Musician John Sheets helpfully suggested a headline for this story: "Unsuccessful Rock Band Gets Back Together to Play Jazz Venue."
The band Sheets is referring to is Mike's House, which he and Charlie Hopper started in 1986 as a songwriting project and which, while never that successful, earned some attention on the local scene before breaking up in the mid-1990s.
Over the years, Mike's House released three cassettes of their catchy, hook-filled tunes (and another under the name Marj's Basement); had a dustup with MTV, which changed the name of one of its shows, Mike's House, after receiving a letter from the Indianapolis band's attorney; and opened for the likes of the Tannahill Weavers, the Judybats, Vulgar Boatmen, Twopenny Hangover and others.
"We were around long enough to drive away an audience for a lot of bands," Sheets joked.
And now they're back - - for three nights only - - to revive the semi-magic. To commemorate Hopper's 50th birthday, Mike's House will be playing The Chatterbox on Feb. 27, the Melody Inn on March 23 and the Knickerbocker in Lafayette on April 20.
These shows continue an unusual streak for the band: Mike's House emerges from dormancy to play the Chatterbox every 10 years, since Hopper's 30th birthday in 1993.
"Basically, my wife surprised me on my 30th birthday to start it off," says Hopper. "She and I were walking down Mass Ave. after work in 1993 and strolled past the Chatterbox on a winter's evening. It was all lit up and welcoming and she said, 'Why don't we stop in here for a drink?' which sounded so urbane, and wasn't something we'd typically do, so I said, 'Sure! Yes, sure.'"
They went inside and "I had that dreamlike moment where we saw some people we know sitting at a table: 'Oh, hi, look, it's - - and it's ... and ... and...," because, of course, I was slowly realizing I knew practically everybody in the Chatterbox and Mike's House was all set up onstage and ready to play, and there was my accordion and guitar all set up."
When Hopper turned 40, they decided to play the Chatterbox again. Afterward, they chatted with owner David Andrichik.
Hopper said, "Gosh, that was fun! We should do it again." And Andrichik chuckled "and said with humorously fake enthusiasm, 'Yeah! Maybe in another 10 years!'"
So here it is, another 10 years later.
These days, Hopper is a principal at Young & Laramore and on the side writes a phenomenally entertaining blog for McSweeney's called Dispatches from a Guy Trying Unsuccessfully to Sell a Song in Nashville.
Sheets, who retired from music in 2010 after stints with the Phantom Lures and Punkin Holler Boys, sells musical instruments for a company called Black Mountain Musical Enterprises.
The remainder of the original Mike's House was filled by a revolving cast of musicians. Brett Cantrell and Scott Westervelt of the band Phyllis will fill those roles for these shows.
Over lunch last month, Hopper said he's happy for this brief reunion for two reasons. One is simple nostalgia. It'll be nice to get back onstage, he said, to play and cook mac and cheese for the audience - - something Mike's House used to do during shows and will do again at at least one of the upcoming gigs.
"The other thing is, I think they're really good songs," he said. "I think John wrote songs that should have made him money and made him famous. They capture these elusive feelings cleverly and kind of humorously. They're pretty profound in a very catchy way. I was always trying to catch up to that. I think my songs were a little rambling and a little less concise."
This time out, they're even talking about recording a few new songs. So in the coming months, you may see the headline "Unsuccessful Rock Band Puts New Songs on the Internet." If you do, you'll know which band we mean.