If you've never heard of Chalk Dinosaur, you're not alone. Despite the fact that it's had a steady string of gigs since its formation about nine months ago, the band isn't much for showing off. Crowded around a tiny coffee shop table, Chalk Dinosaur's three steady members seem at a loss for what to say about themselves. "We're bad promoters," bassist Matt Bradford admits.
And as band formation stories go, Chalk Dinosaur's is pretty basic. Singer and guitarist John O'Hallaron wanted to put the songs he'd been writing to use and enlisted Bradford, with whom he'd shared gym class at North Allegheny High School. Conveniently, musical ability runs in both their families: Bradford's brother, Rich, joined on drums, and O'Hallaron's brother, Joe, helped out as a second guitarist. The members' paths have diverged slightly since they started: Matt, John and Rich attend different local colleges, and Joe took a job in Washington, D.C.
That said, there is something special about seeing such a completely unassuming band break out a set of awesome pop songs. Drawing inspiration from some of the usual suspects -- The Beatles, Beach Boys (Matt says he listens to Pet Sounds "almost every day"), Weezer and Modest Mouse -- Chalk Dinosaur strikes a balance between whimsy and collegiate world-weariness.
"Crazy Folks," an ode to late nights in 24-hour diners, sounds like Built to Spill with Pixies-esque pacing, and the sing-along "Set in Stone" wouldn't be out of place on a Dr. Dog record. The best song may be the loopy, infectious "Warm Me Up," which could easily be a lost Death Cab for Cutie B-side. O'Hallaron's vocals bear a strong resemblance to Death Cab front man Ben Gibbard, although O'Hallaron manages to avoid Gibbard's condescending whine.
Lyrically, O'Hallaron negotiates the line between childhood and adulthood, and deals (with notable self-awareness) with the ennui that is sometimes found in between. "This guilty discontent stains the so-called prime of years," he sings in "A Cowardly Escape." "Will I slide into old age confirming all of my worst fears?"
On a more basic level, the band's main frustration right now is finding a steady guitarist to replace Joe, who still plays the occasional weekend show. The band has recruited friends to fill in for various shows, and occasionally plays as a three-piece. Guitarists are a dime a dozen, but Rich says, "It's hard to find people who will play the parts without overplaying them."
Chalk Dinosaur with Jason Deutsch 8 p.m. Fri., March 6. Your Inner Vagabond Coffeehouse & World Lounge, 4130 Butler St., Lawrenceville. Free. 412-683-1623 or www.yourinnervagabond.com