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Tangled future for the Vines

Special to The Times

IN retrospect, rock star was probably the worst possible career choice for Craig Nicholls, lead singer of the Australian power-pop rock group the Vines.

As the group toured the world and moved 1.5-million copies of its 2002 debut album, “Highly Evolved” -- Britain’s NME touted the Vines as the best thing since Nirvana and the band snagged the cover of Rolling Stone here -- Nicholls became prone to some erratic behavior. Trashing “The Late Show With David Letterman’s” set, for instance, and criticizing fans from the stage as “sheep” and smashing journalists’ tape recorders. When the band’s second album, “Winning Days,” was greeted with lackluster sales, most people chalked up Nicholls’ shtick to rocker overindulgence.

In 2004, however, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a neurobiological disorder related to autism that can manifest itself in idiosyncratic speech and behavior. (For that matter, so can rock stardom.)

While the prognosis explained a lot of things, it makes promoting the Vines’ third album, “Vision Valley” (due next month on Capitol), a tricky proposition. Telephone interviews are out for Nicholls and touring remains difficult -- if not downright impossible.

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“The thing we said to them a few months ago is, if they play live again, they pretty much have to be the best live band in the world,” the Vines’ manager Alex Kelly told UK newspaper the Observer this month. “I don’t mean that flippantly. If they performed disastrously, it’d be horrible -- for them, for everyone around them....But if they were to tour again, I worry that it’s just gonna go back to how it was.... It’s down to us and his family and the band to keep a lid on everything so he doesn’t just go back to the way he was before.”

For now, the group is “back” in a limited sense. While “Vision Valley” has already accumulated glowing reviews abroad, the Vines have no tour in the works.

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Less Than Jake’s mall meltdown

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LESS THAN JAKE frontman Chris Demakes’ recent arrest at a Southland shopping mall could have been an episode of “Candid Camera” gone horribly awry. But call it a rock cautionary tale for the post-"Spinal Tap” era.

“We were shooting a video guerrilla-style,” the ska-punk singer remembers. “We set up guitars and drums in the food court of the [Topanga Plaza] mall in 40 seconds and started lip-syncing. By the end of our song, the upper balcony was packed. There must have been 900 people.”

Plainclothes mall security rushed in. But before they could identify themselves, Demakes did a class-A freak-out.

“They looked like mall rats -- I didn’t know who they were,” he says. “I started jumping around, going crazy, doing [an imitation of pro wrestler] Ric Flair and screaming as loud as I could.”

Demakes was arrested and charged with misdemeanor disturbing the peace. He did a four-hour stint in a police station holding cell before the video’s crew posted his $500 bail.

Less Than Jake fans will be able to see his arrest and release when the video for “Overrated” begins airing next month.

For its part, the mall has no plans to press charges against him. “There’s no hard feelings as long as our customers are safe,” says Asher Schechter, retail manager for Topanga Plaza.

Moral of the story? “If you’re filming a video in a mall without a permit and a couple of guys run up to you, don’t do an imitation of a wrestler,” says Demakes. “It doesn’t pay.”

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Tupac’s Vegas resurrection

NEXT month, a wax likeness of rap icon Tupac Shakur will be unveiled at Madame Tussaud’s in Las Vegas -- the same city where he was gunned down almost a decade ago.

Based on hundreds of photographs and precise measurements provided by ‘Pac’s mother, the shirtless, bandana-clad “sculpture” took 700 hours and more than 330 pounds of clay to create. Moreover, each of the gangsta superstar’s tattoos -- including the words “Thug Life” snaking across his stomach in spindly font -- were redrawn and individually hand-painted.

All eyez on him indeed.

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‘Rock Star’ fires up a Supernova

CBS’ “Rock Star” relies on two X-factors to create exciting TV: a batch of aspiring rock gods and goddesses and a band on the comeback trail (see last year’s INXS) in dire need of a singer.

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For Season 2 this summer, the show’s producer, Mark Burnett (“Survivor”), created his own supergroup and called it Supernova. Its members: Metallica’s former bassist Jason Newsted; guitarist Gilby Clarke, ex of Guns N’ Roses; and Motley Crue drummer/sex-tape star Tommy Lee.


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