I met him a time or two but I didn’t know Eric Mattice. I didn’t know Norm Mattice, his cousin. I spent some time briefly with Elliott Mattice one night after hours, drinking PBR and talking about rock ‘n’ roll in his apartment, which I think was up near SU. I am positive he wouldn’t remember. I was not a memorable kid. I was just the dorky geek in the corner watching in amazement as Elliott held forth for me, my friend Ed, and three girls, who sat in rapt attention, hanging on Elliott’s every word.
These guys had a profound effect on me and my life, an effect that continues to this day and I never told them.
I wish I had, maybe hearing that what they did, the hard work they put in, meant something to someone they don’t even know.
Everything I do locally in pursuit of local music and local art, started because I saw a four piece punk/power pop foursome with a love of the Merseyside sound, on a snowy night in a basement bar called Squires East.
That band was Dress Code, Elliott, Norm, Eric, and Steve Martell. Don’t look, you won’t find them on Spotify or any of the streamers. Their sole release a four song EP called Alone In The Crowd was one of my prized records and anyone else who had that now rare 7 inch would tell you the same.
Dress Code played tons of memorable shows in Syracuse and parts nearby. One of those shows was the first time I ever saw a local band in a small club. I’ve been hooked ever since. It was the day I realized that seeing local music played in a smaller venue was everything I wanted in rock ‘n’ roll. It was the first time I was close to rock n roll, so close I could touch it, so close I could feel the concussion from the PA and in rooms so small and so packed that the walls would actually sweat, even on the coldest winter night. I was positively euphoric and I needed more. Dress Code was my gateway to a lifetime of looking for that feeling that only a music obsessive can feel.
I must have seen Dress Code a dozen or more times after that before they called it a day.
Like anyone else, I do like to see shows in the big theaters, the occasional hockey barn, the odd festival. But to this day, you can find me, from time to time, and not as often as I would like, in small venues. Where you can feel the pulse of the music, where the energy and emotion is a physical presence that fills the room. Small rooms where the vibe from the gathered crowd feeds the performer, coaxing them to levels where the players feel like they are actually floating on the air above the stage.
I was an awkward, weird kid. I’m an awkward, weird adult if I’m being honest, I never felt like I fit in anywhere. I still feel that way but the funny thing about getting older is at some point you stop worrying about fitting in and just try to stay authentic to self. But when you’re 17, fitting in is everything.
To quote Paul Simon “I was underage in this funky bar” drinking 50 cent Labatt as the Syracuse snow poured down and Dress Code was on stage. I don’t think it was much of a stage, it may have been a corner near the stairs that led down into the bar from the outside. The band was wearing jackets and scarves, they looked like the Bay City Rollers and sounded like the Sex Pistols meet the Beatles. They did a mix of great originals and mixed in some well chosen covers. I’m pretty sure they did “Hippy Hippy Shake” twice.
Dress Code had the sound, the look, the attitude and even on their worst days, they tore the house apart.
The Replacements before The Replacements, If you were there in those days you know.
Looking around at the others enjoying the show, dancing, laughing, sharing stories, I remember thinking “this is where I fit in” This is what moves me and these people “get it”, they “get” me. This was my tribe. I was home.
Dress Code were rock stars as far as I’m concerned. I know that life didn’t treat them like rock stars. I know that they have had some tough times, some real challenges with life. Those stories are not mine to tell. I can tell you that life can be cruel especially to those of us that seem to feel things more deeply than most seem to do. I know that they were never able to take the stage triumphantly at the various reunion events for the really great Syracuse music scene of the 80’s, another of life’s cruelties. But they were always represented. Every single one of those shows kicked off with “Never Let Me Go” covered expertly by Maura & the Bright Lights, an all star band featuring two members of the Flashcubes, Syracuse’s most spot on drummer, and Maura & Pete Kennedy who travel the world spreading their truly wonderful music. It was Maura, who back in the day was “the kid on the dance floor” just like I was, who put that all-star band together to play the songs of bands who were unable to reform. “Never Let Me Go” is a banger, It never fails to get the room moving, the perfect opener.
After Norm passed away a few years ago the entire event was dedicated to his memory and featured a reunion of one of his post Dress Code bands The Richards.
And now, Eric is gone. Half the band gone way too young.
I always felt that Dress Code never got the recognition they deserved but they meant the world to me. because they got into my blood stream, and I have been chasing that sonic high ever since.
I would never have gotten to see The Trend, The Flashcubes, My Sin, The UnSound, The Tearjerkers or dozens of others without having been brought to see Dress Code first. Until that night I had no idea.
These days I am a much older guy, but I still feel the same about going out to see locally produced, original, live music. The scene here in Syracuse is, right now, as good as it has been in decades. I “get out amongst the people” as often as work, family and energy allow. For me, my preference is to see local music, see it in small clubs and to encourage others to do the same. Sometimes you get to see something not many people see. Sometimes it’s like a comet across the sky, a “bright light” that careens across the universe. You feel lucky just to get a look at it, because you know it’s something rare and wonderful, and it might not last forever.
Dress Code was something rare and wonderful.
They were rock stars.
They still are.
Thank you boys. You have done more for me than you could ever have known.
RIP Eric & Norm, your time here mattered, I only wish I had told you sooner how grateful I am.
Prolific I am not.But you could sign up to get an e-mail when I let it fly?No spam, no sale…I’m not selling anything.It’s just between you and I.