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Growing up in Williamsburg, Va., the four members of the rock band Crenshaw had to be resourceful in their quest for musical stimulation. “There was a lot of musical talent in Williamsburg,” says guitarist Tad Howard, “but not much of a scene.” Bassist Jon Melzer mentions hearing that things would get pretty crazy when the Grateful Dead came to town—although that was before local authorities banned the group from playing there. Among the four 20-somethings, all of whom went to high school together, Howard is the only one who played in a band that got any gigs during their teen years. Singer Dan Allenby says that when he was younger, “I took most of my musical cues from Tad.” Those were the days when Dan’s younger brother, Michael, Crenshaw’s drummer and business manager, was “heavily into hair metal bands,” Poison in particular.
The members’ shared roots gave seed to Crenshaw two years ago, when Howard and Dan Allenby decided to put flesh on material they’d been writing by enlisting their old friends as a rhythm section. The music that resulted is a strain of accessible rock sliced at sharp angles. Crenshaw’s second release, The Mack Sessions, recalls jangle-era R.E.M., with the abstractions pushed up in the mix. Howard’s interest in jazz is evident in the music’s off-kilter changes and open-ended melodies, although the band’s songs are less malleable than they sound. Live, the band tweaks its songs within the songs’ boundaries. As Howard puts it, “We like to improvise, but we’re not a jam band.”
The members are also not exactly dyed-in-the-wool indie rockers. Despite Crenshaw’s considerable efforts (Michael Allenby says he “calls 10 clubs in D.C. a day; I’ve got a list”), it has found the local scene less than inviting. The band’s steadiest gig so far has been a weekly slot at the Roundtable, a basement bar in upper Northwest, and everyone agrees that the apex of Crenshaw’s career to date was being able to play the Bayou. “Once the Bayou closed,” says Michael Allenby, “everything got kind of strange.”
With the one prominent local club that catered to middle-of-the-road tastes now gone, the band finds itself grasping at straws. Crenshaw’s played on more than 25 different stages in town, including Champions’. (“Someone told someone who told someone who told me that they once heard a band there,” Michael explains, referring to the sports bar. “So I called them.”) It’s a catch-as-catch-can existence. When I ask if they’ve ever tried getting a show at the Black Cat, Dan Allenby responds, “We’re not the right fit for them. We’re a little too light.” His brother adds, with thinly veiled disdain: “We wouldn’t be bummed out if we became successful.”—Brett Anderson
Crenshaw performs with PuddleDuck and Granian at the Garage Feb. 12.