If you go
What: Dada, in concert.
When: 8:30 p.m. Jan. 26.
Where: Dante’s, 350 W. Burnside St., Portland.
Cost: $18 for those 21 and older.
Information: 503-226-6630 or danteslive.com.
A couple decades ago, the acoustic duo of Michael Gurley and Joie Calio decided they wanted to rock.
"We started looking for drummers," Gurley said. "We probably went through seven or eight drummers in a six-month span. It was kind of Spinal Tap-ish. They didn't blow up, but they didn't last long. Then Phil (Leavitt) came along."
"Joie was working at Geffen Records and was introduced to him there," Gurley said. "We asked him to come and try it out. We stood up, plugged in, and he sat down. We started jamming in E. It just sounded powerful, and there was space. We pulled it back down, got soft and built it back up again. We went on for eight, nine minutes. Then it was, 'Whatever that was, it works.'"
Leavitt joined up with the duo, and a band was born.
That band is Dada, which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of its debut album "Puzzle" with a 34-show, 41-day tour.
The show the trio will bring will be have plenty of songs from "Puzzle," including the breakthrough single "Dizz Nee Land." But, unlike many artists these days, Dada won't be playing the disc in its entirety.
"We're going to play a lot from that," Gurley said. "We're going to also drag out other deep tracks, things we haven't played for 20 years. I think people are going to dig that."
A few songs are deep enough that they were rarely -- if ever -- performed by Dada back in the day.
"Take a song like 'Spinning My Wheels', which we hardly ever played -- at least I don't remember playing it much," Gurley said. "Phil said, 'Let's each pick a couple songs we've never done.' That one got picked. There's a lot of falsetto in it, and I didn't think we'd be able to do it, or that's what I thought in the past. The first time through, it sounded really good. It was, 'Why weren't we doing this all along?'"
Dada has toured steadily over the last 20 years and is now known as much for its live shows as for its recordings. Those concerts can be Springsteenian in length, a dramatic contrast with Dada shows 20 years ago.
"When 'Puzzle' came out, as a band, we had 12 songs and a cover," Gurley said. "Our set was 75 minutes, max. Now it's open-ended. We could go for an hour-and-a-half, two hours and just keep going. There's a lot of improvisation in it now. It's evolved some. We're not just a song band. … Over the years, we've become something of a jam band on stage. It's, for us, a lot more fun to jam a little bit."
Twenty years after the trio's debut, Dada is set apart from the vast majority of it early '90s contemporaries, most of whom have broken up or faded away. Gurley is quick to acknowledge that his band is a rarity, one of the few bands of its era still working.
"It's really a small number, it's like one of out of 50, I'd guess," Gurley said. "We're tight as friends. We really enjoy playing together. … We know that no matter what we do, this is probably the best thing we'll ever do."
That best thing wouldn't have happened without producer Ken Scott. One of the handful of engineers who worked with The Beatles, Scott had produced David Bowie, Supertramp and Devo when he introduced himself to Dada.
"He came up to us after a show and said, 'I'd like to record you guys,'" Gurley said. "'But you'll have to sign something that says, if this helps you get a record deal, I get to do the record.' For us it was, 'Hell yeah, Ken Scott.'"
The recordings the band did with Scott led to a deal with I.R.S. Records and "Puzzle," which became a hit right out of the box. Even so, Gurley said, Dada is lucky it came along when record companies were still record companies.
"I really like the fact that we came up at a time when there were A&R guys and record companies that would develop a band," Gurley said. "They would take a baby band, remember that term, and let you develop. I like the days when there was a record company behind you. It was cool."
Dada's last major label record, a self-titled album, was released on MCA in 1998, about the time Gurley said the labels started to crumble. Any future releases, and he promises there will be one, will likely be released independently.
For now, Gurley is happy to be out on the road, making music with his friends and continuing a ride that he has never believed would end.
"I never thought I wouldn't be doing it," he said. "I never thought I'd stop doing it because even when it was happening I knew this was the most important thing that ever happened to me and the biggest thing. I feel fortunate that we're all still in the world and still making music."