Dam Nation

When tuneful Hawaii expatriates the Dambuilders come to town this Friday, their one-night engagement at Access will serve as a long-awaited and well-deserved homecoming for half of the band’s members. It was actually not far from the University-area venue, in a nondescript Makiki garage, that  Dave Derby and Eric Masunaga pieced together the early groundwork for what would become the most wondrously potent Honolulu-born band since Poi Dog Pondering.

The Dambuilders in an earlier incarnation in Honolulu, circa 1989

Not long after signing with the independent German label Cuacha on the strength of a homemade demo and relocating to Boston in 1989, the Dambuilders’ greater musical fortunes began to take shape. With the addition of punky violinist Joan Wasser and Berklee College of Music grad Kevin March, the new and revitalized version of the Dambuilders drew rave reviews around Beantown and eventually earned the band a deal at the influential East West label. Now every music publication from Billboard to Alternative Press has seen fit to shower these garage gods with open-handed praise. Spin magazine even went as far as to call the Dambuilders “The best indie-rock band in America.”

The Dambuilders’ video for “Shrine”, from 1994

But will all this mean actual commercial success for our lauded quartet? Well, like Poi Dog, the Dambuilders play a quirky and uncompromising brand of rock ‘n’ roll which may not immediately translate into record sales, but they really couldn’t give a damn. Even without the aid of heavy MTV rotation, a fashionable birthplace like Seattle or San Francisco, or voguish haircuts, the Dambuilders have become the cool band of 1994, for those in the know.

From the opening moments of their latest musical endeavor, the fabulous sonic tapestry of Encendedor (Spanish for ‘cigarette lighter’ and slang for ‘pyromaniac’) bristles with poppy guitar melodies, gashing bass lines and a ripsaw violin attack, all of which seize listeners by their tympanic membranes, daring them to turn a deaf ear to one of the year’s finest rock albums. Flame on.

— Shawn “Speedy” Lopes

The Dambuilders: Access, Puck’s Alley, 1009 University Avenue. Fri 12/16, 7 p.m. $10 (plus one-drink minimum). 944-4949

Dubbed from the Honolulu Weekly, December 14-20, 1994

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