Fourth-Chord Hip 1-2-3 Just Doesn't Do It for Dada, a Group That's Putting Quality Back into Cutting-Edge Rock

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Kening Daily Herald Music Critic

The scoop

- Who: Dada, Weeping Tile, Push Down and Turn

- Where: Park West, 322 W. Armitage, Chicago

- When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

- Tickets: $13.50; (312) 559-1212

Dada's Phil Leavitt, Joie Calio and Michael Gurley, from left, play their savvy and tuneful brand of modern rock Tuesday at Park West in Chicago.

During the first wave of punk rock in the '70s, the Clash famously opined that all you need in rock 'n' roll is "three chords and the truth." Unfortunately in the post-punk '90s, all too many modern-rock bands have noted just the first part of that equation.

Real musicianship these days seems to be something to be avoided, as if technical accomplishment on one's instrument is something to be ashamed of.

That's why Los Angeles' Dada, who play Tuesday at Park West in Chicago, are so refreshing. While their music on their new "El Subliminoso" album is as hip and contemporary as, say, the Presidents of the United States of America, Dada is philosophically 180 degrees apart from the slacker-rock mentality.

To put it another way, they've learned that fourth chord, and they're not ashamed to use it. And if that makes them unfashionable, Dada bassist Joie Calio says that's okay.

"I guess that's just the nature of who we are and what kind of band we are," he said of their somewhat low profile despite six years and three albums together. "We've always been much more into the music thing and further away from the 'scene' thing. Unfortunately, that doesn't make people at MTV and Rolling Stone get excited about you. We're not trying to be unfashionable on purpose, either. We're just trying to be ourselves and to make good music."

Dada has been making good music since 1990, when Calio and guitarist Michael Gurley, two former Saratoga, Calif., high-school classmates, got together with drummer Phil Leavitt. After a short apprenticeship playing L.A. clubs, the band signed with I.R.S. Records.

From the start, Dada put writing quality material before anything else.

"That's how things started, with me and Mike playing acoustically before we got together with Phil," Calio said. "It was like, 'Can we put the hair spray away and stop trying to be cool?' The songs were always the weak link in any band we'd been in."

Dada's first album, 1992's "Puzzle," was immediately embraced by both radio and the public. The songs "Dizz Knee Land," "Dim" and "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" became rock radio staples, and the album went on to sell an impressive 300,000 copies.

But what appeared a bright career seemed to go sour soon after the release of their next album, 1994's "American Highway Flower," which ultimately became road kill. An injury to guitarist Gurley curtailed their promotional tour, and without touring it's pretty hard to sell records. Calio picks up the tale. …