Friday, December 19, 2008

Tackleloco - The Night Tackleloco Saved Christmas

Welcome to a very special holiday edition of Friends of The Bend...

Drink a Cup of Whiskey-Beer, or The Night Tackleloco Saved Christmas

By Robert Dahl

We never planned to save Christmas. But sometimes things need savin’. That’s when real men have to step up, stiffen their spines, and boldly relive their childhoods.

In the summer of 1999 I’d been out of college for a couple of years, was living in New York NY, and was ready for a change. When I say “ready,” I of course mean “desperate, clamoring, and ready to jump a train to anywhere” for something other than the clotted streets and scintillating odors of our nation’s most famous city. Circumstances conspired to send me to Washington DC, where I had several good friends and the promise of a better life.

This new life in DC first became manifest in the form of a makeshift band we called Tackleloco (no, not “Taco Loco.” We were not a mariachi punk band. Tackleloco was a game one of us used to play growing up. From what I understand it involved little more than a group of kids running around tackling each other (not unlike Aussie rules football)). This band was originally formed by a good friend of mine from way back (among those mentioned above) named Mike Larmoyeux, and a friend of his from college named Jim McNamee. Jim and Mike had played in various bands at Notre Dame, and Mike and I had played in various bands in high school down in Jacksonville, Florida (actually, Mike and I had played in only one band, but we kept changing the name. So it really counted as like 8-10 different bands. I stand firmly by this). The instrumentation was odd, but we were confident that it would work: Mike and I played guitar, and Jim played clarinet.

No singing. No rules. That’s how we rolled. Word to your mother/nearest female kin.

Jim and Mike already had a few originals written by the time I came along, so I was happy to be included and did my best to augment what they’d already put together. Some of the songs included such hits as “Away to Me, Fly,” inspired by the sheepdoging movie Babe, and “Broderick,” a very somber number written by Mike in a fit of despair after seeing Godzilla and wondering what the hell had happened to Ferris Bueller’s career. I started adding some material of my own, writing the unforgettable “I’m Not the Spaz You Know Me As,” and collaborating on “Well, I Never Knew a Rufus.” We had an iron-clad songwriting process… Mike and I would come up with the oddest arrhythmic guitar harmonies we could, and Jim would hold it all together with the melody. We did one cover early on, which was Brittany Spears’s incomparable “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” With our instrumentation and the speed at which we played it, it sounded oddly similar to “Hava Nagila.” That is to say, it was exactly what we were shooting for. Let us rejoice.

We recorded a demo and played out here and there, and had a great time. But the first big project we wanted to undertake was, naturally, to record a Christmas album. Doesn’t every young band want as much? Good artists borrow, great artists steal, and immortal artists record Christmas albums. Just ask Lawrence Welk. Why not us? By the Autumn of 2000, it was on. We would record The Night Tackleloco Saved Christmas.

The first and most vital step to recording a great Christmas album is, as everyone knows, to contact one’s parents and request as many pictures as one can from early childhood Christmases for the cover art. We accomplished this task toute suite. Next, we started to think about the music. We had two criteria: first the songs had to be something that we could do with our instrumental setup. There’s not a lot of music out there arranged for two guitars and clarinet, and even when Mike decided to play bass on the album it was a bit of an issue. Second, the songs had to be awesome. I’m talking like Charlie Brown Christmas Special awesome. It sounds difficult, but that kind of thinking gave us a very good place to start: the Charlie Brown Christmas Special.

We began figuring out “Skating” from said special, and away we went. “We Three Kings.” “Carol of the Bells.” “Ding Dong Merrily on High.” We tried to keep songs recognizable, but also to infuse each of them with that special “Tackleloco” something. Since we didn’t really know what that “something” was, we just mixed it up and tried keep it interesting. It was all exceptionally fun, and the best part was that we got to think back to what we loved about Christmas as children, find songs that captured that feeling, and then play them in musical ways that we’d learned and cultivated in early adulthood.

That all came to a head when we began figuring out how to end the album. How do we close this deal? With what song can we end such a project and have it bring everything home? We needed one more song. It had to be good, and it had to be fun (and don’t forget, also playable and awesome). Fortunately, we were able to benefit from the expertise of another Notre Dame musical alum, Doug MacEachern. He lived in DC at the time as well, and he came over one evening to help out with some of the recording. As many of our dear readers are aware, he is not only a good recording engineer, he is also a spectabulous percussionist. He came over, and the four of us sat down to figure something out. We decided to take the last song in an entirely different direction.

We decided to play Twisted Sister’s inspiration for “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and returned the favor on their behalf. “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” heavy distortion, clarinet, and banging on whatever bits of percussion we could cobble together in our basement. In figuring it out, we realized that not only were the chord progressions of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “Faithful” very similar, they were both very much like “Auld Lang Syne.” So we turned it into a two-tune medley. And we decided to sing. But none of us knew the words. So we did what any self-respecting band would do… we hit “record” and started playing. Here’s how Auld Lang Syne came out, near as I can figure, Tackleloco style:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And we’ve done sing to mine?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
Just don’t forget about auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne,
Yeah, auld lang syne,
We’ll drink a cup of whiskey-beer,
For auld lang syne.


Done. Hit “save.” Make copies. Wonder what “whiskey-beer” is and try to figure out where to find some.

In any case, we finished the album, gave it away to whoever would take it, and kept playing for as long as we could. We never broke up, and we later added a fourth member (my brother Taylor Dahl), but we haven’t done anything for a long while.

Tackleloco is not dead, Tackleloco merely sleeps. Like Arthur and his England, Tackleloco will rise again in Christmas’s time of great need, should such a time come.

Or something.

see also:
Tackeloco on MySpace


doug said...

Whiskey beer. The owner of a bar dedicated to serving unusual beers described it to me as "the Scotchiest beer I've ever had." He was not wrong. Tackleloco was once again years ahead of the curve.

In case anyone wonders about the Friend of the Bend label, let it be noted that Tackleloco did indeed play in South Bend in April 2000 (and possibly one other time). Somewhere I have pictures to prove this.

theodore said...

kinda sounded like a boilermaker to me, which i enjoy on occasion (read: last night).

and according to the tackleloco website, they played at lula's and at the last bfx show, for those keeping track.