In the Beginning

Most of the bands playing the Suburbia 2 Christian-alternative rock festival can look to the headlining Supertones and imagine taking a similar elevator ride toward the penthouse of success.

The festival also will honor a band that helped lay the ground floor of O.C. Christian-alternative music, the Altar Boys. The punk-influenced band broke up at the end of 1992, after a 10-year run that produced five albums, plus two solo releases by front man Mike Stand.

Playing in a prime evening slot, the Altar Boys will reunite for the first--and possibly only--time.

The band’s sound was built around the punk drive of Husker Du and the Clash and the anthem-rock sweep of U2, the Alarm and Midnight Oil. It toured extensively and got a taste of big venues on festival bills in England and South America, along with an opening slot for Christian heavy-metal band Petra at Irvine Meadows.


But the do-it-yourself approach of the ‘80s and early ‘90s didn’t afford the opportunities that exist today in Christian pop, Stand said in a recent phone interview.

“They have a machinery in place now to book and push bands that we didn’t have,” said the 41-year-old singer-songwriter. “We did it on our own, practically. We didn’t have anybody financing our tours.”

There’s no resentment at bad timing, though, Stand stressed. “We were kind of pioneers. We had our time, and it was neat, and tons of people came and took our place. I’m glad to get to do it again.”

Stand said there have been signs of continued interest in the Altar Boys--mail from fans, appreciative comments from younger O.C. Christian alternative bands and the reissue earlier this year of two of the group’s mid-'80s albums, “Gut Level Music” and “Against the Grain,” on a single CD.



In November, a promoter proposed an Altar Boys reunion show in Yorba Linda, but Stand turned it down, wary of the hoopla--and pressure to draw a crowd--that would come with a headlining comeback concert. But the other ex-Altar Boys expressed interest, and a subsequent invitation to appear on a festival bill seemed like the right occasion for another bow.

Nowadays, Stand teaches music in Santa Ana elementary schools, while continuing to play a handful of shows each month as a solo act or with his post-Altar Boys band, Clash of Symbols. Drummer Jeff Crandall is musical director and worship leader for a church in Victorville. The third founding Altar Boy, bassist Ric Alba, is finishing a degree at Cal State Fullerton and couldn’t make the gig, Stand said. Mark Robertson, who replaced Alba in 1990, will fly in from Chicago, where he plays in a Christian band, This Train. Steve Pannier, now a landscaper in Irvine, will assume his customary role as lead guitarist.

Stand’s main musical ambition these days is to land a deal for “Full Circle,” a new solo album he’s finished. He sees the Altar Boys reunion as a nice bit of auld lange syne.

“I have no plans for anything else. If something came up and it made sense--maybe. But if this is it, that’s fine.”