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Going up, getting down

St. Phillip's Escalator rises above garage rock


St. Phillip's Escalator plays Thursday, September 21, at The Penny Arcade, 4758 Lake Avenue, 621-ROCK, at 7 p.m.

Get on St. Phillip's Escalator, Rochester's garage-busting rock trio

With a sonic level that could be rivaled only on an airport runway, St. Phillip's Escalator is not only loud, but huge. The band churns out heavy blues-tinged rock 'n' roll with doses of swirling psychedelia and a savage beat. Within the Rochester garage scene this young threesome is undoubtedly the heaviest. With a new record and smoldering shows around town, the band is rapidly outgrowing the genre and its suburban namesake.

"I've always thought we were more than a garage band," says bassist Noel Wilfeard.

It's 2006 and at this point there are definitely more garage bands than garages. Hell, even the basements are getting crowded. And yet when a band cops a classic look and sound, that's precisely where it gets parked.

At first glance, at first listen, St. Phillip's Escalator is a garage band --- albeit a heavy garage band. The members look and play the part: the hair's shaggy, the boots Beatle-y, and the pants tight. Their music comes from the tail end of classic '60s garage rock 'n' roll, when post-British invasion bands set their sights on bigger sounds, bigger venues, and bigger drugs.

At least the first two apply to St. Phillip's Escalator. The band's volume and intensity seem to always register a couple clicks over the limits of whatever venue they play. It's a no-frills show; the band feels and expresses the music physically, but is too busy playing to go out of its way to kick in the freak out.

St. Phillip's Escalator attacks this 40-year-old sound with a 20-year-old's freshness and perspective. Traditionalists dig all the Amboy Dukes, Blue Cheer, Band Of Gypsies largesse. Kids with no clue where the music came from lap up its irresistible power and unrelenting, in-your-face-sound. Listening to a musician play his face off never gets old.

The band's just-released debut disc, Endless Trip, oughta further the band's voyage out of the garage and into its own.

"I think we've actually kind of broken away," says guitarist and vocalist Ryan Moore. "You don't really listen to the record and [think], like, 'Oh, it's a garage band.'"

The Irondequoit trio's endless trip started seven years ago with the band of teens as a quartet. Creative differences popped up when the band's singer had other ideas. The other three gave him the boot."We were heading this way, where we are now," says Wilfeard. "And he was going into, like, jam band shit."

"We were doing, like, Hendrix and he wanted to be a Rastafarian," Moore adds.

All three credit their parents' records as their introduction into rock music, but it was The Chesterfield Kings' Greg Prevost and Andy Babiuk who turned them on and turned them out when Moore and Wilfeard worked with them at The House of Guitars.

"It really got serious when we hooked up with Andy and Greg around 11th grade," drummer Zachary Koch says. With all these psychedelic/garage influences the band adopted its name by mashing up two Amboy Dukes tunes.

Babiuk and Prevost taunted, tested, and teased them to see what they were made of.

"They would bust our balls all the time," says Moore. "When we first started working there we were just a coupla creeps they didn't give a shit about. After a while they started to notice we were actually pretty good, halfways decent, that we could do something."

That something, along with the Babiuk and Prevost's something legendary, resulted in Endless Trip being released on Babiuk and Prevost's own Living Eye Records. The band already had a great sound, but the producing duo's experience, attention to detail, and production skills were the goose the band needed to make such a fantastic, cohesive recording.

Babiuk and Prevost's fingerprints are all over the project. St. Phillip's Escalator's sound was right up their alley. In fact, this album could be a page ripped out of Chesterfield Kings history --- except the band never really went quite this heavy, or ventured quite this far out of bounds.

Even though the band professes to measure beyond the standard garage-rock yardstick, some of the songs outside that bailiwick got the axe during pre-recording.

"We have fairly complicated music," says Koch. "It's not just your straight Standells' 'Dirty Water.'"

"We've had countless songs we've had to drop because they just didn't work," Moore says.

Still, Moore says they don't aim to stick to garage rules.

"No," he says. "We write what we write."

"Music comes first," Koch says. "Not in importance, but that's our easiest way to write music."

"When I write words it usually doesn't mean shit at all," Moore says. "It doesn't mean anything. I can't speak for the other guys, but when I write words it's usually about sex and drugs and that's usually about it."

So if the message is meaningless or unclear there's always the music...and the volume. It's the first thing that hits you and it's the last thing to leave your head hours after.

"Yeah," says Moore. "We're super-loud."