WILKES-BARRE Tomorrow night, The Badlees' "river" rolls back into Wilkes-Barre.
It's the group's first area concert of 1997, and will offer fans the opportunity to hear newly written songs from its forthcoming album.
But that's not the only thing special about Saturday's show. For this gig, the band isn't at Jitterbugs, Market Street Square, The Staircase or any of the other area rock clubs they've frequented over the past five years.
Tomorrow night, The Badlees play The Kirby.
"I always wanted to play there because I was always really impressed by how the place sounds," says guitarist and chief songwriter Bret Alexander in an interview with The Times Leader. "It's not necessarily the size of it or the prestige — I just really like the way that hall sounds."
In addition to The Badlees, the show will feature performances by area acts Clove and Mere Mortals. Clove, formerly known as Sick Tickets, released its debut album, "Delusions of Grandeur," last year. Mere Mortals, voted the area's favorite original act in The Times Leader"s 1995 readers" poll, released its second album, the critically acclaimed "Grin," last April.
"We're looking forward to it," says Alexander. "Hopefully, it will raise people's awareness a little more of what#9;s going on musically in Central and Northeast PA."
Besides performing material from previously released regional albums "Diamonds In The Coal," "The Unfortunate Result of Spare Time" and the nationally-released "River Songs," Alexander says The Badlees will be playing new songs. At least six unreleased tracks, including the sometimes-played "Ballad of Dick & Jane" and "34 Winters" should be performed, as well as even newer numbers such as "Spark The Blue Moon" and "Silly Little Man."
All may appear on the band's next album, which will be released by Polydor/Atlas Records in January 1998.
"We'll probably go into the studio in a few months," says Alexander, adding that the new album should be completed by early summer. He says the record company chose to hold off on its release until January so it doesn't get lost in the pre-Christmas, big-name-release shuffle.
Alexander says about 10 new songs are completed and have been recorded as demo tapes. The band will record final versions of most of the material in Harrisburg, and will co-produce with Joe Alexander (no relation), who mixed "River Songs."
Such creative control may seem unusual for a newly-signed national act, but Alexander says Polydor/Atlas is still willing to let The Badlees hold the creative reigns when it comes to music.
"We're staying pretty hands-on," he says. "Producers ... the wrong one could be pretty disastrous. We really wanted to have fun when we record this time. We didn't really find anybody that we connected with when we were producer-searching. Joe was who we wanted to use all along."
It's been exactly two years since the already regionally successful band based out of Selinsgrove released "River Songs." Named after the Susquehanna River that runs throughout central and northeast Pennsylvania where the band first found an audience, the 10-song album sold more than 10,000 units, received lots of radio airplay and helped double the crowds at Badlees' concerts.
By the spring of '95, record company executives from Los Angeles and New York began showing up in towns like Lancaster and Scranton to see what was happening.
In July, the band flew to Los Angeles and — impressed with the label's commitment to its artists and their music — signed with Atlas.
Now, two years, two national hit singles, a TV-star-directed music video and thousands of miles logged across the country later, the band has finally had the opportunity to reflect.
"It took us so long to get to that point, it was almost anti-climactic," says Alexander, recalling the time the group signed the deal. "It wasn't like all of a sudden you hit the top of the mountain. We were just so ready ..."
"We built up what we did from the smallest bars right up to a record deal," he adds. "We didn't have anyone 'in the business' that we knew or anyone to help us along. All we had was ourselves. I'm real proud of that.
"Once you got the deal, you had done the work. You knew you made a good record and you did what you set out to do. Once the record's done, I'm usually on to the new songs, the next record or the next tour ... I don't really spend a lot of time sitting back and enjoying anything." He laughs.
Alexander says some of his favorite memories of the past two years have come from the road. Touring with Bob Seger and sharing the stage with the Allman Brothers come to mind as highlights, as well as hearing "Angeline" and "Fear of Falling" on radio stations across the country. And although the band was less than pleased with the final results of the Anthony Edwards directed video for "Angeline," it did provide from some addition national exposure — and topics for conversation.
"A funny thing happened to Pete," Alexander says when asked for a favorite story. "He was in a bar or somewhere one night, and he was talking to somebody that he didn't know. While he was talking to him, our video came on. The guy was doing double-takes between the television and Pete. Pete got a big charge out of it."
Despite the national success The Badlees have achieved since the release of "River Songs," Alexander says the band still loves coming home to play. He says the support received and friendships made in area clubs is still something group members recall with appreciation and fondness.
"It's hard for me to say 'Thank you to all the fans,' because these people are all your friends now," he says. "It was a really special time. We still talk about it a lot."