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Bringing It Home

You don't usually see middle-aged white men at rock concerts late on a Sunday night. And when you do, they are not singing along. But there was 54-year-old Walter Kuebler in Baltimore's dim, smokey Ottobar on Father's Day, wearing a white blazer and singing along.

As the band, his son's, tore through "All that Money" with three guitars blazing and launched into the chorus - All those times you lose/And all that money down the tubes - Kuebler pumped his arms out in front of him and pointed his fingers down at the concrete floor, along with the rest of the crowd and those band members who had free hands.

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And Kuebler's son - a guy one critic called "the Frank Sinatra of rock's resurgence" - sang:

You'll get all worried.

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You'll get all worried

You'll get all worried.

You'll get all worried.

Everybody's getting on.

Father and son locked eyes for a moment there, smiled and nodded their heads. In its young life, the Oranges Band has endured a disastrous tour studded with broken bones and broken vans. There have been half-empty clubs and canceled shows and fire sales of their belongings to pay for trips they'd rather forget.

But now - as the Baltimore-based band wraps up a national tour and has released its first full-length album on a national label - they're not all worried anymore. And their show tonight at the Ottobar will be something of a triumphant homecoming for a band that has sprung from the local music scene to find some love outside of their hometown.

"Everything has led up to this," said lead singer and guitarist Roman Kuebler, who formed the band in 2000 with buddies from Calvert Hall High School and American University. "It does feel like things are beginning, even though we're into our fourth year as a band. We are building. We're not falling backward."

This summer has brought the five-member band national press attention from the likes of Entertainment Weekly, which gave the album All Around a solid B-plus. They flew to California earlier this week for a couple of quick-hit shows in swank venues like the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.

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All this from a band that a couple of years ago was playing in living rooms and basements.

The relative success, however, is tempered by the realities of a music industry that seems more intent on suing college students and imitating the latest flavor of the month than developing real talent. The Oranges Band is not the next N 'Sync or Britney or Eminem. And it doesn't want to be.

"Categories these days are even more ambiguous in the sense that it doesn't even have to do with what kind of music you're playing," Kuebler says. "It has to do with the way you dress, what kind of instrument you play, a whole number of other things."

But for the Oranges Band, it's only about the music. And the music is worth hearing - catchy, guitar-driven rock 'n' roll songs with energy and punch. Kuebler's voice soars over and dives into the music, boundlessly propelling the songs forward.

There are hand claps and horns and organs and lyrics that seem to make no sense at all ("Oh, keep your teeth in your mouth/They ain't doing you no good when they're out") but sure are fun to scream while speeding down the highway with the windows open.

"I hold on to the belief that it still depends on the music," Kuebler says. "That if you can find a way to appeal to people, you stand a good chance of succeeding. You have to add personality and determination and things like that, but we've got all of that.

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"Now it's just up to our music."

While Kuebler's father has played in rock and country bands for years and his mother is a jazz archivist, Kuebler himself didn't pick up an instrument until his freshman year of college. And it was a mandolin, no doubt making him the coolest student in his dorm at Villanova University.

He taught himself chords by playing along with R.E.M.'s Out of Time and soon moved on to the guitar (and to American University, where he studied audio engineering). After playing in a handful of Baltimore bands for a while, he recorded a few songs with a friend at American, Daniel Black, and liked them so much he went to a Baltimore music label with the idea for a tour and a record.

The tour got scheduled and Kuebler pulled in a couple of other friends, including drummer Dave Voyles of Annapolis and Tim Johnston, who graduated with Kuebler from Calvert Hall in 1990. By last summer, after a few uneven tours and a few well-received EPs, they realized the band may be more than an exercise in self-indulgence.

"Of course we want to sell albums and we want people to like it," Johnston says, "but it was a little more than a year ago that we started thinking maybe we can make careers out of this."

Maybe. But not yet.

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The band isn't making enough money to support itself, and at the end of the road the band members will return to Baltimore and to their regular jobs - at construction sites and behind restaurant bars.

But they know, at least, that they have a major independent music label behind them in Lookout! Records. The Berkeley-based label has put the band on the radio and helped produce a video featuring signature Baltimore scenes, including Lake Montebello, the Inner Harbor, Tide Point and the "Painted Ladies" Victorian homes in Charles Village.

"I think they've got a classic melodic pop-iness that's in all the best indie rock. It's a fundamental melodic truth," said Chris Appelgren, president and co-founder of Lookout! Records. "They're earning a place in record stores that's not going to be gone next month. Their music and their performance is really the foremost important thing, and they've got that in spades."

The band went shopping for a major label after a hellish tour in fall 2000 found them stranded in the depths of Texas. Johnston had broken his ankle attempting skateboarding tricks he "was incapable of," Kuebler says. That left four band members traveling from Tucson to Houston in a Dodge van that didn't want to cooperate.

The van quit in El Paso and needed a new $1,500 transmission, requiring Kuebler to get an extension on his credit card. The band was back on the road just four hours before the van gave it up again, this time needing a new alternator. Kuebler and a local mechanic worked by flashlight until midnight.

Most of its shows canceled, the band headed to Louisiana under torrential downpours the entire way. If nothing else, the experience led to the band's delightfully named second EP, 900 Miles of F---ing Hell.

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"We felt we were on an island," Kuebler says. "We had reached the logical end of what we could do by ourselves as a band. What came out of that whole experience was a sense of where we were and where we wanted to be."

And so they now have a deal with Lookout! to make records and promote them and travel the country and make a go of it. So far they've sold more than 1,000 copies of All Around, which was released April 23, with a goal of at least 5,000 for the year.

"My attitude about the whole kit and caboodle is I don't want to have any regrets when it's all over," Kuebler says. "If we succeed, it's going to be through good music and hard work."

No, he's not worried.

The band

The players: Roman Kuebler, 31, lead vocals and guitar; Daniel Black, 25, guitar; Tim Johnston, 31, bass; Virat Shukla, 27, guitar; Dave Voyles, 29, drums.

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Usual haunts: Ottobar, the Talking Head.

Recordings: The Five Dollars EP (Morphius Records, 2000); Five Hundred Miles of F---ing Hell EP (Morphius, 2001); On TV EP (Lookout! Records, 2002); All Around LP (Lookout!, 2003)

Online: www.theoranges band.com

The show

What: Morphius Records 10th Anniversary Show, featuring The Oranges Band, Dave Thomas and the Lost Planets and Slow Jets

Where: Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St.

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When: Tonight; doors open at 9 (under 18 not admitted)

Tickets: $12@SUBHEDCall: 410-662-0069


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