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Nerd-rock nirvana

The totally awesome Spazmatics

The Spazmatics, Seattle Chapter’s David Jensen as “Rusty.” Photo credit: Facebook

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By the late 1970s, thanks to American Graffiti, Grease, Happy Days and the televised doo-wop of Sha Na Na, nostalgia for the 1950s had bloomed in pop culture. As any Beatlemaniac, Deadhead or Trekker can tell you, idolatry for the '60s and ‘70s never waned. If anything, then, 1980s revivalism has been late in developing. It's arrived in full force, though, as witness The Goldbergs, Ready Player One and Stranger Things. Even the movie version of It, a novel published in 1986 but nostalgic in its own right, slid its pubescent protagonists into the '80s.

What better time, then, to catch up with The Spazmatics, a party band dedicated to the nerd rock of the Reaganomic era? Its synth-driven repertoire includes such enduring radio fixtures as "Blinded Me With Science," "Don't You Want Me," "Pop Music" and "Whip It." Yes, The Spazmatics are an '80s cover band, but that's like calling MTV a cable channel: It doesn't convey the full emotional impact. Each of the four Spazmatics is a costumed character, including lead singer "Rusty A. Woosmeir," aka "The Raw." Put charitably, these personae are freaks and geeks who'd sooner seek Dungeon Masters than slow-dancing partners. That's all part of the show, and the musicians who play The Spazmatics can just as easily morph into the disco-infernal Afrodisiacs or adult-prom band Mr. Pink. They played Jazzbones last Friday and hit The Swiss like a souped-up De Lorean this Saturday night.

Spazmatics cast members were recruited by Perfect World Entertainment, which owns chapters in a dozen cities across the U.S. David Jensen plays "Rusty," lead vocalist for the Seattle cast. He signed on three decades ago as one of the Afrodisiacs. He's since absorbed the lyrics to almost 200 songs from across the last half-century. "Being able to make a living as a musician, that's fun," he said in a recent phone interview. "I'm constantly learning and moving. I started as a drummer, so I had formal training that way and formal training as a singer. I'm now honing my skills on the guitar. That's what keeps it interesting and fun. I keep growing." He's fond of the goofier, geekier aspects of '80s pop-rock. "It's a neat thing. You don't take yourself so serious, but you still have to have the skills."

Among other challenges, Jansen must sing a full jukebox worth of female-driven hits from the likes of Toni Basil, The Go-Go's and Madonna. He says the audience for all three of Perfect World Entertainment's cover acts is multi-generational. "The younger crowd learned that stuff from their parents, right? So they come out and have fun with it. I think that's the magic of Perfect World, of any of their shows. We just have fun with it."

See? You knew there was a reason you held on to that gnarly Members Only jacket. Righteous!

THE SPAZMATICS, 9 p.m., Saturday, May 12, The Swiss Restaurant & Pub, 1904 Jefferson Ave., Tacoma, $10, 253.572.2821

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