"It was pretty bad towards the end," Roeser said over a crackling cell-phone line as the band raced to another reunion show. "The relationship with me and Nash is tenuous enough, [so] we wanted to make sure that everything would gel and it was worth doing. We weren't making some big announcement, like, 'We're back!'"
The reunion that was initially intended to be just a one-off New Year's Eve show in the band's Chicago hometown quickly grew into a full-scale tour--with a chance for a new album in the future. Things seem to be on the upswing for the band. But sources close to the band contend that the seemingly miraculous goodwill between the pair, who publicly avowed their hatred for one another after the band split, is more about cash than a passion to play, that tensions remain high and the band seems anything but back to its fun-loving early days.
So, what does Kato claim brought him back into the fold after a brief solo career faltered? "It felt right to do so," the lanky singer succinctly says. "We were getting too domesticated for our own good. The offers kept coming in. So we're back by popular demand."
That demand, however, seems to exclude drummer Blackie Onassis (a.k.a. John Rowan, who played on the band's best recordings), as well as the swinging gold medallions and matching suits that became UO's signature. (The two songwriters reportedly still look dapper, but in a more understated manner.)
After several years cultivating its Cheap Trick power-pop riffs and subversive playboy shtick in the underground, the trio's major-breakthrough came with its cover of Neil Diamond's ballad, "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Riding high on that success and the critical praise for its 1993 major label debut, Saturation, the band's eagerly-anticipated 1995 follow-up, Exit the Dragon, instead quickly entered the cut-out bin.
Later that year, its headlining tour sputtered to a halt, Onassis was arrested for heroin possession and Roeser left the band. "I didn't think at that point we could make any more great music," he says. "Everyone was rejecting each other's ideas, and eventually we were even recording our parts in different rooms." Roeser quickly formed a succession of short-lived bands, Electric Airlines and the Kimball-Roeser Effect. Kato and Onassis replaced Roeser and continued on as Urge Overkill, leaving DGC for Sony's 550 Music. Reportedly, Kato's and Onassis' drug addictions repeatedly delayed a new album. By the time the band had a record in the can in 1997, its momentum had died and Sony canned Urge Overkill. Kato rehabbed and rebounded in Y2K with his very Urge-sounding solo debut, Debutante, but it failed to catapult the lone songwriter to the arena-rock stardom his former band had playfully mimicked.
Despite the band's dramatic and conniving history and the suspect nature of its comeback, Urge Overkill's reunion shows have been surprisingly good, according to the press. The Chicago Tribune championed the band's sold-out Valentine's-weekend shows for the singers' bringing a "weary cynicism" to the band's mythical arena rock and making the most of their second chance. Others report that the band sounds better and more consistent now than it did in its heyday.
"We were never the easiest band to understand," Roeser says. "But, if you were with us from the beginning, then you were in on the joke." Oddly enough, it seems that 10 years later many more people "get it"--perhaps thanks to Quentin Tarantino's ironic schlock--than mainstream audiences did in the early '90s. Although plenty of harsh words were traded between Roeser and Kato over the years, the pair seem pleased to be moving forward, albeit cautiously, again.
"We definitely want to keep pursuing some new songs," Roeser says. "We said we wouldn't do it if it didn't sound fresh. If we're still together a year from now, we'll likely get into the studio and record."
Urge Overkill plays with Bloom and The Last Vegas Friday, April 30, at Berbati's Pan, 231 SW Ankeny St., 248-4579. 9:30 pm. $15 advance, $18 day of show. 21+.