STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
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Jim “Spaz” Garcia, lead singer and bassist of The Nerds, explained why a New Jersey cover band would choose to wear horn-rimmed glasses and fashion-police-violation outfits while playing in front of people.
“Flash back to 1985. There was a look you had to have, or else you had no credibility,” he said, mentioning spandex and “long hair with a fan blowing through it.” The band’s new name — The Nerds — and nothing-to-lose, “Revenge of the Nerds” gimmick was to “go against the current.” This was nine years before MTV decided the dorky appearance of Weezer was somehow cool.
It took just two years for the quartet to be playing enough weddings, parties and fundraisers that they were all able to quit their day jobs.
“When you have a ridiculous outfit like that, it really makes it easy,” said Garcia. “We made these band posters with pictures that look like yearbook photos. And you know how bad you look in yearbook photos …”
That yearbook theme poster played a role in the band members’ nicknames. Besides Spaz, there’s guitarist Peter “Stretch” Oltmanns, keyboardist Mike “Mongo” Spiro and drummer Jack “Biff” Yocum.
The Nerds’ getups accentuate the absurdist live sets of TV show themes, classic rock, Motown, funk, top 40 and whatever else the guys think will “rattle people out of their comfort zone.” March 4 they perform a show at SteelStacks in Bethlehem.
They’ve played “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, and followed it with “Summer Wind” by Frank Sinatra. They’ve borrowed a page out of “Weird” Al Yankovic’s book by playing the theme from “The Brady Bunch” as a polka. They’ve turned “American Pie” by Don McLean into a 15-minute song by inserting other songs into it and turning it into a medley.
“We invented the mash-up,” Garcia said, claiming that they coupled the outrageously unrelated “Dancing Queen” (ABBA) with “L.A. Woman” (The Doors) “very early on.”
“It’s always all over the place. We never have a set list. We go in and, based on the crowd energy, we’ll go from there. It’s all in the name of bridging gaps … kind of like Musikfest,” said Garcia.
Then there’s their onstage improv and verbal sparring, influenced by the irreverent attitudes of David Letterman and Howard Stern. “Our earliest bit was: ‘Listen, don’t eat here.’ We were insulting the club owners. We’d insult the guys in front of us. When you don’t care, it’s incredibly liberating.
I pride myself in that I’ve never said the same funny line twice. The fun comes from the moment,” said Garcia, recalling one show in a gymnasium when a spontaneous game of one-on-one broke out, over top of an extended guitar solo.
The Nerds have appeared on “Good Morning America” and “The View,” and once sold out Carnegie Hall in 1992. “What an experience it was to change in the same room as The Beatles did,” Garcia said, noting that the band’s manager “always looks at things in the long term.”
IF YOU GO
What: The Nerds in concert.
When: 8 p.m. March 4.
Where: Musikfest Cafe at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem.
Tickets: $7-$10 in advance, $10-$13 the day of the show.
Info.: Call (610) 332-1300 or visit www.steelstacks.org.