Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
A lot was made last week - after the untimely passing of political journalist Tim Russert - about the man being the favorite son of Buffalo, New York. He was a homer for the Bills and the Sabres, mentioning important games on the air on regular Sunday editions of his program "Meet The Press." You've done something right to be the most beloved man of a city that has a population of 292,000 some people. Kevin Hambrick has almost twice the number of challengers (we're including the metropolitan areas here too) for that distinction in his town of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, but he wins in a landslide.
He might be more of a prodigal son of the city in the northeast corner of the state - within spitting distance of Ohio - and he's certainly more of the chain-smoking son that the rich Indiana dirt never knew it had. He hustles through those cancer sticks as if that white smoke were an aphrodisiac and the payoff. Never before in my life have I witnessed a chimney of such an insatiable appetite. It doesn't stop with the smokes for Hambrick and here's why he should be getting his key to the city and a star on one of the city's streets any time now. He is the glue that is holding that city's entertainment together.
Alternative weeklies and such have been naming Hambrick's band The Orange Opera as the city's best, as well they should. The general, national knowledge of just what's out there for Ft. Wayne to offer is not widely disseminated, but one listen to the ferocious, sticky sweet power pop that Hambrick and crew seem to ooze and the polling stations should not just close, but be lit on fire to never be used again. You ask The Orange Opera to rock and they say, "Gladly, it was already on our agenda, with enthusiastic exclamation points punctuating our notation of the act."
The Orange Opera is and All-American band that loves The White Album - perhaps the album and the book, just as all All-American bands, grown on French fries, more hamburgers than you could choke on, Cap'n Crunch and Dr. Pepper do. Hambrick finds himself singing about football (not in a jock itch sort of way, hating on the sport or the guys who played the sport and tortured him long ago, but doing it in appreciation of something that he likes), singing about being happy and meaning it (maybe that's just coming home to his wife and a nice, simple dinner for two), singing about spending all of his days and probably quarters in an ice cream store, singing about buzzards (and we're picturing the ones in Merry Melodies cartoons that get shy around girls and wear aviator goggles as he wishes desperately for.
It's unorthodox subject matter, but no different than the octopus' garden or yellow submarines. He's a glutton for the sounds of those years in the early 60s when pop music was lean and adventurous and scrappy. He goes out of his way to hustle his way into the minds and cell phones of like-minded bands such as Dr. Dog, Nik Freitas, The Teeth, Richard Swift and others, bringing them to an out-of-the-way tour stop in a city that Hambrick and The Orange Opera have made into one of those secret havens where time warps can happen with just a little ambition.