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Lately, as she's driving around town, Agent M plays a game where she comes up with a Tsunami Bomb song and then tries to recall the lyrics.

"It's not easy," she says. "Some of them I can remember, but most of them I can't. It's weird to not remember lyrics. When I look at them it's almost like reading a poem someone else wrote."

Her big test arrives Jan. 17 when Tsunami Bomb plugs in for the first time in three years at the Phoenix Theater. The globe-trotting Petaluma pop-punk band that broke up abruptly in a Dear John online letter to fans is succumbing to the classic "Dude, we're getting the band back together!" moment -- but only for a one-off reunion benefit to raise money for Luckie Strike drummer Liz Beidelman, who has brain cancer.

Meeting for coffee at The Apple Box along the waterfront in Petaluma, M arrives in a white-knit hat and long red wool winter coat. It would be hard to pick her out of a lineup if you'd been at the Phoenix show back in 2002 when the magnetic punk singer bounced around the stage in a cut-off Smiths T-shirt as the band rolled through their home town one hot September night on "The Ultimate Escape" tour.

The four-piece had just logged their second Vans Warped tour and scored a prized photo in Rolling Stone magazine.

"In case you didn't know, we're Tsunami Bomb," the singer told the crowd with all the naivete of someone's little sister who hijacked the mike while the band left for a smoke break (no surprise: she's the little sister of the late Velvet Teen drummer Logan Whitehurst). Later that night she would announce, "Tonight we've set a new Guinness Book of World Records record for the band. This is the longest show we've ever played."

These days, even though she still pops up on MySpace pages under the "who I'd like to meet" section, she's not really Agent M anymore (although her email address still plays off the sub rosa spy theme). It's more like "M," as in short for Emily Whitehurst.

Gone is the trademark dyed blue swath of hair that used to hang down in her eyes.

"Actually I had a purple streak, but it just faded out," she says.

By day, she runs the Petaluma screen-printing company Loud and Clear Printing. Coming off yet another Warped tour this past summer, she's the singer for The Action Design, a more melodic, dance-rhythm indie band she formed with Tsunami Bomb bassist Matt McKenzie. Tsunami Bomb drummer Gabe Lindeman splintered off into the band Nothington with guitarist Jay Northington who replaced guitarist Mike Griffen (who works as an Apple Store technician in Los Angeles these days) when he left the band in 2004.

Looking back, she says, "I never really expected it to go as far as it did. It was a just a silly local band that sang about Halloween and stuff like that."

Among the highlights: Their first major tour with The Living End and Flogging Molly. A tour of Japan and European tours with The Vandals, Hopesfall and The Bouncing Souls. The night they sold out a headlining show at The Metro in Chicago. Those random days, on blazing cross-country Warped tours, when the promoter would throw them on the main stage and suddenly they'd be playing for 10,000 sweaty fans.

It was an eye-opening experience for a girl who got turned on to punk by Green Day back in junior high when she used to bleach her hair and wear fishnets to AP honors classes. When she signed on to front Tsunami Bomb in 1999, punk rock was still very much a man's world.

"There were definitely a lot fewer females in punk than there are now," she says.

In Amsterdam, someone chucked a beer bottle at her head. On a Warped tour, when she refused to autograph a guy's butt, he dropped his pants and ran at her.

"It was pretty crazy," she remembers. "But I just tried not to think about it really. I tried not to note the things that I thought would be different if I were a guy."

Along the way, founder/bassist Dominic Davi was kicked out of the band. On their first full-length "The Ultimate Escape," they weathered the classic overbearing producer who "was very clear that it was his record and it was going to be how he wanted it to be," she remembers, especially when he made her "do the vocals over and over and over" and even broke out the AutoTune.

By the end, she says, "we still had fun while we were on stage. But aside from that, everything we tried to do was a hassle. It was a mess."

They didn't know it at the time, but their last show would go down one July afternoon in a Sacramento mall parking lot. A fall tour with Social Distortion never happened. In their Web site farewell message to fans, the band pointed to problems with the "business end of the music industry."

Even now, three years later, Whitehurst doesn't want to get too specific about the details.

"There were a lot of things that were beyond our control -- the contracts we were in, and we could tell that were heading into a bad zone. There were a lot of things we weren't happy with that we had absolutely no control over."

Now, they can tie up all the loose ends with the farewell show they never had. Since the announcement in October, fans have been lighting up the message boards at Punknews.org:

"Yah, this show is going to be pretty badass. Nice closure. And for a great cause!"

"Too bad it's only a one-shot gig. Damn the expenses of touring."

"Honestly, I never thought this band would get back together at all, and it's pretty cool they are getting together for a good cause. I could gripe about which line-up I'd actually like to see, but I'll just be happy to see them again."

It was guitarist Mike Griffen, "the one I thought would be the least likely to want to get back together and play again," M says, who made the first call for the reunion. "So since it was his idea everyone else is into it."

While she's been busy trying to recall song lyrics, Griffen's been playing the old albums, trying to piece together guitar chords again.

"Some have been a bit harder to remember than others," he says. "This is fairly embarassing, but I've had to go online to look at tablature for songs that I wrote. And I've found myself in arguments with people who have written tablature for songs that I wrote, where I can't remember the song, but I know that they tabbed them out wrong. It's really pretty sad."

The week before the show, they plan to practice every night into the wee hours.

"We made a list of all the songs that we felt like were in rotation at any given time and our most solid songs and I think it came out to 24 songs," M says. "If we play all of them, it will actually be our longest show ever."

You can reach John Beck at john.beck@pressdemocrat.com

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