By 1984 it had become increasingly apparent, that if System 56 was to ever entertain any idea of playing out again, that we were going to have to enlist the help of a full-fledged bass player. Again, fate seemed to intervene, as word had gotten around that another well-known Cleveland band - Lucky Pierre - was going through a dissolution process, and their bass player - Tom Lash - might be available. Shortly thereafter we made contact, and arranged for his audition and some preliminary discussions. Tom not only brought his bass playing competency and experience to the table, but he had the ability to add vocal harmony, as well as having a strong sense of melody and song arrangement. He had all the right tools, and we were glad to welcome him into the band. The only thing left to do was to make some music.
One of the first things we did in preparing for our next record, was to set up in a live rehearsal situation, kick around a variety of musical ideas to get a feel for how everybody was going to play together, then see what would shake out. It's always interesting to watch how various musicians interact with one another, and since System 56 was generally open to experimenting around with some unconventional ideas anyway, it seemed like a worthwhile approach.
The first actual song to pop out of these sessions was a cover version of the old Yardbirds' classic, "Shapes of Things". We started by reworking the original with a more aggressive front end, grafting a chunky guitar and walking bass motif onto the intro and verses, then infusing the choruses with a more direct drum sound and some space-age synthesizer flourishes from Paul. The song revs up rather dramatically near the end, as the band launches into a driving instrumental coda on the outro. It would eventually become the flip-side to our next single, A Man Needs a Motor, which was, in large measure, inspired by this initial restyle experiment. Subsequently, we also recorded a few more tracks during this same time period, including "The Sounding", "Your Car is Waiting", and "Next to X".
Local radio reaction to the single's release was near instantaneous, as by now, our musical reputation was well established in town, and the Cleveland listening audience was becoming ever more receptive to "one of their own." The single, A Man Needs a Motor, was a pulsating, stripped-down rocker, nearly tailor-made for FM rock radio, and in some ways, pulled us off into a somewhat more conventional direction than our previous releases. This proved to be both a blessing and a curse, as some thought that perhaps the band was suddenly becoming too mainstream for our own good. In some respects, I certainly understood this criticism, but conversely, we felt we needed to maintain our radio accessibility with the singles, while continuing to innovate and evolve with the rest of the material, which is not something one does by sheer force of musical calculation, much as we would like to be able to.
We got the message, echoed in varying degrees in the reviews, as well.
OP Magazine: "Pro-sounding techno-pop band, sounding fuller and more guitar-oriented than on past singles. In fact, vocalist Steve Simenic is quite a flashy guitar player, as his work on the Yardbirds' Shapes of Things indicates."
Fortnightly College Radio Report: "Techno-pop with debts to Bowie and Numan. The B-side is a cover of the Yardbirds' hit Shapes of Things. Perhaps this version sticks too close to the original."
Alternative Rhythms: "A poor single! Their first two releases had great Ultravox-ish tunes, their last single almost matched Japan for mood and atmosphere. They were synthesizer heaven! But this is mainly guitar music. Shapes of Things is that god-awful druggy song that the Yardbirds spewed out years ago. It definitely has no place in a synth band's playlist ... but then I guess System 56 isn't a synth band anymore. It's too bad, they were really good." - Sam Rosenthal
Horrors Dorothy ! That infernal guitar !! What's next ? Go-go girls ?? (OK, got it, but I still dig the Yardbirds).
The summer of 1984 was an extremely busy time for the band, as we were both mixing down all the tracks that we had recorded earlier in the spring, getting A Man Needs a Motor ready for an August release, while concurrently rehearsing for our official Cleveland debut show in September. In order to more realistically recreate the System 56 sound onstage, we soon realized that we were going to need some extra help with some of the multi-tracked keyboard parts. After quickly holding several flash auditions, we brought in Dennis Richie to support the live ensemble. Dennis was a versatile and multi-talented performer in his own right, having previously been the guitarist and front man for another Cleveland band, The Times. He quickly proved to be a good fit for the band, especially on such short notice, and brought a lot of stage presence and savvy to the live show, as well.
On September 28th, the big night finally arrived. We had sold out the 1000-seat Phantasy Theatre in Lakewood, and our long-awaited, Cleveland debut was underway. Paul and Dennis set the initial stage mood with the electro-ambient soundscape of The Twilight Index, as we ultimately segued into the opening strains of Metro-Metro, a few minutes later. After more than a 2 year hiatus from the live stage, any residual apprehension and stage fright quickly melted away, as we heard the crowd's subsequent welcoming applause. From that point on, the show trudged along nicely - although, to be honest, there were some overly long delays between songs, to readjust the settings on the synths. In 1984, nearly every synthesizer was analog - which necessitated the inevitable "knob twiddling" between songs.
We managed to weave nearly all of our new material into the 80 minute set, including a number of songs that have never made it to record. One of the highlights of the show (and certainly to the band's surprise), had to be the lighting crew's outstanding performance, in creating some well-timed ambience for the music. Although the show was far from perfect, the audience hung in there with us from start to finish, and was willing to cut us some extra slack when we needed to readjust keyboard settings, or swap out guitars. Overall, it was an exciting night for all of us, and if nothing else, the Big Question of who we were, was finally put to rest.
Gazette: "A fine light show, a tight band, and a clear mix were evident throughout. The only indication of lack-of-show experience was some fumbling about in between numbers. The pauses were a might too long, but didn't really seem interminable. Lead vocalist and guitarist, Steve Simenic, was coolly in control, and his deep, melodic voice never seemed strained. It blended well with the keyboard work of Dennis Richie and Paul Teagle, which is the heart of the sound of this five-man Akron/Cleveland group. Tom Lash's bass and Vince Scafiti's steady drumming provided plenty of backbeat. On stage, the group is good to watch. They're contained, but fun, much like their music."
Two more shows at the Phantasy Nightclub (upstairs) followed later that year, however, as 1985 rolled around, the forces holding the band together were being exceeded by the forces pulling it apart, and not long afterwards, we quietly disbanded, for a variety of reasons. Life's other priorities have a curious way of nibbling away at a band's foundation, and we were no exception. Looking back, it was an eventful 3-year ride, and a memorable one, but ultimately a limited one . . .
More history . . . 1982 1983 2003