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Come join the M.O.B.B.

Christie Bolsen | Wednesday, April 6, 2005

There’s a party tomorrow, and everyone’s invited.The members of M.O.B.B., Notre Dame’s New Orleans brass band with a contemporary twist, are looking to bring their “every time we play, it’s a party” attitude to Legends tomorrow in an attempt to break the student band attendance record. The current record now stands at 668 people, but M.O.B.B. isn’t like most student bands.If there’s only one thing to say about M.O.B.B., it’s that they have fun with their talent. Rehearsals are full of laughter along with the hard work of bringing to life songs like “Still Fly” by Big Tymers with a tuba, drums and some guys singing about their “pimped out Gucci suit.” The founder of the group, grad student Matt Merten, seems to hear every instrument in the 14-member ensemble, periodically shouting instructions to trumpets and percussion as they practice.Of course, there’s much more to say about M.O.B.B. As soon as one steps into the band building during one of their rehearsals, their energetic music is heard, with bright tempos and familiar tunes from the radio. When going to a performance, many of the same instruments featured in the typical marching band catch the audience’s attention, but a high school band probably didn’t play “Let’s Get it On,” perform in venues that serve Corona or encourage such literal audience participation.They practice with the assumption that fans will come onstage with them to freestyle or lend other musical talents.”We are extending a formal invitation, via The Observer – if anybody wants to come up onstage and freestyle, or if they know how to rock a mic – we welcome anybody,” Merten said.They stress the fact that they’re non-exclusive and encourage people to bring a horn and join in the fun. After the spontaneous parade that broke out during their St. Patrick’s Day performance on St. Pete Street, they’re ready for either schooled musicians or random people banging on pots, pans and trashcans.M.O.B.B.’s inception came about because of the involvement of Merten and Ryan Berendt in similar bands as undergraduates together at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minn.”We realized how much fun it could be,” Merten said.He said that M.O.B.B. “blows away in comparison” the other bands from his undergraduate days, in terms of the talent of group members. Their involvement with the band and several ensembles as performance majors allowed them to select the very best players.Despite this high level of participation in other bands and ensembles at Notre Dame among the band’s members, the group agreed that M.O.B.B. has its own special brand of fun. They always feel a connection with their audience, as opposed to more formal performances where the spectators don’t seem as much a part of the show.”If you compare it to a concert band … they clap at the end of the piece, and that’s it – but there’s no dancing,” Berendt said. They like to make their performances more interactive, allowing the energy to flow between both the audience and the band.”It’s like a symbiotic relationship,” Moses James Papier said. His band members vigorously expressed agreement and enthusiasm for his description.”And as a performer, the music we play is so much more fun,” Kathleen Zadzora said. “We’ve also never played rap songs in any other ensemble here,” Chris Orenchuk added.M.O.B.B. has become quite a campus and South Bend presence, having played at venues such as Recker’s, LaFortune and K’s Grill, as well as at the Collegiate Jazz Festival. Merten himself has opened shows as a soloist and as a member of different bands for acts such as Jack Johnson, Better than Ezra, The Jayhawks, Soul Asylum, Soul Coughing, Train and Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals.In fact, the two-part performance tomorrow will double as a CD release party of sorts for Merten’s solo album, which can be previewed and purchased at www.mattmerten.com. M.O.B.B.’s recorded shows can also be heard at www.mattmerten.com/mobb.htm. M.O.B.B. members are: Matt Merten, Nick Werner, Moses James Papier and Chris Orenchuk on trombone; David Taffany, Evan Williamson and James Weicher on saxophone; Ryan Berendt, Pat Wood and Peter Van on trumpet; Colleen Clark on guitar; Kathleen Zadzora on tuba; and Dan Surrett and Chris Urban on drums.M.O.B.B. will perform at Legends tomorrow at 10 p.m.