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Rocktopus: The Eight-Arm Rock ’N’ Roll Machine

Mar. 4, 2009
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Kyle Denton tells me he is the manager and spokesman for Rocktopus, Milwaukee's eight-armed, aquatic rock 'n' roll machine. One can safely assume, though, that Denton and the mollusk are one and the same.

Take the story of Rocktopus' first show. The band Elephant Walk, which features Denton, had to cancel a show, so Rocktopus quickly put together six songs in about a week and showed up as a replacement act.

As a solo act, Rocktopus appeared to be a guy in a Hawaiian shirt with a plush octopus tied to his face.

"It was a one-man octopus band," Denton says, explaining Rocktopus' setup. "He played guitar, harmonica, and made a bass instrument made out of a suitcase, with a tambourine set up inside of it. He had a flipper to smack against the floor to make a clapping type of sound, too. So it expressed how the Rocktopus could play many things with all of his eight arms."

After a few solo shows, a backup band began to appear. The underwater menagerie is called The Scallywags and includes Egon Angler, an anglerfish keyboard player, Bass Bass, who makes use of the homograph as a low-tone, a cappella, backup-singer fish, and the god of the sea himself, Neptune, on drums. Choppy Waters will join the band in upcoming gigs as a second drummer.

The band had a chance to jump on a tour with local band Head On Electric after fellow local band The Goibbledoimbs broke up and dropped out. Denton says that taking the act on the road was a fun time, as Rocktopus and The Scallywags performed their act for a new and sometimes confused audience every night.

"At first no one really knows what to expect, and then they see all this seaweed and bubbles and an octopus singing. You can't help but laugh," Denton says of the typical audience reaction. "That's kind of the point, but I think people are pleasantly surprised with the songs. A lot of times I'll look around and there are a lot of people smiling, which is the point of it all."

As a bubble-machine blasts, the group doo-wops through a set list of aquatic-themed tunes played in 1950s-style rock 'n' soul. Songs like "You Caught Me (At the Right Time)," "The One That Got Away" and "Let's Go for a Dip" all sound like songs Buddy Holly or The Shangri-Las might perform if they were dressed like undersea animals.

"I think the entire group understands that the music is from that same genre of easy rock 'n' roll that is catchy, pun intended, and fun," Denton says.

Appropriate covers, like "Under the Boardwalk" by The Drifters, are also thrown into the set list.

The future holds a 7-inch record as well as a tour later in the summer. Also in the works is a possible concept album based on the names of boats spotted in marinas of the Great Lakes.

Rocktopus and The Scallywags perform March 7 at Mad Planet with NoBunny, The Yolks and Midwest Beat, and April 14 at Frank's Power Plant with Box Elders and Quon Poppers.


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