Taco Night at the Polish Hall in Madison may never be the same.
The teen band Love Me Leave Me took the stage on a recent Saturday night with its lively blend of pop, rock, punk and alternative, a powerful sound system, flashing lights and a fog machine.
They played mostly covers from the '90s or later but occasionally threw in an original or an oldie with a modern twist.
"This is one of our favorites," said singer and rhythm guitarist Ally Cooper, 15, of Valley Park, Mo. "It's called 'Higher Ground,' and it's by a guy named Stevie. Tyler loves it because he gets to show off."
Ally was referring to bassist Tyler Owens, 18, of Glen Carbon, who slaps the guitar like Flea in the Red Hot Chili Peppers version of the Stevie Wonder hit.
The other two band members are drummer Alan Bonk, 17, of Edwardsville, and lead guitarist Ethan Morris, 15, of Bunker Hill, who also sings.
The four high-school students met through mutual friends. Some run track or play basketball. They practice at Alan's house every Sunday.
"We just love music," he said. "We've been playing for a long time, and it's just who we are as people. It's our passion."
Love Me Leave Me is one of several metro-east teen bands that have formed in recent years and landed gigs at major events, including Bonifest and the Route 66 Festival in Edwardsville.
Some play at Miner's Park, Annie's Frozen Custard and other venues as part of the Edwardsville/Glen Summer Youth Concert Series.
Even the Wildey Theatre has gotten into the act. It hosts youth concerts periodically as a way to expand entertainment for local teens and pre-teens.
"It's really difficult to find programming to attract that age group," said program coordinator Katie Grable, 33.
But hiring teen bands can be tricky because they tend to come and go. Katie sees adult managers and parental involvement as a plus in making sure contract requirements are met.
"We get a decent crowd (at youth concerts), but I wouldn't call it a moneymaker," Katie said. "We don't price it as such. We make it affordable for kids ($5 to $7) so they don't have to ask their parents for money."
Two big breaks
The lineup for last month's Wildey youth concert included the Mellow Ds and Exit 12. Love Me Leave Me will get their shot on Dec. 30, sharing the bill with Equal Squeeze.
"That's has been something we've been trying to get since the beginning," said Ally, who came on board in February of 2011.
In another first, the band performed on Laclede's Landing in St. Louis on Thursday at Heartbreakers on the Landing as part of the Archfront Media Rock Showcase.
They've helped raise money for cancer research at several Relay for Life events. Their goal is to do an equal number of benefits and other jobs, which generally pay $500 to $600.
"Every bit of money they make, they put back into the band," said Alan's mother, Laurie Bonk, 48, of Edwardsville.
Laurie serves as manager, publicist and booking agent. Her husband, Alan Bonk Sr., is roadie-in-chief, hauling and setting up equipment.
Rocking for a roof
Love Me Leave Me performed at the Polish Hall at the request of Alan Sr.'s father, Edward Bonk, 85, of Maryville. He's a long-time member of the Catholic organization that owns it.
Edward prefers country Western and polka music, so he stayed in the basement and made tacos during the show.
"The reason we're doing this is to attract young people to the place," he said. "And we need a new roof. It got hail damage real bad, and the insurance company isn't giving us near what it's going to cost to fix it."
The audience of about 150 people included a couple dozen family members, who clapped and cheered after every song.
"I totally dig it," said Ally's father, Jeff Cooper, 41, of Valley Park. "All the music they play is on my IPod. I don't think any other band in the area has their super-duper harmonies. I say that with confidence. It's not just because my daughter's in the band."
Laurie's niece, Kaitlyn Nelson, 2, of Glen Carbon, was the first to hit the dance floor, bouncing to the beat, mesmerized by the lights and fog.
Ally's grandmother, Pat Cooper, 66, of Valley Park, set up a table for selling Love Me Leave Me T-shirts and hoodies, designed by Tyler's sister, Tori, 20, a college student in graphic arts.
"I like (the music)," Pat said. "It's a little loud for me, but it's so cool to see how far they've come on their stage presence. They have such confidence up there for being so young."
Second in the state
Alan is the only original member of Love Me Leave Me, which was formed by four Edwardsville High School students in 2010. He doesn't remember exactly how the name was selected.
"I think one of the guys just threw out that name, and everybody said, 'That sounds good,'" Alan recalled. "It wasn't a real thought-out process."
The band's first public performance was at the Crystal Garden in Edwardsville. They invited Ally to sing a few songs, and the crowd went wild.
Today, their repertoire includes everything from Foo Fighters to Green Day, Adele to Cee Lo Green, Lit to Paramore and Yellowcard to Rise Against.
"They take their performances seriously," said Tyler's mother, Dawn Owens, 44, of Glen Carbon. "They take their practices seriously. And they write songs! That just amazes me, that they can create something together out of nothing. I don't know how they do it. And then they play it, and it sounds good."
The highlight for Love Me Leave Me so far was winning qualifiers in Collinsville and Champaign and placing second (out of 140 bands) in the Illinois Teen Battle of the Bands at the Illinois State Fair last summer.
They used their prize, a $200 gift certificate at Guitar Center, toward purchase of the fog machine.
"We just went into it for fun," Alan said. "No one really expected to win."
Lyrics from the Love Me Leave Me band's song "Closer."
"To the fans: we can't thank you enough.
You're the reason I'm singing right now through the good and the rough.
Everyone of you makes this worth it every day."