Remember the song “Flagpole Sitta”? Come on, think back to 1998 when the music industry was teeming with self-described rock bands who, in reality, were playing nothing more than fabricated pop singles that ultimately ended up collecting dust on Now That’s What I Call Music! Volume One. (The most recent string of infomercials are advertising for Now! Volume 56, I believe.) You’re probably saying to yourself: “Oh yeah, I remember that song. It’s the incredibly catchy, bittersweet anthem that defined that one-hit-wonder band, Harvey Danger, right?” Wrong.
Well, at least partially wrong. Although the song is a catchy tune by Harvey Danger, “Flagpole Sitta” is by no means the definitive sound of the band, nor their only hit. Just listen to their most recent studio effort, Little By Little… The distinctively wry and always intelligent lyrics that made “Flagpole Sitta” so seductive are still in the formula, but the music itself has started growing hair in funny places. By that, I not-so-simply mean that Harvey Danger is not just another has-been in the hall of Now! That’s What I Call Music “fame”. Come to think of it, they never really were.
At a time when most bands were being ordered by their labels to submit to the humiliation of producing singles written for them by the same guy who was probably composing *NSYNC’s material, Harvey Danger refused to succumb to the pressure. Instead, they recorded their sophomore album, King James Version, an anti-pop opus that went out of its way to make itself inaccessible to the average radio listener.
“[The album] was going to be successful because of all the things it refused to be,” singer Sean Nelson recalled.
Not surprisingly, the album sold poorly, and the band lost all attention from its label. In 2001, after realizing that the joy of playing music was no longer a part of everyday life, Harvey Danger resigned from the world of rock n’ roll, and the four band members decided to pursue other interests.
But, wait. Put away the box of Kleenex. Harvey Danger is far from over.
In 2004, on the 10th anniversary of their first show, the band reunited with guest drummer Ira Elliot for what everyone thought was a one-time performance at Seattle’s Crocodile Cafe. However, the performance seemed to recharge their musical batteries, and Harvey Danger went back to the studio to record their first album in nearly five years.
The result of this session was Little By Little…, self-released on the Harvey Danger website (www.harveydanger.com) as a free download. Since there would be no tour at first to promote the album, the band decided to unleash it in this unconventional manner simply because they wanted as many people as possible to hear the new material.
It has been six years since the last time Harvey Danger played in Urbana, and, according to Nelson, it was “one of the worst” shows they ever played.
“It was like the lowest point of our professional lives,” he added, reflecting on the fiasco. “We just kind of choked. You can blame the crowd, but I know it was us.”
Tonight, the Harvey Danger drought that has plagued CU for the last six years will be over. At 8 p.m., the band will be performing at the Illini Union Courtyard.
Harvey Danger is extremely excited to come back to Urbana on their own terms, and members of the audience will undoubtedly be treated to a much more purposeful performance this time around. Come prepared to experience a new bag of tricks from a band that is anything but a one trick pony.
Harvey Danger (with So Many Dynamos and The Rikters) is playing tonight at the Courtyard. Tickets are $4 for students and $5 for the public. If you can’t catch them here, they will also be playing a 21+ show at Schubas in Chicago on Saturday, Sept. 30 at 9 p.m. with The King of France and Probably Vampires. Tickets are $12. Special Thanks to Todd Hunter for providing the quotes in this article from his own interview with Sean Nelson.