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Gene the Werewolf turns back the dial a few decades

| Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009

It's akin to an absurd musical joke: Who wears a white suit worthy of Barry Gibb, plays guitar like a cross between Eddie Van Halen and Joe Satriani, and produces vocal harmonies from the Def Leppard songbook?

The answer is Gene the Werewolf, one of the area's most atypical bands, debuting the CD "Light Me Up" on Saturday at Diesel, South Side.

"The first impression a lot of people have is that you're going to be really funny and not too serious onstage," says singer Jon Belan, noting his predilection to suits that were popular during the era of "Saturday Night Fever." "But once the first songs starts, it doesn't sound like a joke band."

But fun• Immensely.

Belan -- who adopts the Gene persona onstage -- and his bandmates Drew Donegan (guitar), Aaron Mediate (keyboards), Nick Revak (drums) and Tim Schultz (bass) are like a musical whirligig, spinning out a sound that is irresistibly entrenched in the '80s. It doesn't matter that band members were either toddlers or in grade school when Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Van Halen and other influences ruled the charts. These guys have soaked up the melodies, the mannerisms and, most of all, the hooks those bands threw out like beads during Mardi Gras.

If it seems a bit over the top, or retro, or anything else -- "Light Me Up" certainly is not trendy -- that's OK. Gene the Werewolf isn't interested in falling in line with whatever is popular.

"When you're young, you fall into a genre of what you think is cool," Belan says. "You kind of want to play music because you want to be cool. ... When you get older, you kind of refer back to your roots, you kind of forget about the novelty of the music, and your focus is on what you started to listen to as a kid. For me, personally, I used to listen to those kinds of bands, Def Leppard and KISS."

Donegan says he was in the first and second grade when an older cousin started to turn him on to Guns N' Roses and other metal bands. Amazingly, he says with a laugh, his parents were "insane enough" to let him listen to "Paradise City" and other ear-splitting songs. While the music might have caused some damage to his hearing, Donegan learned a valuable lesson: Music can be fun.

"Just about everybody has let go of that," Donegan says. "Look at the bands that are out there now, bands like The Fray and The Killers. They're super good, and you can't argue with what they do. But there's nothing wrong with having a good time."

By song titles alone -- notably "Heart Attack," "Superhero" and "I've Got the Love" -- Gene the Werewolf puts a stake in territory that precedes them. A byproduct of that is an appeal not only to their peers, but to ... well, their parents.

"When my mom first listened to the band for the first time, she said it was the first time in a long time that new music sounded strangely familiar to her," Donegan says. "It's like it causes an instant memory."

Additional Information:

Gene the Werewolf

When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $10 in advance; $12 day of show

Where: Diesel, South Side

Details: 412-431-4800 or www.dieselpgh.com

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