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WOLF-FACE: NO. 1 WITH A SILVER BULLET

You have to look past the wolf masks.

Granted, that's easier said than done. Every member of Wolf-Face performs in werewolf masks and lemon-yellow nut-huggers, a la Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf. They each have silly lupine stage names - Michael J. Wolf, Rain Wolf, the Good Wolf and, um, Wolf Fart - that are hard to say with a straight face.

But despite a seemingly one-note gimmick, Wolf-Face have in the past year become one of Tampa Bay's most unusual, intriguing and all-out fun bands, delivering silly but sharp old-school punk in an anything-goes live show that must be seen to be believed.

"Everything we do is very tongue in cheek, but that doesn't mean we don't take it seriously," said founder, singer and guitarist Michael J. "We don't take ourselves seriously, obviously. But it's music that I would like to listen to, and it's music that I like and get excited about, just like any other music. It can be fun and still be as good as serious, serious music."

Adding cred to their stature is the fact that over the years, Wolf-Face's members have played in popular local groups like Tres Bien, Guiltmaker and The Same. Michael J. and the Good Wolf used to be in a hardcore band called Next Season, which exclusively played songs about Star Wars. But Michael J. hadn't been in a band since 2002, "and I hadn't ever planned in being in a band again," he said.

But years ago, he and a friend drunkenly joked about starting a band based on Teen Wolf. Last year, Michael J. made a few bedroom demos, and a friend offered him a gig. He recruited the Good Wolf and some musician friends to play live after hearing the demos. "Ten seconds into the first song, I was like, 'Cool, when's practice?'" said Rain Wolf.

"All my other bands I've been in have always been so gung-ho and so serious: 'We're gonna do this, we're gonna do that,' he continued. "A lot of times, that sucks all the fun out of it. This is just, 'Oh, we're just gonna hang out, eat pizza and sing songs about Teen Wolf.'"

And, yes, that's all Wolf-Face does.

"Most bands I like have stupid lyrics anyway," said Michael J. "I love the Misfits. Their lyrics are stupid. They're about horror movies and stupid stuff. But they're so awesome, still, and fun."

The band played its first show last May, and ever since, more and more gigs have rolled in. They played the Antiwarpt Music Festival last summer and opened for national bands Guttermouth and Gringo Star, both of whom dug their act.

But their most shocking booking came in December, when Wolf-Face won a band battle - by only four votes, Michael J. says - for a prestigious slot opening 97X Next Big Thing in Vinoy Park, where Michael J. stripped to his dyed yellow skivvies for the band's final song. While the band is grateful for the exposure (rimshot!), they've heard whispers that some of those involved in the contest weren't thrilled that a "joke band," as Rain Wolf put it, came away victorious.

"The other bands that were in that competition were trying very hard," the Good Wolf said.

"And there were some that fit very well, that could easily be a regularly played 97X band," added Michael J. "It was pretty clear they weren't that happy with us."

But those haters are in the minority. For the most part, the local music scene has been incredibly receptive to Wolf-Face. The band is organizing a small festival of punk and alternative bands called Burgatory on May 24 at the Local 662 and Fubar. They're also in the process of recording a debut full-length album, which will be released by Chicago's Mooster Records. And they've just been booked to play at the Fest, a massive fall punk festival in Gainesville.

After that? Who knows. None of them had any idea Wolf-Face would last this long in the first place. But they all agree the masks aren't coming off anytime soon.

"I have heard somebody tell me, 'You guys are so good; why not get rid of the gimmick and just be a regular punk band?' " said Rain Wolf. "No, that's not gonna happen."

The only thing Michael J. is sure of: Wolf-Face never evolve into a Teen Wolf Too band.

"Have you seenTeen Wolf Too?" he asked.

Added Rain Wolf: "We have convictions."

- cridlin@tampabay.com

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Wolf-Face

Members: Michael J. Wolf, guitars and vocals; Rain Wolf, guitar and vocals; The Good Wolf, bass; Wolf Fart, drums

Recommended if you like: The Misfits, Gainesville punk bands

Website: facebook.com/pubesonmyface

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