The Adults Are Alright

With a messy start and a star-making buzz, the Plastic Constellations have emerged as local rock's fountain of youth

A friend half-seriously counseled me to start lying about my age. "You could pass for 25," he assured me. "Give it a shot." Like I need one more depressing proposition to mull over as I teeter on the cusp of 30. "Nothing," I told him, "could possibly make me feel any older."

That's not entirely true. Visiting the Foxfire Coffee Lounge, for instance, makes me feel much older. As all good clubgoers know, there's really no such thing as an "all-ages" rock show. Eschew a liquor license and only the most determined adults and white-knuckled 12-steppers will scout the local talent. The Foxfire has attempted to sidestep this problem, in part, by allowing readmission, thus enabling legal imbibers (and resourceful minors) to slip out into downtown Minneapolis and fortify themselves with something stronger than a latte between sets. None of which seems to have pushed the median age of Foxfire habitués into the 20s.

Still, my presence in the brick-walled, high-ceilinged café doesn't feel obtrusive. There's an invisibility that comes with adulthood at the Foxfire. When these kids see you, they see right through you, just as Jane Wiedlin once sang before any of them were born. One night it occurs to me, while I glance around the crowded café unnoticed, that age has nothing to do with facial lines. It's a trick of the eyes: whether they look expectant, like they're still waiting for something to happen, or reminiscent, like they're recalling something that's already happened.

One word: Plastics. Teen rockers the Plastic Constellations (left to right) Jeff Allen, Aaron Mader, and Jordan Roske (and drummer Matt Scharenbroich, back)
Daniel Corrigan
One word: Plastics. Teen rockers the Plastic Constellations (left to right) Jeff Allen, Aaron Mader, and Jordan Roske (and drummer Matt Scharenbroich, back)

As I'm thinking this, Aaron Mader and Matt Scharenbroich of the Plastic Constellations pass by, recognize me, and interrupt my reverie with a "Hi." I'm relieved. Since last fall, the Constellations have provided the teenage rock scene its only real buzz story, making the boys potential Trashmen among their increasingly numerous underground peers. Now I feel like the cool young history teacher who shows up at pep rallies instead of the weird guy who is always parked across from the school.

A few minutes later I run into Constellations bassist Jordan Roske and tell him how I've been pondering maturity. He asks my age and I don't lie. "You're not too old," he assures me in a tone that leaves me underassured.

I first met with these flannel-flying, ramshackle Hopkins residents for breakfast a few weeks earlier at the Uptown Perkins. Guitarist Aaron Mader turned 17 years old that day, and he wanted the complimentary birthday muffin that only Perkins is good enough to provide. But I'd been hearing about the Constellations since last fall, from all quarters. They "sounded like Pavement," I was told, a rough verbal reduction of the Constellations' herky-jerky guitar mistunings, and a kind of scenester shorthand for any sort of indie rock that isn't pedal-to-the-floor punk or gently sculpted pop. In any case, the Constellations were already much beloved by just about anyone who'd seen them.

In interviews, the burden of playing band historian usually falls on co-guitarist Jeff Allen. "When we were in junior high," he says of himself and Mader, "we were really dumb kids and we had no friends, so we decided to play really bad pop songs together."

"Really, really bad pop songs," Mader corrects him, his mouth still full of muffin.

"Then, for some reason or another, we decided to stick with it. Then these other guys showed up," he motions over at Roske and Scharenbroich, "and then we became a really bad band."

After annoying friends at some local parties, the Constellations chose an opening berth for the tranquil pop band Low at the 7th Street Entry to make their Minneapolis debut last summer. By their own admission, they flubbed it valiantly. While patrons downed drinks at their tables, the Constellations banged their collective head on punk rock with unintelligible joy and headed back to Hopkins with few converts to their cause.

"Then the Foxfire opened up," says Mader. The four of them hung out at the new venue religiously, and Mader even wrote a letter of appreciation to Foxfire booker Tom Rosenthal. "In the fall, I brought Tom our seven-inch and asked if we could set up a record-label showcase." The putative label, Pretentious Records, featured the since disbanded band Intentional Mishap and current Constellations alter egos the Killer Bees. ("We dress up in bee suits and play punk rock," Allen explains. "Then we just start yelling at the audience. They usually hate us.")

None of the Constellations are clear about when their ineptitude subsided, but it must have been sometime before last fall, when they recorded their debut EP, We Got the Movement with the Selby Tigers' Dave Gardner producing. Though hardly axis-shifting, the EP is a composite of indie rock circa 1999 in the best sense of that phrase: The band's anthemic surge recalls Lifter Puller; their interlocking guitars suggest the Archers of Loaf; and their spirited yowls smack of emocore with only the good emos.

Unsurprisingly, they've caught flack from more stringently hardcore substrata of the Foxfire scene. "We opened up for the Dillinger Four," Scharenbroich recalls. "These dudes from Holy Angels High School were yelling, You suck! We were hoping they could take themselves a little less seriously."

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