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Rockers Carney learn to roll at 'Spider-Man'

You might think he's absolutely crazy, but Reeve Carney would do it all again.
/ Source: The Associated Press

You might think he's absolutely crazy, but Reeve Carney would do it all again.

He'd happily slip into his harness and hang upside down night after night at "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." He'd endure the long hours of rehearsals, the eight-months of tinkering, the backstage turbulence and being the butt of late-night talk show jokes.

"It's like a great relationship — you're going to have dark times," says Carney. "Everything that I personally went through, I would do it again, even if I knew in advance what it was going to be like."

Carney, who plays the musical's title character and his alter ego, Peter Parker, has had a front-row seat to the prolonged and painful birth of Broadway's most expensive show. But one reason he's not bitter is that he's had some friends along with him.

The 28-year-old has what might be an alter-alter ego: He is also the lead singer of the rock band Carney; and, in an unusual arrangement, the other three members of the group are playing in the show's orchestra pit.

The members of Los Angeles-based Carney, which also includes Reeve's younger brother Zane on guitar, drummer Jon Epcar and bassist Aiden Moore, have been with the show from the beginning, hand-picked by original director Julie Taymor and vetted by U2's Bono and The Edge. None plan on leaving any time soon and Reeve recently extended his contract until May 2012.

Zane calls the musical "this wonderful, giving, beautiful detour" from touring and dismisses any suggestion that it has come at a cost to the band's development. "Really we would have been playing for 20 to 100 people up and down the West Coast. That's pretty much what it would have been," he says.

The Carney brothers also don't like to think about what would have happened if just Reeve got picked. "I don't know what we would have done," says Zane, 26, who suspects the rest of the group would have gone back home. "We have Julie Taymor, Bono and The Edge to thank for the fact that we're actually still a band."

In a joint interview, the brothers — whose great uncle was "Honeymooners" actor Art Carney — interact playfully and for good reason: They shared a bedroom for 24 years, only recently finding apartments of their own. "Zane and I have a form of communication that's sort of not verbal," says Reeve. "We're probably more like twins than brothers."

Each is slight and good-looking enough to be a model. The brothers arrive for the interview at Associated Press headquarters wearing battered jeans, suspenders and brown shirts open to reveal their hairless chests. But they maintain their own look, with Reeve freshly shaved and his hair short and spikey, while his brother has long locks and lots of stubble.

Interest in Reeve has been on the rise since he became Spidey and it has already borne fruit: He's been picked to play singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley in one of two dueling upcoming biopics. (Penn Badgley of "Gossip Girl" was tapped to play the late singer in another movie.)

Buckley, the son of musician Tim Buckley, released only one studio album, the brilliant "Grace," and was hailed as a rising star before he accidentally drowned in 1997 at age 30 in Memphis.

"I've actually spent most of my career trying not to sound like Jeff," says Reeve. "I'm really excited to actually delve into his music because I've always admired him and loved his music, but I've avoided it simply because I've inadvertently drawn so many comparisons to him, whether it be physically or vocally."

As a band, Carney was slowly building up a fan base on tour — they have been the opening act for The Black Crows, Fergie and the Veronicas — and released an eight-song debut CD last summer when Taymor came calling with her comic book musical.

They recall driving from Chicago to New York overnight to meet with the show's conductor, orchestrator and music supervisor, who wanted to make sure the musicians could read music. They were also warned that there would be plenty of early morning technical rehearsals — a number that eventually would drag on for months.

"They kind of were trying to scare us away. I think they thought, 'Long hair, rock band — OK, they're probably getting high all the time and getting drunk,'" says Zane. "That's the opposite of our band."

For Reeve, who had worked with Taymor before in the director's film adaptation of "The Tempest," there were other concerns. Chief among them: What would happen to his rocker image if he got the job as Peter Parker?

"I was a little worried at first. Is this going to make me seem really cheesy? I'm about to do a comic book musical," he recalls. But then he thought more long-term. "It was something that I didn't want to say that I'd turned down. I thought, 'When else are you going to get an opportunity like this?'"

At first, members of the band Carney performed on stage with Reeve, but when the musical finally opened this summer, Zane and the others were hidden in the pit. Zane says that's fine by him — he can arrive later to the theater than his brother and jokes that he doesn't have to wear eyeliner any more.

But being in the musical has come with some costs. The band Carney can't easily tour now when they're doing eight shows a week in Manhattan and album sales for their eclectic debut album "Mr. Green: Volume 1" haven't really taken off.

The album, which sounds like a mix of Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Buckley and The Beatles, is a complex and impressive collection of songs, veering from the cool funk of "Love Me Chase Me" to the Southern rocker "Testify" to the playful pop song "Amelie."

The brothers are working on new songs and hope their band's higher profile will help their next CD's sales. They also hope they can work around "Spider-Man" and the schedule for the Buckley movie, which is being shot in New York.

"Whatever Reeve can handle, we're basically going to do," Zane says. "And we'll be writing songs in the meantime. We'll see how it all plays out."

There have been huge plusses to being involved with "Spider-Man," of course. The brothers have learned about live theater and they've gotten to work with Bono and The Edge, learning how they blend melody and vibe. Reeve says he loves stage acting and his brother wants to compose musicals. Plus, the Spider-Man musical is now a hit and they get credit for toughing it out.

The band Carney also got a huge boost in late July when they were asked to open for U2 at the Magnetic Hill Music Festival in Canada, where they played for 50,000 people, a record crowd for the group.

Zane is thinking of writing a song about his experiences during this crazy year. He's been inspired by Stanley Kubrick's film "2001: A Space Odyssey." The still-untitled song, he laughs, is "something involving a guy in a spaceship alone."

Reeve, too, has kept his sense of humor, though making his debut on Broadway has turned out to be harder than he ever could have imagined. He puts it in more personal terms.

"Oftentimes as a human being I avoid extremely intimate relationships because they sometimes are painful," he says. "But I also think that those are also the most rewarding."




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