Q&A with the Act's Mike Shine

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I'm STARING at the cover of the Act's Armageddon Hop (Last Wave) and thinking that Mike Shine, lead vocalist and guitarist, is an oracle. Let me explain. The cover depicts a guy in a politician's suit wearing a gas mask, holding a missile and pointing in an Uncle Sam-wants-you kinda way. In the foreground, four smiley guys carrying guns march off to war while four women pirouette in skimpy outfits. It seems oddly prescient.

"I would say that I was a prophet," Shine replies, but "it was so obvious that we were headed for a really big fall." The album's title track, a bouncy electro-rock number that you could two-step to, was written in 1999: "The world is in the crapper, but I'm making seven figures a year... Neutron missiles flying to and fro/Anthrax gas going up my nose/Looks like there ain't no place to run/Might as well have a little fun/So do the hop hop Armageddon hop."

"If history repeats itself," Shine says, "the second half of the 90s looked like the period right before the Great Depression and World War II. And we know how that turned out."

Three years ago, Shine moved from Philadelphia to New York with the intention of starting a band that combined elements of all his favorite acts. He ranks Devo and David Bowie at the top of his list. He hooked up with his bandmates (Ivan Evangelista on bass and keyboards, Matthew Joseph on guitar and Liorr Shulman on drums) through an ad in the Voice and an open audition.

The Act coalesced early last year, and Armageddon Hop, produced by Wharton Tiers (Sonic Youth, White Zombie), came out in March. Shine enjoyed working with the veteran indie producer. "I think he comes from the Steve Albini school of producing, where he lets you do your thing and makes it sound as good as humanly possible on record," he says.

Their sound is a mixture of pop-punk, garage and cock rock, with an electro twist and some Velvet Underground glam. A friend of mine calls it tech-cock. On "Annihilation," robotic vocals, driving guitars and sirens back lines like, "Skin made of steel, eyes made of ore/The perfect war machine, but now there's no more war/All enemies are dead, and there's no one left to hate/There's not much use for peace on a mercenary's plate." Then again, Shine sings about finding love, flogging it and losing it on "Catalonia" and "Love Slave."

The Act's flamboyant and theatrical performances?gas masks onstage, spaced-out Elvis-in-Vegas getups?can warm up the too-coolest crowds. "We're so silly and fast and wild, with our costumes and our stage moves," Shine says, "that nodding your head seems kind of dumb when we're up there making such fools of ourselves."

The presskit says the Act is making "socially conscious rock 'n' roll." When I ask Shine who else is doing that these days he jokes, "Pink?because she tells us it's time to 'get this party started,' and what else could be more important these days?"

Shine tells me that the Act started out as a 100-percent concept band. "Our message is that in the midst of all this unhappiness and chaos and craziness, the best defense is to dance [and] to revel in youth." But then he adds, "There's such a deluge of media overload every day?it's important to not let yourself be entertained into oblivion. A zoned-out, preoccupied population is a crooked government's wet dream."

The band's back in the studio. Shine says they've sobered up since Sept. 11.

"We care more these days about making people get lost in music and dancing, and about giving them an escape from what's become a really tough world."

The Act play Weds., July 31, 8 p.m., at Arlene Grocery, 95 Stanton St. (betw. Ludlow & Orchard Sts.), 358-1633.

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