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Second set: They won't get fooled again

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 21, 2012 - It’s cliche, of course, to talk about how we’re born into a family, then, over the years, begin to establish new ones. Sitting in a back booth at a relatively quiet O’Connell’s Pub on a recent weekday night, it’s obvious that Mark Cook, Peter Lang and Casey Carmody, at some point in their late teens and early 20s began assembling their own little family, based initially in music, now locked into that and so much more.

Marriages, divorces, kids, moves across the country, all the usual stuff that happens to you as you race up-to-and-through age 40... these guys have generally been there for one another as the milestones have been hit.

And all these years later, they’re still making music (and making fun of one another).

Their roots come from the rich, musical soil of Webster Groves in the early ‘80s, where the earliest version of Corporate Humour coalesced into a young five-piece band that practiced together, but never actually played a gig. Over the next year, or two, Carmody saw players come and go, including vocalist Peter Bold, who’d move on to some acclaim as the singer of Sinister Dane, among other groups. Lang joined in on drums, Chris Kennedy came aboard as a guitarist and, finally, in 1985, Mark Cook moved over from the David Watts Band, a young group going through its own breakup.

At the time, Cook’s greatest two attributes were that he could sing, and he could specifically sing the music of The Jam, the single, strongest uniting element for the in-transition Corporate Humour. Obsessed with the British Mod movement of the 1960s (it’s not for nothing that the group included that extra, Anglicized “u” in Humour), Corporate Humour took on the look and aesthetic of the bands they idolized, riding scooters and playing in sharp suits. Their eventual placement on the British “Unicorn One” ska/Mod compilation cemented a trans-Atlantic reputation that suggested big days ahead.

In time, Kennedy would leave the band, too. The group played on as a trio, living an interesting double-life. In town, they made their money playing cover songs (think: Joe Jackson, The Police, Elvis Costello) at high school shows and hall parties. Out of town, they worked countless one-night gigs, hooking up with like-minded bands and others that had nothing in common with them. When asked about the definitive Corporate gigs, Lang ticks off five shows, all of them from outside St. Louis. At one, inside the Electric Banana in Pittsburgh, the trio outnumbered the bartender and single paying customers. Police stops, confiscated vans, black-outs... it all happened to the 20-something Corporate boys at some point during their heyday.

“We did play more out-of-town than in-town,” Lang remembers. “And, yes, we did play those shows because we didn’t mind eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sleeping on the floor of a van.”

“We’d book anything we could to get out of town,” Carmody follows. “Even if that meant Columbia on a weeknight.”

Who are they

If The Jam was a uniting factor in bringing Corporate together, The Who were a very, very close second in terms of shared influences. Even in the ‘80s, the group spotted some Who covers into their sets; and the songs worked, because of their obvious love of the material, and because Lang and Carmody could amply handle the rhythmic complexity of those songs. It was The Who that wound up bringing the three back onto a shared stage in 2007.

Carmody moved back to St. Louis a few years earlier and he and guitarist Michael Eisenbeis (a super-brief member of Corporate, himself, who went onto found kindred spirits The Nukes) decided to get together for kicks. Shortly enough, they started gravitating toward Who cuts, and that inducement finally hooked the reluctant Cook. Sensing correctly that Cook just wasn’t into another originals concept and wasn’t biting on a simple classic rock cover band, Carmody says he told Cook, “let’s just play Who songs. Finally, he said ‘OK'.”

Thus the birth of the Who-Band, which eventually also would include Lang, who’s played as a professional, for-hire drumme since the demise of Corporate. The old gang, through no particular plan, got back together. And they’re working with material they clearly dig.

“We probably have around 60 songs now,” Cook says. “The sheer number of songs they wrote ... that’s one thing that I hear more often than not at our shows, ‘I didn’t know The Who had that many good songs'.”

The musicians who’ve come together to create the El Monstero phenomenon at The Pageant tapped into a deep well of Pink Floyd super-fans, who’ve made the El Monstero experience a virtually guaranteed sellout every time they play. While The Who’s fanbase isn’t as vast or deep, the Who-Band do get the concept mentality; in theory, they’re shooting for four shows a years, including full performances of the rock operas “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia,” the latter show growing the group to 10 members.

Even with other responsibilities in their “real” lives, conversation inevitably circles back around to how the group can take their St. Louis idea and develop it for other markets. At O’Connell’s, the trio started kicking around talk about lighting, about this-or-that supplemental player, about what it would take to get a Chicago date onto their calendar. After all, if you’re going to put together a complicated, time- consuming rock show, you may as well make it pay off.

Listening to them talk about the next Who-Band show, gosh, it sounded like ambition. Interesting.

By the time that Corporate Humour called it a day in 1995, they’d taken on a secondary vocalist, Mary Adams, and their sets were leaning much more in a cover song direction. The urgency of the earlier sets had become less intense and, in time, the group decided to call it a career, long after the black suits were hung away in the closet. Carmody moved to California and Lang and Cook went onto some local success as half of the “edgy pop” band E.J. Quit. That group dissipated in time, as well, but not before releasing a local tape in the process, “4 Family Flat.”

And therein lies one of the interesting things about Corporate Humour. This was a band that charged forward, more than almost anyone in town, raising the St. Louis flag in cities far and wide. They approached their career with seriousness, working with different talent agencies and taking the tougher road when needed. And despite all that, they never actually wound up with that definitive album. A few songs were recorded here. A demo circulated occasionally. But the group left a relatively light imprint, altogether. Even on the local cable access shows, they weren’t as in the mix as much as some lesser groups.

It’s interesting when your favorite bands leave behind something of a ghost-like presence. There’re a couple of Corporate Humour tracks on YouTube, rescued from the archives of “Psychotic Reaction.” Web searches yield only a few traces of the band, not completely surprising as their gigging took place before the Internet’s explosion. Still, Corporate Humour’s members, today, seem 100 percent satisfied with what they did and what they won’t be doing. A reunion show in the late ‘90s, played for the release of a “Silver Tray” fanzine, was pretty much the one nod the band made toward nostalgia.

Guess that leaves it to me to supply the schmaltz.

There was undoubtedly a time that Corporate Humour was my favorite band in town, hands-down. Maybe that’s because I played baseball with Lang, in summer leagues and at Webster U., and attended high school with him across the street. He, in particular, gave me a hand, simply by exposing me to the English Beat, The Police, Fishbone, the Stray Cats and, oddly enough, King Crimson; in short, the bands that were the teenage soundtrack to mid-’80s Webster Groves. While I wasn’t as chummy with the other members early on, I recall Cook putting out a short-lived flyer called “The Troubled Times”; though a slim one-sheet, it was amazing to me to actually lay hands on a zine, one produced by someone I knew. And the group generally kept an open-basement policy, which local hangers-on used to come by their practice space to soak in the cool; looking at the video for “Mirror on the Wall” takes me right back to those moments.

The band, as a collective, wound up dragging me into a couple of situations that I wouldn’t have caught onto without their help. Being a roadie was an excellent way to catch shows as a underager, and I recall “working” for the group at venues like the All-American Saloon, Humphrey’s and even Saint Louis University High, where I ran a hyperactive light show for the group at a mixer. My idea at the time wasn’t to sneak into bars to indulge in any type of under-the-table drinking, it was purely to check out music, in rooms that were otherwise off-limits. The band eventually took on a full-time sound man/merch guy/fifth Beatle in John “Guido” Kolf; and that pretty much ended my roadie run, but I picked up a lot along the way.

Some bands you can sort of hector into some type of conversation about a reunion. It feels like this group’s not going to take the bait. Carmody and Cook have real jobs, with the later working on disparate hobbies, from motorcycles to historical enactments of U.S. parachute landings during WWII. Lang’s still gigging steadily, is raising two sons and is re-attending Webster University, where he’s studying business. These days, the Who-Band’s the group’s one connection to making music together and it’s where their heads are at. Though, at an idle moment, I’ll still suggest (you know, just in the case) that a few of us out here wouldn’t mind one more kick at the can with one of our favorite bands of youth.

Though he’s talking about the Who-Band, Carmody will joke that “I’m quittin’ my job. I need more time to rock’n’roll.”

Do it, Casey. Do it for all of us.