies of the CD and is currently shopping it around in the hopes of inking an indie label deal.

Whether it's due to youthful folly or a sense of destiny, the quintet believes that victory is inevitable. One factor working in its favor is that its lyrics stick to universal themes, giving the band as wide an appeal as the accompanying melodies. Not surprisingly, the majority of the songs on Who's Listening deal with the problems of lost love and social status, which plague people from all walks of life. Longo, Gambino and Funk, the group's songwriters, have found using such everyday dilemmas as subject matter to be more liberating than limiting.

"I had some tape where a band sang about their shoes— who the hell wants to hear that?" wonders Funk, 19. "You sing about what matters to you. I never sat around and worried about my shoes, at least not so much that I had to express it in song." Longo nods his head in agreement. "It's just as hysterical," he says, "when we play with a band of 14-year-old kids who hang a flag upside down and yell, 'Our government sucks!' They might have read up about it, but they have no real experience with that, they can't really feel it." He sighs. "Rock 'n' roll is about feelings and melodies and good stuff, not about shoes."

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