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Plain White T's move beyond one-hit wonder status

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By Rege Behe
Thursday, July 2, 2009

While it wasn't a massive, viral hit like "Hey There, Delilah," the success of the Plain White T's single "1, 2, 3, 4" (which recently passed 1 million in digital sales) means the Chicago-based band will forever escape the one-hit wonder label.

More importantly for guitarist Dave Tirio, he can look back at the past 12 years with no regrets.

"Throughout it all, there was this feeling of wanting to be right," Tirio says in advance of the Plain White T's concert Monday at Mr. Small's Theatre in Millvale. "The feeling that this kind of gutsy decision we made to drop school and drop all the things we were supposed to do in the eyes of our parents was the correct choice. In our stubbornness, we pushed on harder for that reason. I did, anyway, because I made my parents really, really angry when I dropped out of college."

Tirio quickly adds that his parents became more supportive when it became apparent he and his band mates -- singer and guitarist Tom Higgenson, drummer De'Mar Hamilton, guitarist Tim Lopez and bassist Mike Retondo -- were serious.

"After about a year, when they realized we weren't screwing around, they got on board," Tirio says.

It took the rest of the country a lot longer. The band had been touring constantly -- Tirio estimates that the band has visited Mr. Small's at least five times -- frequently as a supporting act, just eking out a living. Then Higgenson's ode to steeplechase runner Delilah DiCrescenzo became an Internet sensation and a No. 1 single in 2007, two years after it was first released.

To this day, Tirio has no idea why "Hey There, Delilah" became popular. Even more perplexing is how the band seems to be defined by that single song.

"It's kind of shocking; two years later, we have a hard time escaping it, every day," Tirio says. "In every interview, in anything where people kind of have a limited knowledge of the band, they're still asking us crap about Delilah. They're still asking if she's a real person. It's like, wait a second: If you image search Plain White T's on Google, you'll get a picture of her before you get us. She had a freakin' profile in People magazine. She was a question on 'Jeopardy!' It's crazy how far it's gone, and it will probably even take a few more years for any of us to understand how weird it was."

Those who only know "Hey There, Delilah" and "1, 2, 3, 4" might be surprised that most of the Plain White T's music rocks more than it purrs. Songs from the album "Big Bad World," notably "Natural Disaster" and "That Girl," showcase the band's ability to wed guitar-driven songs with harmonies that are inspired by the Beatles and the Beach Boys.

The current Three Part Harmony Tour is meant to showcase the band's diversity, with the first section devoted to rock, the second part an acoustic, unplugged set, and the third stanza a mix of everything from the Plain White T's dozen years.

"When you're doing a headlining tour -- and we haven't done too many headlining tours -- you want to make it something fresh and special and fun," Tirio says. "We thought by splitting it up, it would be novel idea. And it has been really cool; it works really well."

Additional Information:

Plain White T's

With: Company of Thieves, Days Difference

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Admission: $15, all ages

Where: Mr. Small's Theatre , Millvale

Details: 412-821-4447

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