A Plattsburgh State undergrad once asked Max Verna to define an Ominous Seapod. “I don’t really know,” he said, providing no explanation behind the name of his band for the young reporter working on a feature for his student newspaper. “I do like the sound of it, though.”
The Ominous Seapods, one of the most popular jam bands here in upstate New York in the 1990s, is coming back out for a two-night engagement at the Cohoes Music Hall on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 12 and 13.
“They were a name I would always see on old show flyers amongst other names that are still big in the scene today,” said Kim Neaton, WEQX-FM radio personality. “I wasn’t familiar with them when they were active, but their name often pops up in conversation and I always would think, ‘Damn. I wish I got to catch a Seapods show!’”
While Phish and Dave Matthews Band led the charge in a jam band culture described in 2001 as a phenomenon by the New York Times, moe., the Disco Biscuits and the Ominous Seapods pulled up the rear. At the time, both the Seapods and Disco Biscuits were signed under Hydrophonics Records, a subsidiary of Megaforce Records which itself earned success years earlier by introducing Ministry and Metallica.
“These guys can rip,” wrote Dean Budnick, of the Seapods. The Relix Magazine editor named the group in a well-crafted Who’s Who directory of upcoming bands in his 1998 book “Jam Bands: North America’s Hottest Live Groups.” “The humor of the players often celebrates the absurd, resulting in some memorable, spontaneous interactions between each other and between band and audience. … Such as the time it hosted an eight-track release party.”
Verna, Dana Monteith, Tom Pirozzi, Brian Mangini and Ted Marotta toured the nation, playing 200-plus gigs a year, a reputation recognized by SPIN Magazine, and appreciated by an online fanbase supported by a website at Dartmouth University affectionately called the Podnet. “We have some really loyal fans on the Podnet who have taken it upon themselves to get the word out and to spread tapes,” Tom Pirozzi told Budnick. “So we’ve walked into a bar in Iowa City where the place is just packed full of people who have heard about us, know our music and are excited to have us there.”
At one point, the website boasted of having more than 300 subscribers, known as mutants. It was maintained by David Merrill, a Dartmouth technician nicknamed The Bourbon Cowboy. It was a place to find setlists, lyrics and pictures. In its heyday, fans could swap tapes from live shows. The internet was still in its infancy in the late ’90s. Social media and smartphones, absolute requirements for networking and navigating new landscapes, did not exist. So, most fans found out about shows by signing up to the band’s mailing list — postal, not email. (At the
band’s height, that list contained more than 10,000 names.) Fans could also call the band’s dedicated phone line connected to an answering machine that listed upcoming show dates. The Podnet is still online, but the ’90s design suggests it hasn’t been maintained for years. Some of the mutants, including Merrill, have since moved on to Facebook.
Pirozzi recently shared his amazement over the power of social media. He said he posted word of the Seapods upcoming Cohoes show on Facebook twice. Once on his page, and another on the Mutants’ page. A short time later, he said, the Saturday evening show was sold out.
“It sold out in five days,” said Pirozzi. “I was surprised, actually. I knew we’d do well, and thought maybe by the day of the show we’d sell out, or be close to sold out. I didn’t expect to sell out in advance. We were all shocked by that.”
The band opted to offer a second show on the preceding Friday, Pirozzi’s 50th birthday. (It, too, is close to selling out.) Pirozzi said he’s humbled by the response from fans, and looks forward to seeing faces he hasn’t seen in 20 years.
“I could see on Facebook, people coming in from Colorado, from North Carolina, California,” asid Pirozzi. “I think it’s just going to be a great reunion for people I haven’t seen in years. Obviously, people I haven’t seen in 20 years. I’m looking forward to that.”
The definition of an Ominous Seapod, initially sought by a Plattsburgh State undergrad, is less elusive today than it was nearly 30 years ago.
“By all accounts the band and their fans know how to have a real great time,” said Neaton, who now associates herself with Guthrie Bell Productions. “And, if Greg Bell says a band knows how to party, I think the Cohoes Music Hall is perhaps in for a party unlike anything it’s seen before. It’s really cool to be part of a reunion that’s bringing so many people in from out of town to celebrate a band that meant a lot to the jam scene for so long, especially in a room as special as this.”
This article was originally published by The Spot 518 and is the property of Spotlight Newspapers in Albany, N.Y., and appears as a special to NYS Music. TheSpot518 and NYS Music work in partnership to provide readers with in-depth coverage on the local music scene in the Capital District and New York state, respectively. For more, visit TheSpot518.com.