The 3-Pack debuts on Saturday
Driving around New London, it isn't hard to find those whale-shaped plaques affixed to the façades of certain buildings to denote antiquity and historical significance.
Some day, certainly, one will hang from the door of the second-floor rehearsal room on State Street where, for 15 years, the four members of The Reducers gathered every Friday night - when they weren't gigging - to rehearse and celebrate their unique bond as friends and musicians.
In June of 2012, though, bassist/vocalist Steve Kaika died after a struggle with cancer - and at the precise moment of his passing, by instinctual consensus of survivors Hugh Birdsall, Tom Trombley and Peter Detmold, The Reducers ceased to exist.
"It would never have worked to carry on as that band," Trombley says. "It was never even a possibility. You can't take away any of us and still have The Reducers."
At the same time, the bond between the three surviving musicians is as strong as ever - perhaps more so considering their loss. As such, it was a certainty they'd play together again, if only for the camaraderie and in the privacy of the rehearsal space.
Less certain was whether they'd perform in public but they've decided to push forward in a fresh way. After sorting through options and the emotional and physical logistics, Detmold, Birdsall and Trombley will debut on Saturday as a trio called The 3-Pack, performing new material, select covers of deep-cut but much-loved old rock - and no Reducers songs.
This first gig takes place in New London's Six String Cafe in an appropriate homage to what was once a cherished rite of Reducer-ness: the annual Thanksgiving weekend show. The 3-Pack's performance will be sandwiched between sets by old friends Heap, which gives the whole evening more of a nostalgic but celebratory vibe.
On a rainy November Sunday afternoon, The 3-Pack assemble in their rehearsal space to talk about their new project. The same Reducers concert posters - crossing decades and serving as almanac-style testimonials to several national tours - are on the rear wall. Trombley's drums are set up, as are the stacks of guitar amplifiers and P.A. speakers. And, yes, all of Kaika's rehearsal gear remains in place.
“It can be tough to walk in here," Trombley says. "Steve's amp is still here, his chair's still here, and they'll always be here. It's hard to look at but it's also great to look at. It's emotional in all the right ways - and it helps us continue, whether we're playing, talking or heckling each other. Just like always."
For purposes of The 3-Pack, Detmold, who played rhythm guitar in The Reducers, has shifted to bass. It's a move that makes perfect sense, musically and in terms of chemistry. Trombley and Birdsall - drummer and lead guitar, respectively - maintain their positions.
"A lot of people - really good bassists - stepped forward and respectfully offered to (take Kaika's place), but that wasn't going to happen," Birdsall says.
"It was generous and nice that they cared, but we didn't want to replace Steve and we don't want to replicate what we did as The Reducers," Detmold says. "To go forward, we have to leave The Reducers behind. It's a new chapter and a new band. And there's no one else I want to play with."
Non-musicians can perhaps be forgiven if they don't realize the distinction between rhythm guitar and bass, in terms of each instrument's role in a band. While both serve as time-keeping mechanisms, the specific parts, techniques and sounds can be quite disparate. It's a transition that has made Detmold a bit anxious at times.
"Steve was a master musician, a wonderful bass player with a very unique style," Detmold says. "I'm going to have to play much simpler." He nods at Trombley and Birdsall. "Fortunately, these guys have been very supportive and they're very confident in me."
Birdsall adds, "Plus, there's just the fact that a trio is very different than a four-piece. There are a lot of different dynamics. It's been a challenge and it's still a work in progress."
He grins. "Let's face it: at first, it sucked. But we're getting there."
Detmold and Trombley break into laughter and then describe a breakthrough moment when they attempted an arrangement of an old Nervous Eaters song called "Loretta." Suddenly, everything seemed to gel.
"We finished playing it and looked at each other and said, 'Okay this will work,'" Trombley says. "I think it was a relief - and I think we realized how much we needed this."
In keeping with the idea that The Reducers is over, the three realized they'd have to write new songs - and that they'd have to spin the sound to avoid overt comparison.
"We were playing all these obscure cover songs by Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly, and that's where we come from. That's the blueprint," Detmold says. "We keep saying to each other, hammering it home, let's keep it simple, catchy, fun rock 'n' roll."
Detmold and Birdsall will continue to trade lead vocals, and Trombley is now pitching in on backing vocals to provide three-part harmonies for choruses.
As for Saturday's inaugural show, The 3-Pack has just enough material for a short set. But there are more tunes in progress, and this gig will serve as a fine way to get back onstage and reacquainted with old friends and fans.
"We've missed playing, and we were always grateful for the appreciation and love we got from fans," Trombley says. "Now, if we start playing out a bit, that's motivation to write more and better songs. And who knows? Maybe we go back in the studio one of these days."
In the meanwhile, in that context, there is one bit of final Reducers business.
At the time Kaika got sick, the band had recorded basic tracks for several new songs. The bassist had finished his parts before he passed away and, over the last several months, working with their longtime producer, Richard Brukner, the other Reducers finished laying down and mixing the songs - and a final Reducers album is being readied for release. In addition to the new stuff they were recording, the disc will include several tracks from recording sessions over the course of their career.
The CD tentatively will be called "Last Tracks and Lost Songs," and Birdsall says they hope after the first of the year to have a better idea when it will come out.
"So there's a lot going on and we're in a good place," Detmold says. "The Reducers went on longer than most bands. When we started, we had our whole lives ahead of us. It was fantastic! But I always wondered how it would end. Well, now we know - and now we have this. That's a good thing. "
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