When I was twenty-one, I used to go see a local band, Dead Hot Workshop, anywhere they played (This is Tempe, AZ, 1990). I was new to the city, the music scene, bars in general. I used to buy a pitcher of beer at nine o'clock, grab a stool with a good view at Long Wong's or the Sun Club, and wait for Dead Hot to start playing. I watched them all night, some nights I barely moved. Afterward, I stumbled home, picked up a guitar and tried to write songs as captivating as the ones I'd just heard.
Dead Hot seemed the perfect combination of the Replacements, the Gin Blossoms (another local favorite) and, because of the lead singer's, Brent Babb’s, unique skill with lyric and melody, Bob Dylan. (Okay, maybe that's taking it too far--but dammit, he was our Bob Dylan.) I used to think, having been hardly anywhere else in my life, "If a band this good exists right here in Tempe, just think how many other good bands there must be out there."
After sixteen years, many tours around the country, relocating from Phoenix to San Francisco to Ashland, Oregon, I still haven't found another Dead Hot Workshop. I was just fortunate to have wound up Tempe, to have seen them open for the Gins at the Asylum on my twenty-first birthday, to have given them another chance after not quite getting them that first night. They're the only one, and after all this time that seems a point worth celebrating.
A quick word about Brent Babb, the lead singer and chief songwriter--and it'll have to be quick because he's the rare talent who absolutely hates hearing himself talked about. No one else can so un-self-consciously combine in his lyrics humor, pathos, and pop culture--often in the same line--and all of those images and associations piled on top of each other create a richness and resonance I find unmatched, on Mill Avenue or anywhere else. Coupled with his simple, haunting melodies, Brent Babb is the finest songwriter most people will never hear, and that, as they say, is a shame.
Sixteen years have passed since I used to go see Dead Hot on Friday nights, but Dead Hot is still there, playing every month or so around Phoenix and releasing Heavy Meadow last November. A new Dead Hot CD is always an event around my house, and I’m happy to report Babb’s connection with that place where all good pop comes from is as strong as ever. And now he’s teamed with his brother, Kylie, who carries on the family tradition on lead guitar, and a rhythm section, drummer Curtis Grippe and bassist G. Brian Scott, that has solidified into bedrock after a decade or two of gigs together. There’s only one Dead Hot Workshop. Those of us who know about them are just lucky.
So, check out their MySpace page, their Web site, and for pete’s sake buy a copy of Heavy Meadow.