- The boys from Uptown: Watterson (left), Pfeiffer, Hill, and Parnin.
Standing in the muggy confines of the Grog Shop, Dave Hill looks like he should be sweating. Although it's only 30 degrees outside, it feels just short of tropical inside the club, and Hill is wearing a shaggy fur coat that must be uncomfortable. The jacket, along with Hill's long, scraggly hair, radiates a glamorous rock sensibility that defies his soft, cherubic face and unassuming personality. In conversation, Hill speaks in hushed tones and seems perpetually contemplative. As he talks, the evening's first band starts to play; the dull roar of predictable punk rock only accentuates the contrast. When asked if the fur is real, Hill responds, "Are you kidding? It's got a 'flammable' warning in it." He shoots a quick, sly smile, then takes a gulp of beer.
Hill has been reservedly talking about his latest band, Uptown Sinclair, for an hour, and throughout the conversation it seems he'd rather just get onstage and let the music do the talking for him. But that's not as simple as it may sound, Hill concedes. After seven or eight months of countless shows and a terrific-sounding demo CD, Hill, who also plays bass with the Cleveland band Cobra Verde, admits to still being nervous about fronting a band as a guitarist and singer.
"I never did it before," he confesses. "I always just played bass in a band and sort of stood aside, so this is kind of weird to sing and play guitar and stuff." He pauses, then adds, "But I like it. I have always played guitar, but never in a band. It just always seemed sort of wimpy to me, up there just strumming. But with this band and these songs, I like it. You can really feel the whole stage vibrating under you when we play, and that's really cool."
Hill's right. The band's disc, an untitled eight-song demo, leans heavily on the pop end of rock's wide spectrum. It's an amalgam of guitar-heavy punk, pop, and alternative rock that all four of the band members have been weaned on, and the group's high-energy attitude jumps furiously from each cut. Uptown Sinclair sounds like a band that's hell-bent on proving that rock ("real rock," Hill says) can be fun again.
But if Hill is apprehensive about fronting a band, why has he taken the helm of Uptown?
"I had this urge to write songs one night, about a year ago," he explains. "So I got to work writing -- playing things on acoustic guitar -- and found that I just had this stuff, these songs, just pouring out of me. I stayed up all night and wound up with like eight songs that I thought were pretty good. So I called Tim [Parnin, the band's energetic guitarist, who had been in Sons of Elvis with Hill years before] to see if he wanted to work on them with me. It wasn't planned for me to be the singer or guitarist; I just wrote the songs and figured we could find another singer and then put another band together."
Parnin, who also plays with former Faith No More lead singer Chuck Mosley in Vandals Ugainst Alliteracy, was keen on the idea. So the two put in a call to Rob Pfeiffer, a New York City drummer from the band Sense Field they'd both met while attending Fordham University.
"He was this really killer drummer in some hardcore bands that Tim and I used to check out when we were in college," Hill says. Pfeiffer jumped at the chance to come on board, and the three of them set the wheels of Uptown Sinclair in motion.
Bill Watterson sits at a table, waiting for the rest of the band to arrive. It's just after 8 p.m., and Watterson -- Uptown's bassist -- is killing time by peeling layers of old promotional fliers off the wall and poking fun at them as he does so. Tall and ruggedly lanky, Watterson also plays bass in the local outfit Dakota Floyd and the Boys From County Hell, a local act that plays covers of Pogues songs. Watterson was introduced to Hill through a mutual friend after a Cobra Verde gig. The two hit it off, and Hill, who by then had decided that Uptown needed to be a full-on four-piece outfit, invited Watterson to play bass.
"I dig trios, you know," Hill laughs. "But for what we wanted to do with the rock, it just wouldn't work out. [Watterson] was cool, and he said he played bass, so I asked if he wanted to be in a band, and he said yeah."
Newly christened Uptown Sinclair got together to give the "new" guy a whirl and run through some songs. "It was really good," Hill remembers. "We all sort of meshed real well and got along great." Moreover, the band knew that it sounded damn good. Two days later, Uptown Sinclair played its first show.
Parnin and Pfeiffer boisterously enter the Grog Shop, and Parnin's eyes immediately dart to the small television to the left of the bar. The Duke-Maryland Final Four game isn't being shown, so Parnin goes over and flips it on. Pfeiffer, who looks young, clean-cut, all-American -- more likely to be mistaken for a high school jock than a rocker -- is, ironically, disinterested. Instead, he's raving about Police drummer Stewart Copeland. Having listened to some Police albums on the long drive from his home on Long Island, Pfeiffer is excitedly talking his trade.
"Fucking Stewart Copeland could make a record by himself -- just drums -- and I'd listen to it," he laughs.
Parnin, who seems to know everyone in the place, scurries about, talking shit with his numerous acquaintances. Hill also makes the rounds, greeting what seems to be an unusually clean and well-dressed group of friends and fans.
"I think they all have jobs," says Hill when asked about the "beautiful" crowd on hand. Tonight, Uptown plays all of its eight-song demo, as well as a few new songs it's worked up. The band performs with uncommon persuasiveness, transferring the songs from stereo to stage with amazing gusto. The fervor bleeds into an audience that responds by turning the Grog into a twisted, dirty, hypersexualized American Bandstand.
Later, Uptown Sinclair wraps up its set and breaks down its stage gear, while people mill about, greeting the group. It might just be the friendliest band around town. Hill asks the stragglers how they liked the show, and the response is positive.
And when the suggestion that Uptown would probably do a terrific cover of Van Halen's "Jamie's Cryin'" is mentioned, Pfeiffer lets loose with an audacious grin. "Fuck yeah, man! That's exactly what we're about!"