No marketing team calculated Urge Overkill's current reunion, but the timing could not be more right on. Nearly ten years after the band's demise, echoes of the group can be heard in highly stylized acts like the White Stripes, the Hives, the Soundtrack of Our Lives and apparently even Tenacious D., whose Jack Black attended the band's first reunion gig in San Diego on January 15th.
"A lot of the Swedish bands look more Urge than Urge does these days," says bassist/vocalist Ed "King" Roeser.
Of course, the band's timing wasn't always this good. The Chicago-based trio was the odd band out in the grunge era. At a time when flannel was rock's standard-issue uniform, Urge Overkill donned sharply tailored matching outfits -- complete with "U.O." logo medallions -- and adopted the arch stage names Nash Kato, King Roeser and Blackie Onassis.
They also dared to have fun while other rock stars regularly whined about success. The trio swanned around sipping martinis, drove a flash convertible, openly planned world domination ("Join the millions," commanded their tongue-in-check fan club invite), and had their greatest commercial success covering "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" by schmaltz-pop genius Neil Diamond.
It was only when Urge Overkill's career intersected with the era's dark energy that things went awry. By 1995's Exit the Dragon, hard drugs, in-fighting and blown gigs had sapped the band's joie de vive, and a darker sound had replaced the slickly produced anthemic pop-rock found on the trio's high-water mark, Saturation.
"Urge Overkill had the positive energy of the Monkees -- an 'All for one, one for all' type thing," says Roeser. "We had songs that were serious, heartfelt rock, but the spirit of the thing was good times. Towards the end, when tensions in the band were overwhelming, the spirit of that became a sham. It was dishonest to continue."
Now, after pursuing marginally successful solo projects, Roeser and singer-guitarist Nash Kato have reunited, initially by popular demand from Chicago-area fans. "I couldn't go to a show without ten people coming up and saying, 'You guys have to get back together,'" says Roeser.
Drummer Onassis wasn't invited back for the current tour because -- as Roeser diplomatically puts it -- "He hasn't proven himself to be a model citizen." In his place are drummer Nate Arling, from the Last Vegas, and guitarist Mike Hodgkiss from the Gaza Strippers. Each member of the new Urge Overkill sports a smaller, more tasteful version of the signature medallion, but, sadly, they've since retired the more outrageous costumes.
"We became tired of it," says Roeser. "The more we did it, the more people focused on that. It was like, maybe you've noticed, but we can write songs. Now we just hit the stage in the tradition of James Brown and some of the soul groups, where you look sharp, but it's not a big yuk-yuk, wink-wink thing."
If the reunion continues to go smoothly, Roeser would like to record a new album "sooner, rather than later." They've already added one new song to the set, tentatively titled "New O."
Urge Overkill tour dates:
2/3: Cleveland, The Grog Shop
2/4: Pittsburgh, Club Cafe
2/5: Hoboken, Maxwell's
2/6: New York, The Bowery Ballroom
2/8: Cambridge, The Middle East
2/9: Philadelphia, The Khyber
2/11: Buffalo, The Continental
2/14-15: Chicago, The Double Door
2/25: Rockford, Kryptonite Bar
2/26: Milwaukee, Shank Hall
2/27: Minneapolis, First Avenue
2/28: Winnipeg, The Pyramid