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So much for early influences. Eric Selby, drummer for the Occasional Banister, says the band started out in the mid-’80s doing Smiths and R.E.M. knockoffs. But echoes of Manchester or Athens are anything but blatant on the Banister’s debut, the independently produced and just-released CD These Restaurants. Instead, the band’s current sound is far more jazzy and rhythm-driven than anything Morrissey or Stipe ever sang over. A typical Banister tune finds heavily chorused and flanged guitars giving way to Pat Drews’ staccato bass. Add lead singer/songwriter Arthur Davis’ baritone, and the resulting mix sometimes evokes—at least for devotees of ’70s music—images of Dave Mason fronting Weather Report. (In contemporary terms, decaf Primus might suffice.)
The band has roots in Montgomery County, all members being ’84 graduates of either Gaithersburg or Seneca Valley high schools and sporadic students at Montgomery College. After playing its first shows in ’86 at D.C.’s Grog & Tankard, the still-original lineup gigged infrequently here and in Baltimore. But the Banisters insist that the release of Restaurants, for which they shelled out almost $7K, heralds a newfound commitment to becoming something more than occasional. “Careers and college have gotten in the way,” says Davis. “But there’s definitely renewed interest in trying to make a career out of this now.” Restaurants is available at Tower Records and at the band’s gigs; the next is scheduled for early October at Arlington’s Bad Habits.