The garage-punk band M.O.T.O., the sole essential member of which is songwriter Paul Caporino, has been based out of a few locales in its 30 years -- Chicago, Providence, New Orleans -- but never Pittsburgh. But when M.O.T.O. toured Japan earlier this year in the wake of the earthquake disaster, Caporino took a Pittsburgh-based backing band consisting of Dan McNellie and Kevin Parent (Test Patterns) and Sam Matthews (Brass Chariot).
Caporino has been a notable fringe figure in underground music since the early '80s; M.O.T.O. (it stands for Masters of the Obvious) began as a band, then began changing lineups so frequently that it simply became synonymous with Caporino himself. He writes a brand of pop-informed punk with ragged edges that's never really gone out of style -- but then again, it's never really been in style, per se. Early on, much of the band's recorded output came in the form of self-released cassette tapes; more recently, M.O.T.O. has found a home with Criminal I.Q., the Chicago garage-punk label.
Caporino and McNellie -- a longtime fixture on the local garage-punk scene who recently relocated to Queens -- first met when they encountered one another on tours in the early '00s. In 2009, they embarked on their first tour together when McNellie, whose band Test Patterns was based partly out of Japan, offered to bring Caporino to the island. Caporino brought an ad hoc band that included members of Black Tie Revue and The Mt. McKinleys.
Matthews joined the M.O.T.O. touring band for the Japan trip after hearing about an opening through a local online message board. He'd met Caporino through McNellie last year when M.O.T.O. played Pittsburgh, and they had hit it off both musically and personally.
"He writes great pop songs," Matthews says. "I see tons of bands in a given week, and I don't often know the material by heart, and that was the case with M.O.T.O. when I saw them last year. But you find yourself singing along with his songs, even if you don't already know them."
This spring's Japan trip -- in support of a hits compilation that a Japanese label released -- came only weeks after the earthquake and tsunami in Sendai. Many bands planning Japan tours around that time cancelled them; not M.O.T.O.
"We were thanked constantly for coming," Matthews says. "A lot of bands weren't playing Japan at that time; it was kind of like after 9/11 when a lot of bands weren't touring here. But in good times or bad, you need to have fun, and you need to rock."
When M.O.T.O. returns to Gooski's this Friday, Caporino will be backed by part of what he called "the Pittsburgh M.O.T.O.": McNellie (in town for the weekend) and Matthews. With drummer Parent on the sidelines due to an illness, McNellie is bringing Akihiko Naruse, a drummer for the New York-based Japanese power-pop band Peelander-Z, to fill in, adding yet another wrinkle to the M.O.T.O. story.
M.O.T.O. with GG KING, GOTOBEDS, ZEITGEIST. 10 p.m. Fri., July 8. Gooski's, 3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill. $6. 412-681-1658