Published December 5, 2012
Fans soak up Sponge
By Maria Allard firstname.lastname@example.org
CLINTON TOWNSHIP — It’s a Saturday night, and the five members of Sponge are about to do something they usually don’t do: turn down the amplifiers.
On Nov. 24, the rockers — who had just returned from the West Coast after playing a few shows in California and Arizona — performed an “unplugged” set at the Detroit Pub on Harper Avenue. It was a different kind of show for the musicians, yet it went over well with the fans.
“Typically, we are not an acoustic band,” lead singer Vinnie Dombroski said. “The crowd hung in there. Toward the end of the night, we fired up the amps.”
During the night, fans had the opportunity to win a Starcaster Fender guitar signed by the band. All they had to do was take part in an “air guitar” contest while jamming along to the band’s hit, “Plowed.” Three people showed off their air axe-playing skills, but it was a young woman named Jen who walked away with the six-string.
“We were certainly impressed by her hair twirling and her enthusiasm,” Dombroski said.
Sponge, based in Detroit, first began to soak up the spotlight in 1994, when the band released its first album, “Rotting Piñata,” under the Sony Records umbrella. The CD produced the hits “Plowed” and “Molly (16 Candles),” and the band also earned enough rock ‘n’ roll stripes to have videos featured on MTV.
The local music scene was abuzz when Sponge first broke out of Detroit, and the band garnered worldwide attention. Dombroski always felt the people back home who were there in the beginning were a part of the band’s success.
As the band got more popular, they still remembered their roots, including doing a meet-and-greet with fans around 1995 at a local Harmony House. Sponge followers showed up eager to see the band, which took over the store’s location in the Farmington Hills area.
“It turned out pretty wild from what I remember,” Dombroski recalled. “Didn’t someone break a window?”
The band continued to tour, and subsequent albums on different record labels followed. Through the years, the band’s line-up changed, with Dombroski currently the band’s only founding member.
“There’s a lot of talent between them,” Dombroski said. “I lean on them pretty hard to do what I got to do.”
That includes drummer Billy Adams, guitarist Andy Patalan, Tim Patalan on bass and Kyle Neely on guitar.
The band members are now touring in support of their latest five-song EP “Destroy the Boy,” have plans to release more music, and there’s new interest in the group. The song “Plowed” made it to the big screen in the new movie “Chasing Mavericks” starring Gerard Butler. They’re doing all this without a record label.
Sponge continues to be a draw on both the East Coast and West Coast, including a recent gig at the Whiskey A Go Go on the famed Sunset Strip in Hollywood.
“We’ve had a lot of success in both places,” Dombroski said. “It’s almost like playing at home.”
Home includes the defunct Ritz nightclub in Roseville, where the front man used to hang out.
“Most of us cut our teeth over there,” said Dombrowski, who attended Finney High School in Detroit. “We had a rehearsal studio in the back of the building.”
Another prime spot for honing musical chops was the now-closed Traxx, once located on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit. One moment, you’d be watching the Romantics on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” and the next moment, you’d see the band members at their storefront, which Dombroski said was above Traxx.
David Staten, 34, rarely misses a Sponge show. He has been a fan of the band since he first discovered them in 1994 on the radio. Staten, who grew up in Manchester, Mich., southwest of Ann Arbor, used to drive with his friends from his house to metro Detroit and other areas just to see the band.
On his first date with his now wife, Diana, the two went to a Sponge concert. Staten, who now lives in Tecumseh, Mich., and has one daughter, Shaylee, 4, even made it to last month’s Detroit Pub show. For Staten, Dombroski’s songwriting is first-rate.
“He speaks through storytelling, which is really cool,” Staten said. “It’s a certain type of emotion around the story. He covers a lot of ground. There’s some heavy stuff. There’s some sad stuff.”
He once ran into the band while on a family vacation several years ago in Las Vegas. While waiting for their luggage, Staten looked up to see Dombroski and the other band members watching their music gear come through the conveyer belt.
“Oh, my God, are you kidding me?” the rock fan thought. “Here come these guitar cases with Sponge stickers all over them.”
Staten found his suitcase and showed the band his “Rotting Piñata” T-shirt, thus striking up a conversation with the musicians.
For more information on Sponge visit www.spongetheband.com.