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Trance rockers dada brings Tahoe back to the 1990s

Tahoe Onstage

Celebrating a quarter-century together, Dada alternatively rocks the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Lake Tahoe on July 18. From left, Joie Calio, Michael Gurley and Phil Leavitt.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

If you’ve forgotten the band dada, here’s a reminder:

“I just tossed a fifth of gin, now I’m going to Dizz Knee Land.
“I just got cuffed again, I’m going to Dizz Knee Land.”

Released in 1992, “Dizz Knee Land” was dada’s first and greatest hit. The trio is celebrating its 25th anniversary by going on a tour, which will stopped Tuesday at the Vinyl nightclub in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Lake Tahoe.

“This band has a very elastic feel to it,” said bassist Joie Calio. “It stretches and then it comes back together. It never goes away.”

Tahoe Onstage

Joie Calio and Michael Gurley are the dada songwriting duo.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Calio, guitarist Michael Gurley and drummer Phil Leavitt are involved in several projects that have prevented big tours or a new record. However, after a couple of summer shows were scheduled, more and more were added. “Once we put the train on the track, it kind of took off by itself,” Calio said.

Calio and Leavitt also play as a duo, 7Horse, which will perform some of its tunes midway through the dada set.

“Dada is nerd rock, more sophisticated music math like The Beatles,” Calio said. “7Horse is about emotion and has a roots vibe like the Stones. It’s raw.”

It’s likely that dada and 7Horse will have albums released by next year,” Calio said.

Dada is no one-hit wonder. It had four solid albums in the 1990s and several great songs, one of which attained worldwide acclaim. The band broke with a unique sound at the time with Calio and Gurley singing harmonies sung over with catchy hooks boosted by Gurley’s supreme guitar playing. Calio calls it Jimi Hendrix meets Simon & Garfunkel.

As a rock band in the early 1990s, dada was painted in the broad swath called alternative rock. “That meant you didn’t sound like Guns N Roses or heavy metal of the ‘80s,” Calio said.

Dada took a cerebral path to success. “It was never just a garage band,” Calio said. “It was serious. It was a life change when we made the move to start dada.”

Calio and Gurley were friends in high school and separately they landed in Los Angeles where they played in various bands. Coincidentally, they lived walking distance of each other.

“It was so easy,” Calio said. “We just got together every day or night after work or whatever and worked on music. Only a few weeks into it, we started realizing this was a really good idea. Before we’d maybe write 10 songs in a year and one of them was OK. Now we’re starting to write 10 songs every two weeks.”

The epiphany was to stop working on being in bands and just work on songwriting. After about a year, a musical peer, Louis Gutierrez of Mary’s Danish, listened to one of their sessions and told them they needed to perform.

The duo argued that they didn’t have a band, but Gutierrez insisted, “You guys are going to open for us” at an upcoming show.

The duo played about a half-dozen songs before receiving a standing ovation.

“I just never forget that moment because as we walked offstage I said, ‘Maybe Louis was right. We don’t need a band for right now.’ Then Louis comes over and said, ‘Hey, you guys. Just stay on the tour.’ And so we went up the coast with them and it was it was great.”

Calio had a most appropriate day job, working in the mail room at Geffen Records.

“It was like going to college,” he said. “I learned the ins and outs of the music business, and after we made demos, I knew who to take them to rather than blanket the entire industry.”

The band broke out right away after it added drummer Leavitt. Dada was boosted by a dream.

In the early 1990s, television viewers saw exuberant Super Bowl and World Series winners exclaim they were going to Disneyland and then news reports the Gulf War and the L.A.Riots. The juxtaposition weaved into Calio’s subconscious.

“I woke up about 5 in the morning,” Calio said. “All I remember about the dream right now is a big bus went in front of me that had the word Disneyland on it and I heard the melody.”

Before going back to sleep, Calio jotted down about 20 verses, such as, “I shot my gun into the night, now I’m going to Dizz Knee Land. I just flipped off President George, I’m going to Dizz Knee Land.”

At noon he called Gurley, the two met and put the song together.

“I had the peanut butter, he had the chocolate,” Calio said.

The show at Lake Tahoe was not a sellout, but those who attended were devout dada fans who danced and knew the words to each song. Five of the tunes were from the 1992 breakout album “Puzzle.”

The trio has a psychedelic post-Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club style. A highlight was “Playboy from Outer Space,” from the self-titled 1998 album. Harmonic singers Calio and Gurely also played dual lead guitar over a trancy groove. “Feel Me Don’t You” from the 1994’s American Highway Flower” was another standout performance.

After an uptempo rendition of “Dizz Knee Land,” it was 11 p.m., the casino’s curfew. But the crowd wanted more, and dada acquiesced with “Dorina,” the opening song from the album that led to the band’s rise.


Tahoe Onstage

Joie Calio in Tahoe onstage at the Hard Rock.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Here’s the set list from dada’s July 18 show at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe.

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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