Everyone has that band he or she listened to when they were adolescents.
For Mike McAllester, that band was The Smiths.
“I grew up in a small town in North Texas,” McAllester said. “I was just a weird kid in a conservative, tiny town. I didn’t fit in, and this music was the first thing I identified with.”
McAllester is not alone. There’s a reason The Smiths’ “The Queen is Dead” is considered one of the all-time great albums. And the idea to play the music of The Smiths was something McAllester constantly had in his head.
While working at Red Star, McAllester would discuss the idea with Philip Mann. But it wasn’t until last year when McAllester had some free time that he actually started putting the project together.
Mann agreed to be the singer, and McAllester went to work on finding a few guitarists. He put an ad out on Craigslist and found local legend Lee Barbier and an Englishman, Linus Williams, who had moved to Baton Rouge from England after Hurricane Katrina.
Barbier, a guitarist who has played in numerous bands throughout the area, was curious about Craigslist ad.
“The first thing I wrote was, ‘There is no way I don’t know you,’ ” Barbier said, laughing.
A friend of Barbier’s for some time now, McAllester then Facebook messaged Barbier to tell him more about the project.
“I was like, ‘Lee, that’s my band,’ ” McAllester said. “It was the 30th anniversary of ‘The Queen is Dead.’ The initial idea was to get together and do a few shows where we would play that album a few times, then we would quit and do something else.”
When rehearsing, they realized they wanted to play other songs, too, not just tracks from “The Queen is Dead.”
“We realized we liked some songs more than others, and we thought, ‘The hell with it, let’s throw in the other ones we want to play, too,’ ” McAllester said.
The Gentlemen Commoners were born.
With the group intact, they all agreed they were self-conscious about being in a cover band.
“We’re not a tribute band,” Mann said. “We’re playing the music of The Smiths.”
By March, the band was playing The Spanish Moon in Baton Rouge, where they’ll perform again on Friday. In early April, the band had packed Gasa Gasa in New Orleans. Both shows had a response that surprised Williams.
“I just didn’t think anyone here would care or listen to it,” Williams said. “I didn’t believe it.”
After the New Orleans gig, Mann said he remembers the bar owner asking when they would want to come back.
“I was watching a video performance someone had captured, and the audience was singing louder than us,” Mann said. “It was amazing. It’s more interesting the more we do. There’s this tacit understanding that The Smiths were just phenomenal.”
Anyone who knows indie rock has probably heard The Smiths — the whirling guitars, Morrissey’s moan. The band was together for only a brief period in the 1980s and maybe played 25 shows in the United States. But the group remains one of the most influential English bands.
These guys, and the audiences coming to their shows, are eating up anything related to The Smiths. Why?
“I think a lot of people still genuinely care about The Smiths,” Williams said. “The things they were singing about and talking about are still quite relevant today.”