By Joe Hadsall
Darth Vader plays an evil bass guitar.
He plays it as well as he can swing a light saber with one hand and choke a guy by pointing at him with the other. Dude’s got skills.
Jango Fett is a heck of a guitar player, too. He rips and shreds guitar strings like Jedis on Geonosis.
Fett’s musical skills must have carried over in the clones, because he plays with THX-1138, a drumming clone trooper who lays down a rhythm like a Republic beat-down.
But nothing tops the Emperor, with his lyrics and guitar. He leads the band because ... well, because he’s the Emperor, and he’ll do whatever he feels like doing.
This might sound like a “Saturday Night Live” skit gone horribly wrong, but it is a reality for four bandmates who are part of Dark Side of the Force, a new band playing shows around the region. The band pairs creative songwriting and character costumes involving the “Star Wars” saga.
“We all love Star Wars,” said bassist Devin Krtek, who dons the Vader costume for each show.
The band — which features Joplin and Pittsburg, Kan., area musicians — sings popular songs with altered lyrics reflecting the “Star Wars” universe. The band’s members all have experience playing together as members of One Track Mind, Ataxia or Philhorn Mellowhaze Band.
“These guys are great musicians,” said John Black, manager of Champ’s Pub and Grill. “We have only had them here twice ... they don’t have a bad following.”
Krtek, whose midi-chlorian count is actually quite low, said he and bandmate Brandon Nivens got the idea while they were at work a few months ago. Nivens, on a lunch break, was remembering a documentary on “Star Wars” hype that featured similar bands.
“It just clicked in my brain that we should do that,” Nivens said. “I thought it would be fun and funny.”
Nivens and Krtek, who work at KSEK-FM in Pittsburg, Kan., scanned through the station’s library of songs, looking for ideas. They came up with several, including “Imperial Idiot,” a reworking of Green Day’s “American Idiot,” and “Go-Go-Chewbacca,” a tribute to the Blue Oyster Cult’s ode to Godzilla.
“(Krtek) had five songs in three hours,” Nivens said.
The concept made it easy to get musicians. They tabbed guitarist Cody Johnson and drummer Phil Strubble for the effort.
Nivens, who takes forever to make the Kessel run, worried about the songs, but Krtek saw a bigger problem.
“I was worried about costumes,” Krtek said. “We’ve all played together so much that I wasn’t worried about the songs. I’m pretty confident in our ability.”
He found some lower-grade replica costumes for about $100 apiece.
After bandying about several names, Johnson came up with Dark Side of the Force. Nivens made up a logo of Vader looking into the prism from the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album.
“After seeing that, I said that we have to be ‘Dark Side of the Force’ now,” Krtek said. “That was the coolest logo I’ve ever seen.”
The band has only been together for a few months, and is already building a following.
“About half the crowd made fun of it, but the other half really dug it,” Black said of the band’s first appearance at Champ’s. “Since then, they draw a good turnout without really advertising it.”
Krtek recalls one of their first gigs, where they walked through the bar and on to the stage in full costume.
“One guy, some hick, called us ‘F’n tools’ as we walked by,” Krtek said. “But when we got to the crowd, there was an eruption of cheers. They started freaking out.”
Between songs, members of the band perform skits and interact with the audience. The show attracts “Star Wars” fans of all sorts, from casual fans to the more devoted, decorated with Jedi tattoos.
“‘Star Wars’ is a universal thing,” Krtek said. “The fans come from all walks of life.”
Niven said they have even run into “Star Wars” über-nerds, who know every detail about the saga and point out incongruencies, such as how Jango Fett and Darth Vader shouldn’t even be on the same stage together, since Jango was killed before Anakin Skywalker got all burned, robotic and wheezy.
“(Krtek) has a story for that,” Nivens said. “That’s actually Boba Fett wearing his dad’s armor as a tribute. Anything else that we don’t know, we just refer them to Wookie-pedia.”
The future looks great for the band, too. Krtek said booking the band is easier than getting gigs for any of his other efforts.
“Getting gigs for my regular bands can be like pulling teeth,” Krtek said. “But if I call up a locale and say I have a band that dresses up in ‘Star Wars’ costumes, they ask what date we want to play. I can book this band from Tulsa to Lawrence and Fayetteville with no problem.”
Black said the band’s approach takes a gimmick and turns it into a performance with substance.
“I haven’t seen a gimmick band with this kind of production,” Black said. “They have used some of the high-end, expensive lightsabers, they have strobes going off, and they are great musicians.”
The band hopes to land a huge gig in Los Angeles in May at the upcoming 30th anniversary “Star Wars” convention. Krtek said officials from Lucas Arts have requested demos for consideration.
Though the band takes itself seriously and concentrates on making a good product, Nivens said the members just want to have fun. Which is good, because a lot of bands take themselves too seriously, Nivens said.
“Our band is ‘Spinal Tap’ for ‘Star Wars’ fans,” Nivens said. “Our fans have a good sense of humor and open minds, and they can see the humor behind it. They can see we’re not taking our music too seriously.”
Search your feelings...
...you know you want to know more about The Dark Side of the Force. Check out the band’s MySpace page at www.myspace.com/darksideoftheforceband.
The band will play on March 3 at the Outland Ballroom in Springfield. Shows in the Joplin area will be announced.