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Bands gaze at shoes as things get 'fuzzy'

Michael Fitzgerald was a graduate student in Dublin, Ireland, back in 1994 when he caught the shoegazer rock 'n' roll bug.

'I just fell in love with it,' he says, noting he dug the shimmering, effects-laden, noisy, neo-psychedelic sounds of Irish bands like My Bloody Valentine and Brit rockers Ride. 'It was really hard to get away from it.'

Not that Fitzgerald wanted to.

'This was still . . . punk rock with melody that you could get into,' he says.

Fitzgerald owns the Portland label Reverb Records and is organizing The Fuzzy Ball Dec. 17 night at the Wonder Ballroom. A couple handfuls of bands will each play one original number and three covers of such groups as The Stone Roses, The Verve, Jesus and Mary Chain and Lush.

Local heroes The Prids, Go Fever and Pete International Airport - a side project of Peter Holmström from The Dandy Warhols - are among the bands set to caress the stage.

The shoegazer phenomenon - so called because its performers were often seen staring down at their guitar effects pedals - echoes to this day in such bands as The Raveonettes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Black Angels and Brian Jonestown Massacre.

In fact, if you sashay down to the Wonder, you can get a free 20-track CD compilation to help you update your shoegazer catalog. The CD features tracks and re-mixes from such artists as Norway's Serena-Maneesh, Portland's The Upsidedown, Rebel Drones (featuring members of Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Dandy Warhols, Warlocks and Grails) and Brit band Insect Guide.

Fuzzy wuz they

Fuzzy Ball band Go Fever consists of Tony Hilsmeier on guitar and vocals, Lance Dinauer, bass and vocals, and Ian Bixby on drums. The band is not sure which original it will play, but is rehearsing 'Cupid Come' by My Bloody Valentine, 'Gravity Grave' by The Verve and 'I Wanna Be Adored' by The Stone Roses.

'We don't often do any covers so it's fun to have an opportunity to pay tribute to things that had an influence on us,' Hilsmeier says.

The Fuzzy Ball bands all pretty much know each other, he adds, noting 'we've seen each other tons and tons of times.'

But if you've never buried your ears inside a slightly distorted mess of sustained guitar squeals, milky bass lines and splashy drums, what's in this scene for the uninitiated, man?

'It's a lot of freedom, and it allows a lot of room for self expression and can reveal powerful emotions in music,' Hilsmeier says.

'It's just kind of a heady trip and takes you to a different place,' Dinauer adds.

Go Fever is 'not like an overly effects-laden band,' Hilsmeier says, musing on just how psychedelic the trio can get. 'We're pretty minimal, straight ahead.'

Go Fever also takes its musical cues from anywhere. Bixby cites classic rockers like John Bonham and such big band players as Gene Krupa as his drumming influences and Dinauer - who 'likes really deep throbbing bass tones' and uses 'a little bit of fuzz' to distort his sound from time to time - says 'it all goes back to Paul McCartney.'

'We're not a one-trick pony,' Hilsmeier says. 'The things that interest our fans and the people at our shows is that we have that broad palate and open spectrum.'

'It won't last long'

Mistina La Fave, bassist and vocalist for The Prids, is as reticent as the boys in Go Fever are forthcoming when asked about how her band plans to use its moment in the spotlight at the Wonder. She won't reveal what shoegazer classics her outfit will be serving up.

'Top secret,' she says. 'We're surprising friends, and refused to tell anyone.'

The Prids may play 'Fragile,' their contribution to the compilation CD.

'I think it fits the theme of the evening well,' she says. 'But maybe we'll play another. Never can tell.'

She does acknowledge discovering My Bloody Valentine along with David Frederickson, guitarist and vocalist, back in the 1990s.

'Hushed girl-boy vocals, catchy melodies over a sea of noise - I guess it influenced us, entirely!' she says.

She notes there's a resurgence of interest in like-minded bands in town such as Weekend, Best Coast and A Place to Bury Strangers.

'But like everything else, it won't last long,' she says. 'I'm enjoying it while I can.'