Joe Welch would have bet against a Johnny Socko reunion.
"And I don't bet," he said.
Good thing. Because when Welch approached his former bandmates with the idea, he was stunned to hear everyone said yes without hesitation.
He figures it's been 14 years since the seven of them had all been in the same room together. They'd worked fantastically hard, touring and playing up to 270 dates a year for the five-plus years Welch was in the band. And when it was over, "it took a while to get back to the point where you could see going back," he said. "Now, enough time has passed that everyone is excited about it."
In its heyday from the early to mid-1990s, Socko was an antic, frantic band that played a mix of ska and whatever else the members felt like adding (Klezmer? Check. Russian folk dance? Why not?) while dressed in whatever goofy outfit they felt like wearing.
"Steve Mascari, Mike Wiltrout and I used to go out to bars and we'd see bands and we were like, 'Oh, my God, everybody thinks he's Bono,'" Welch said with a laugh. "So when we'd go out to bars, we'd wear stuff mocking ourselves — ridiculous hats or whatever — just to have fun. In the band, it just carried over. We'd wear ridiculous stuff and mock the idea of being a rock star."
But they were "ruthlessly serious about playing well and writing." By the time Socko recorded the 1996 EP Oh I Do Hope It's Roast Beef, the band had become so tight from so many nights on the road that it finished each of the seven songs in one take.
Along the way, they developed a devoted fan base. David Barajas, who played in Extra Blue Kind and State, remembers when he and a friend — both 15 — bribed someone to drive them from Columbus to Bloomington to see Socko.
"To this day, I look up to all those guys," Barajas said in an e-mail. "It was Johnny Socko's intense performances and crowd interaction that inspired me to want to do the same."
Welch left in 1996 — mostly from exhaustion — and others would quit over the next three years. Drummer Dylan Wissing and saxophonist Joshua Silbert carried on until 2004.
These days, Wissing lives in New York, where he runs a drum store and plays in several groups, including Skidmore Fountain. Silbert plays in a cool experimental group called ESW. Wiltrout, Socko's singer, fronts the Leisure Kings ("Trout is just born to be on stage," Welch said), who play Wednesday nights at Agio. Bassist Mascari is playing in Bloomington and also is a trapeze artist. Trumpeter Eric Evans plays in several horn bands around Bloomington. And guitarist Welch and saxophonist Charlie Krone founded the Born Again Floozies, who just recorded with Ben Fowler in Nashville.
To prepare for the reunion, Socko scheduled four rehearsals. After the first, Welch said it was "every bit as fun as I had hoped. We really had a blast playing together and it all came back so quickly." After the second, he said it was "like falling off a bar stool (a very fast and intricate fall)."
But they have no plans to play together beyond this show.
"It's a fun one-off," Welch said. "When Jeb (Banner, of Musical Family Tree, who arranged the show) asked me about it, I thought, I'd love to play that stuff again with those guys. But that's all it's going to be."