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It'll be a homecoming with VHS or Beta at the WOW Hall.

Byline: Carolyn Lamberson The Register-Guard

When Craig Pfunder was a student at South Eugene High School back in the early '90s, he rode his skateboard in the parking lot of the former 7-Eleven on 18th Avenue. He even admits to swiping the occasional candy bar from Hiron's - and getting busted for it.

Now his life is in Louisville, Ky., when he isn't on the road with his dance-rock band VHS or Beta. The band, touring in support of its most recent album, "Night on Fire," will return to Pfunder's old stomping grounds for a show Sunday at the WOW Hall.

It'll be a bit of change for VHS or Beta. The foursome recently wrapped up some gigs opening arena shows for Duran Duran.

"You feel really powerful in a weird way as soon as you get up there," Pfunder said from his home in Louisville. "The sound is so enormous and every note kind of thumps your stomach and your chest and it's pretty awesome.

`I loved it. I had a great time."

Duran Duran is one of the bands VHS or Beta is often compared to, along with the Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and Depeche Mode. Then again, there are a lot of bands these days that are dipping back into the '80s for musical inspiration, from Franz Ferdinand to the Killers.

The boys in VHS or Beta - vocalist-guitarist Pfunder, guitarist Zeke Buck, bassist Mark Palgy and drummer Mark Guidry - got together in 1997. They made one six-song EP of "crazy noise punk,' then decided to go a different direction.

"I think a lot of things in music and art are in reaction to what is currently happening around them,' Pfunder said. "The (indie) scene was so homogenized with that kind of music.

`Our reaction to it was, `We want do do something a little different.' We were sick of going to shows and watching people stand there with their arms folded and nodding their heads to this music that is kind of angular.' '

He also got annoyed at how exclusive the indie scene in Louisville at the time had become.

`So pretty much overnight we said, `Let's do this. Let's figure out how to be a dance band,' ' Pfunder said.

First the music, then lyrics

In June 2002, the band released an EP, "Le Funk," on its own label, ON! Records. "Le Funk" was an instrumental CD that was inspired by the music of the French house scene.

"Le Funk" was critically acclaimed, but the band was ready to do something else. Namely - add vocals.

`It was a need and a want to express different things with the audience we'd hopefully be working with," he said. "We hadn't really concentrated on words and melodies with a pop structure in the band.

`I was raised on pop. It was easy for me to get in there and be like, `Hey I'm excited about this.' It was a band decision. Let's move toward more pop structure and let's write huge choruses.

`I was totally thrilled about that. When I'm sitting alone with an acoustic guitar, that's what I'm shooting for in my head.'

"Night on Fire," the band's 2004 major label debut on Astralwerks, features Pfunder on lead vocals. The biggest challenge, he said, was pushing his voice so it would match VHS or Beta's music.

"The energy is so high in the band and I wanted to find a part of my voice that matched it,' he said. "That was hard to do in a studio setting where we hadn't yet tried things live. But it's working out."

Pfunder knows it's his voice that is drawing a lot of attention. It's often written that he sounds like Robert Smith, lead singer of the Cure.

Pfunder isn't so sure.

"I'm trying to think, and you can tell me honestly, but what record? ... Say I listen to 'Disintegration,' or I listen to 'Wish,' the later stuff; I totally sound nothing like Robert Smith."

It's then suggested that maybe he sounds a bit like Smith on "Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me."

"OK. I love that record. It's the first record I got. I'm 29, got it in seventh grade. I got it for my birthday. ... I totally see where people say this reminds me of this or this reminds me of Simon Le Bon, and that's where the '80s references are coming from.

`A lot of what we're doing is coming from house music. And I think people miss this because they don't have that to reference."

Pfunder, who spent a few years in Eugene as a teenager and whose parents, Karen and Richard Pfunder, still live here, is looking forward to coming back to the WOW Hall.

"It's a place I went when I was a kid in high school," he said. "It'll be nice to play it."


VHS or Beta

With: Electric Six, DJ Never Forget

When: 8:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: WOW Hall, 291 W. Eighth Ave.

Tickets: $13 in advance at the WOW Hall and its ticket outlets; $15 at the door

Also: After-party at the Indigo District, 1290 Oak St.


VHS or Beta recently opened a series of shows for Duran Duran, where the band got a taste for that big arena sound.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment; Singer Craig Pfunder leads the dance band to his one-time home
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 15, 2005
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