Fenway Park is not from Boston. This is perhaps the most important thing that the up-and-coming Berkeley four-piece wants everyone to know. But why would they choose to name their band after the famed East Coast ballpark? Lead singer and guitarist Noah Singer, looking a bit like the perfect genetic crossbreed of Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow and Buddy Holly, offers up a thoughtful yet irreverent answer: “We named the band that because there are so many casual baseball fans out there who just say, ‘Oh yeah, I think I’ve heard of you.’ “
Indeed, most people outside of Berkeley haven’t heard of Fenway Park, but like most unknown bands, they want to change that. The band has been putting together an impressive run of shows up and down the West Coast, and has just completed recording demos for their first full-length follow- up to their self-produced mini-EP. It’s also trying to shed the dreaded “college band” syndrome by quietly maturing into a pop-rock foursome that blends Weezer-esque melodies with a hard-charging emo-inspired rhythm section. But make no mistake — the members of Fenway Park are neophytes, and are working out all the kinks that come with the territory. As an example, drummer Mike Weinstein is constantly battling with his band-mates over what they suggest are unnecessarily loud fills. Naturally, he thinks they sound pretty damn cool. But what the young band may lack in skill, it makes up for in pure ambition and reverence for rock ‘n’ roll — loud, ringing guitars and melodic minor-key chord progressions in a pop vein, á la Sunny Day Real Estate. The guys in Fenway Park aren’t anywhere near as polished as that band, mind you, but like the tortured Seattle group, they definitely have had their fair share of hardship.
“I can’t ever play a show without thinking of him,” says Singer of the band’s recently deceased co-founder and bassist, Brad Shuer. Singer’s best friend and band-mate was killed in an Oakland house fire last January. The bespectacled guitarist can’t help but choke up as he remembers the party that was supposed to be a celebration. “In the middle of the night a sofa caught fire — it was near a heater — and there were smoke alarms, but I guess they weren’t really working. Five people managed to get out that night, but Brad never made it out.” Devastated by the loss of his friend, Singer thought the band was kaput. But as time went on, he and Weinstein began to rethink things. “I know it sounds like a cliché,” says Weinstein, “but we had to continue the band for Brad.”
So they have, from shows at Cafe Du Nord to even playing the lift lines at Tahoe ski resorts. “We make our own scene,” says Fenway ringleader Singer. “If we sat back and waited for the so-called tastemakers to book us, we would never make it out of our basement.”
If the tastemakers are taking a “wait and see” approach, the young fans of Fenway Park certainly aren’t. At a recent show on the Berkeley campus, gaggles of young girls in baby-T’s showed up indoors to see the band on an otherwise sunny Saturday. Probably a quarter of them were there to see the flat-out gorgeous drummer, Weinstein. Sporting sideburns that would make Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath jealous, the 22-year-old knows the young girls have it in for him. His arms are adorned with bracelets from female fans. “I’ve started a small collection,” he laughs with a sly smile. “It all started at a Gilman show with this bracelet from some chick,” he says, pointing to a leopard-print bracelet replete with garish skull and crossbones. “I’m not quite sure what the correlation is between a leopard and a skull, but it’s cool.”
Although the band has many female fans into Weinstein’s — ahem — chops, countless more seem into the music. From their ’50s pop song “Girls Just Leave,” to the Weezeresque loud guitar swagger of “El Sueño,” Fenway Park’s songs have an earnest, undeniable pop sensibility. Singer’s voice is strong throughout the first EP, and although the band has yet to fully master the sonic transitions that make bands like the Promise Ring great, it is still developing. After all, some of the members are still in college and have to hit the books.
Singer even has a degree in philosophy. Not that Fenway Park is the most studious bunch, though. “I’ve been a postmodern English major at Berkeley now for two years,” says a deadpan Weinstein, “and I can honestly say I have no idea what postmodern even means.”
Fancy degrees aside, the guys in Fenway Park are just happy that they have fans and gigs lined up, and that they all have their health. Singer is also happy that baseball season is here again: A die-hard Red Sox fan, he thinks good things are going to happen this year. “I usually get a great feeling about the Red Sox every year about this time,” he says. And what if they don’t make the World Series? “Well, there’s always next year,” he says with a smile.