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Return to the glory days of the Missoula music scene with local heroes VTO

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Think what it must be like to be in a band where you’ve been around for 10 or 15 years, but every time you take the stage, all anybody wants to hear is the old stuff. A band like Survivor, say—possibly flirting with the new alt sounds 15 years after “Eye of the Tiger,” but grudgingly aware of what’s still buttering their bread.

“Yeah,” says VTO’s Charlie Beaton, “that’s probably what’s going to happen to us on Friday. People are going to be yelling for all our old songs and we’re going to be screwed.”

Old songs like “How to Get to My House from East Missoula,” a breezy slab of country that tells, step by step, how to get from East Missoula to former drummer Yale Kaul’s old digs on Sunflower Drive. Or “Stairway to Frenchtown,” another VTO classic of yore, which sports this nearly famous quatrain: “We rode our ten-speeds to Frenchtown Pond/Hugged and kissed until dawn/You said you had a hysterectomy/I thought that was a kind of camera.”

VTO has been around in one incarnation or another since 1992, and they are indeed playing on Friday, with a passel of new songs, after what Beaton confirms has been a hiatus of at least a year and a half. But it’s been a lot longer than that since VTO played out on anything like a regular basis.

“It’s all the usual B.S.,” says singer/guitarist Beaton. “We didn’t have a drummer, the guys were caught up in their other bands, half of the band moved away. It’s just been a matter of finding the right people to play with and getting them to stick around.”

Beaton confirms that, with the exception of the Oblio Joes, VTO is the longest-lived Missoula band from the first wave of the Jay’s Upstairs/Connie’s Lounge scene—all the way back in 1992-93, if you can imagine such a thing.

In that time, a lot of people have passed through the VTO ranks. In addition to the aforementioned Yale Kaul, there’s also been drummer Daniel Zoss, guitarist Jesse Richter Jeremy and his bassist brother Jeremy Richter, singer Mary Jo Reynolds, bassist Jeremy Nelson, guitarist Gibson Hartwell—even Tim Bierman, former part owner of Rockin Rudy’s and currently head of the Pearl Jam Fan Club in Seattle. A few of these names might not register with you little shavers, but for us old hands the list reads like a who’s who of the Missoula scene circa 1993.

The initials VTO, of course, implicitly stand for Vi Thompson Overdrive, although the band hasn’t gone by that name for several years—ever since TV personality and Frost Fever matriarch Vi Thomson’s lawyers ordered the band, their added “p” notwithstanding, to cease and desist and recall all circulating copies of their 1994 cassette release, Hamburger Time.

But for all the ups and downs, Beaton is as keen on VTO as he was eight (gulp!) years ago.

“I move at a notoriously slow pace,” he admits, “but I’ve felt really out of the loop and I’m really anxious to be doing it again.”

Same here, Charlie.

VTO plays Jay’s Upstairs this Friday, Jan. 28 at 10 p.m. Cover TBA.

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