Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hardcore Homecoming

The Charlotte "homecoming" show was at Tremont Music Hall two weeks ago. My computer has a virus so I've been slow on getting this post up. I'm writing this without the aid of spell check, so bare with my typos and grammatical errors. Anyway, it was a special night, and I think everyone there kinda sensed it. 
 

But first, a quick story.



About eight years ago as ANTiSEEN was approaching their twenty-fifth anniversary the group was undergoing another line-up shift. Clayton knew there would be some downtime while working new members in. I suggested he do another solo project sorta like he did with the Slimegoats back in the 80's; record a few songs and make a record and maybe play a few shows. My idea was to cherry pick some of the better local musicians and form a sort of "all-star" band. I figured the extent of my involvement would be to help contact and assemble people. He agreed provided I played too. I really hadn't counted on that. I wasn't (and still am not) a musician. Trying to find a spot within a unit of other high caliber musicians was quite intimidating. Jeff was adamant. So I bought an amp and guitar and got busy putting together what became 'Jeff Clayton & the Mongrels'.



The first Mongrels show was an unqualified success. We sold out the club and had a pretty good set. What people didn't know was that most of our practices had been clumsy affairs filled with frequent mistakes. We never had anything put together as tightly as it should have been. Somehow we puled it off. We followed it up in the spring with a show that I rank as possibly my personal best. However some of the shows were total disasters. We played the annual Plaza Midwood July 4th party outdoors in a parking lot and fumbled amid technical problems in rainfall. At another show in Raleigh we made every amateurish mistake imaginable. Ultimately it was still a good experience for me, I learned the value of dedicated practice, drive and focus. Even the most seasoned and skilled are never beyond the simplest mistakes.



So when Joe Young came out to see the "other band", it was a pretty big deal to me. I wanted to impress him. I didn't want him to catch one of the bum shows. Joe fortunately didn't see the Mongrels as "competition". He really seemed to enjoy the fact we played ANTiSEEN material in our set. I didn't expect him to be overtly skeptical or critical. Joe was never much one for petty jealousies anyway. Still, that didn't necessarily mean he had to like it.



We were playing a show at Tremont Music Hall. The set was opened by some of the choice locals of the time and when they finished half the audience trickled out. It was a bit of a bummer, but it was fully expected and in no way a surprise. Charlotte's punk "scene" was and remains largely cliquish. Music is always secondary for social standing. We were the proverbial 'old guard' and as such we offered nothing of interest to the kids. No matter, we churned out one of our better sets that night. Everything and everyone was on point and we kicked out the proverbial jams. Joe came backstage with a giant grin on his face, praising our set. Then he did something very uncharacteristic; he gave me a big hug and told me he was proud of me.



It's one of my favorite memories of Joe.





Two weeks ago I stood in the same club, in the same spot very much aware of where I was and what I had to do. This isn't to suggest I felt any sort of 'cosmic energy', or that I could somehow channel the 'Spirit of Joe Young'... However I was very acutely aware of the position I'm now in, more so than ever. It's been six months since I've joined the band and although I've played a festival, a tour and a handful of other shows, this one was the "big one". It's the hometown. It's where the roots are, the proving ground for everything this band ever did. It would be a boldfaced lie to claim I wasn't nervous.



A band called Paint Fumes opened the set. They are a scruffy little combo with a lot of potential if the play their cards right. It's hard to miss playing dirty three-chord rock & roll music. Self Made Monsters followed, and I gotta confess I'm biased. I was their bassist for a spell over ten years ago. They remain my favorite local band. Imagine if Captain Beefheart had a nightmare starring Hawkwind fronted by a neanderthal playing Stooges covers in a mental hospital. That's the Self Made Monsters.



Finally the stage is made ready, the lights are lowered and we take our places. The first song is 'Death Train Coming', an old standard and a barn burner. It opens with long droning notes melting into squealing feedback. When the song kicks in I am momentarily lost in over thought. I'm trying too hard, and my playing is ragged and sloppy. I try to relax and let go a bit. We charge into 'Queen City Stomp' and I quickly find my groove. We roll thru the set and I'm on point, making only a few minor mistakes that nobody seems to notice.
 

The crowd is large, they press against the stage pumping their fists and singing along. The lights blind my eyes from seeing much beyond the front line, however I spot Jeff Young, Joe's brother standing close. He seems expressionless and I'm struck nervous by this. I can only hope he approves of what he is seeing. He came to our show in Raleigh back in October when my equipment farted out. We pulled that set off but it wasn't quite the same. However here we are running at full strength. It's important to me that he sees the respect I'm paying his brother. It makes me very self-conscious. Joe's sound was unique and the signature sound of the group. I try to emulate it as closely as possible without simply copying it. It's important to maintain that consistency but I still feel I've found my own place within it. I hope he appreciates it.



We close the set with the obligatory anthem 'Fuck All Yall'. It would seem almost criminal at this point to do it any other way. I walk off stage with the guitar hissing out a long whine of feedback. We cluster backstage as the crowd calls for more. We return for the encore playing 'Old Man Hit The Road', an old classic A-SEEN song that hasn't been performed live in nearly two decades. We tear thru 'Up All Night' and it's over. Hands reach towards us and we shake them all. I'm feeling exhausted but very high. Joe once wrote in a tour diary for a local paper that playing can make you feel higher than anything. I know what he means.



We cluster backstage once more for a few quick pictures and I retreat to the dressing room. I'm changing my shirt when Jeff Young walks in. Before he can say anything my eyes well up. His does, too. He gives me a big hug and tells me he loved it, that I did things Joe would do, and things Joe should've done. He points out things I didn't think anyone would notice. It becomes evident his expressionless stare was actually a deep focus. He has seen ANTiSEEN more than anyone else and his approval means the world to me.



All I can do now is keep doing the best I can. And lets be honest - I'm not a young man anymore. Sometimes my body isn't in line with my brain. I make mistakes. Things hurt. My back and hips ache a little more but honestly I think we still hold our own with any band out there. Arrogant? I dunno. Maybe. If that's arrogance so be it. I'd count myself lucky more than anything. Lucky to be play in this band, with this line-up in this era. There's still some gas in the tank and I've got the old proverbial taste for blood. So there's that. I've got no political agenda, deep seeded message or flash gimmicks...



All I got is my desire to play loud, ugly, dirty and hard.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

North Jersey Rock & (Pork) Roll...


I've been sick. I tend to get some sort of flu bug around this time of year. Sometimes it hits me like a freight train and knocks me outta commission for several days but usually it just sorta lingers in my system for a week or two making me feel somewhat less than miserable. Sometimes it starts as a chest cold that travels up to my throat and into my sinuses. This year it has taken the form of stomach and intestinal distress. It was true to my general fortune that it would hit in the days prior to a road trip up the East Coast. Obviously canceling is not an option. I knew when I joined the bad I'd have to 'step-up' every now and again. Life might throw obstacles but the show must go on. So with mild queasiness and feeling somewhat feverish I packed my bag, hopped in the van and split for two shows in New Jersey...

LONG BRANCH - Nov 7

I slept most of the 10 hour ride up. We arrived Long Branch early enough to find our motel, check in and rest a bit. The motel is suspiciously - if not conveniently - located next to a strip club. It's somewhat run down. The entrance has been smashed in and large sheets of plywood have replaced the damage in what looks like a temporary fix gone permanent. The drink machine has its selections handwritten on paper - "LEMON LIME" and "ORANGE". Whatever, the place is still decent enough. We've stayed in worse places.

The club is the Brighton Bar, a legendary fixture of the Jersey Shore and East Coast club circuit. The room is somewhat 'L' shaped, the bar occupying the smaller side and the stage opposite. The wall is painted with the names of the famous and infamous acts that have performed there over the years; everyone from the Dictators to Springsteen. The dressing room is literally a closet, but is stocked with plenty of snacks and beverages. I quickly decide it’s a very cool place.

Outside is a food truck. The promoter tells us to order from this guy. It’s 'Johnny’s Pork-Roll and Coffee Truck'. I've never heard of pork-roll before. Evidently it is a Jersey staple. Johnny is a cool guy, very outgoing. He gives us a basic rundown of what he can do, all variations of pork-roll. I don't have much of an appetite but figure it best to at least try to eat, I'm gonna need whatever energy I can get.  It turns out to be a wise choice. The sandwich is awesome.  

My old pal CJ Price and his wife Teresa show up. It's always good to see CJ. Our friendship started twenty years ago as pen pals and we have basically stayed in touch ever since. They live out in Lancaster, PA but decided to drive up to catch the show. Always a class act.

The opening bands play. The best one is called Lost Cause. They play pretty straight ahead catchy punk rock and appear to be the same age as we are. The singer has a lot of energy and charisma and is fun to watch. He looks sorta like Joey Shithead from DOA. I think the old school guys still pull it off better than their younger counterparts, but that’s just me.

As I ready my gear before playing the soundguy asks me to "bring the volume down a bit". This is very frustrating. I've worked hard to dial in my settings to achieve the sound I want. Turning down even slightly disrupts this but I try to comply with his demands. I don't get it. I think these soundguys are terrified of their own PA, as if pushing it a little is gonna blow the mains and bring down the walls... I mean, like this would be a bad thing?? Anyway I'm feeling too sick to debate the issue so I just go with it.

I feel the set is a little ragged. I blame myself. The guitar just isn't punching thru like it should. My mouth is dry but when I take a sip of water I gag. My legs start to severely ache. I don’t know if it is from dehydration or sleeping crooked in the van. I don't wanna let on to anyone that I feel bad so I try my best to power thru. I make a few careless mistakes, most noticeably on 'Fuck All Y'all'. It almost feels like it’s about to collapse but Gooch is solidly on point and saves it. Barry arches his eyebrow at me but we pull it off. Clayton asks about it later and I gotta own it.

After the show a girl comes over to the merch table and produces a sketch she made as we played. It’s pretty killer. A lot of people shake my hand. I still find this awkward but its cool people are happy the band has continued. I talk with CJ and Teresa a bit more and then pack up. I really liked the Brighton Bar and Long Branch. Hope we can come back again soon.


KENNILWORTH - Nov 8

It's not a far drive from Long Branch to Kenilworth, only about an hour or so. We decide to kill time by visiting two different places, the first is Jay & Silent Bob's Secret Stash; the comic shop owned by Kevin Smith and featured on the television show Comic Book Men. Personally, I have no affinity for comics. I find it odd that a microcosmic culture has garnered the mainstream attention it has. It's cool though, I like it when the underdog gets his day. God knows I have enough goofy nerdy shit of my own. The comic shop is surprisingly small. I wander about for a bit and text my buddy Pyro Dave. He's a fan of the TV show. He wants to know who is working. I ask a nerd and am told its 'Mike'. I watch Mike take a picture with a fan and split. There’s a record shop across the street. That’s my kind of nerd shit.

The record shop is pretty cool. It's larger and brighter than the comic shop. There's a lot to get lost in, from vinyl to cd's to dvd's to t-shirts and even a small music shop in the back. The music shop has a used Gibson Melody Maker for sale at a decent price and I briefly consider buying it but reconsider. One of the workers recognizes Clayton. He tells Barry that the writer Fred Mills turned him on to ANTiSEEN over twenty years ago. I linger about a wee too long; Barry informs me everyone else is in the van waiting. We have another stop to make, one of reverence and personal importance to me....
the grave of Joey Ramone.

It goes without saying the impact and influence the Ramones have had. It still strikes me as somewhat unbelievable that all four have passed away. The first time I ever saw the Ramones Joey Ramone asked me for quarters. I had a friend that worked for the 13-13 Club in Charlotte. He told me to show up at a certain time to help load in and I'd get to see the show for free. The Ramones arrived around 4 in the afternoon to soundcheck. Long story short, Joey was staring at the video games in the back of the club for long time. Eventually he slinked over my direction and shyly asked if I had any quarters. Sadly, I didn't. So I missed my opportunity to play video games with Joey Ramone.

Joey’s grave is fairly modest, marked with the family name 'Hyman'. Fans have laid gifts on and around the tombstone. Many have placed small stones, a practice in Judaism as a sign of remembrance. It's cold and somewhat overcast. We all find ourselves oddly hushed and somber. The view of the New York City skyline is excellent; Joey rests literally overlooking his city. We take some pictures before piling back into the van. I feel somewhat sad we lost the Ramones, but I am grateful for their music. It continues to serve as a wellspring for people like myself who are too disinterested or disenfranchised to participate in mainstream mediocrity. The shadow of the Ramones looms long and large. We all stand in it.

As we skirt along the outside rim of the city we pass the massive and legendary Meadowlands Complex in East Rutherford as well as the newer Prudential Center in Newark. These are legendary arenas that have hosted the largest and most legendary acts in music. We bypass those and head to our venue destination; 10th Street Live in Kenilworth. The 10th Street Live is, true to form, located on 10th Street. It's oddly situated between some warehouses and some apartments. I imagined it to be something of a local corner neighborhood bar but it appears to be more - how can I put it... collegiate. It is the self-proclaimed "11th Best Bar Ever". The layout is fairly simple, a large rectangular room with a stage to one end. The bar lines one wall; a kitchen occupies a corner beside the stage. A basement of equal size serves as the backstage and storage area. The staff seems pretty cool. We load in the gear and order our meal from the kitchen. I get a BLT, which is quite good but it's no Johnny's Pork-Roll. They also give us a large pitcher of Pepsi but it tastes like Jägermeister. I opt for a bottle of water.

It turns out the club usually provides the backline for the bands to use. I decide to see if I can come to some sort of working terms with the sound guy. He's just a kid, really. He seems nervous. Straight away we tell him he'll have to strike all the gear onstage for us to set up. The amp onstage is a small Fender amp with a single 12" speaker. My Hiwatt looks like Godzilla next to it. Sure enough the volume is a problem. First he suggests I use the Fender. Not gonna happen. Next he suggests I turn my cabinet towards the wall. It seems the only viable option to allow me to maintain my preferred stage volume. I'm not happy about this decision but I don’t wanna be an asshole. The sound guy clearly doesn't wanna be an asshole either, but he has his own agenda to consider I guess. It probably doesn't help that the venue is located next door to some apartments.

There are board games in the basement/backstage. We take turns playing them to pass the time. Clayton takes the opportunity to catch a short nap. We are gonna leave for home straight away after the show and he plans to make the all-night drive. Some friends of the band have come over from Queens including Aerik Von, who has promoted ANTiSEEN in NYC a couple of times before. We make small talk while waiting for the opening bands to finish.

When we finally get onstage I decide to move my amp out from the wall. I tell the sound guy this and explain that I feel there are enough people in the room to buffer the sound. He agrees. I'm still not exactly where I want it to be but it is better than the previous night. The audience is small but most come right up to the front. I take a swill of water and ready myself. I'm still feeling kinda sick.

We launch into the set opener, 'Death Train Coming'. I try to keep my focus on the beat. There are many quick pauses in the chorus and I always worry I might fall out of time with the others. I feel this way for the rest of the set. The audience doesn't seem to notice, they are focused on Clayton and chant along with every song. I don't make any blunders but I feel like I have to keep up. I try to step up my energy. We plow ahead finally reaching 'Nothing's Cool'. Again I can't quite get the feedback I want. Its close, but no cigar. We finally blister thru to an encore of 'Today your Love/Stormtrooper'.

Our roadie Brandon jumps up onstage and says that this is the best set he's seen us do yet. Barry agrees. I'm surprised; I didn't feel it was my best. Just goes to show, you can't be too self-critical. What others perceive can be very different. I also realize that I never gave up or pulled back, never got complacent or ambivalent. This is a good lesson to learn. Although sick, I worked that much harder and pulled it off.

I stayed up on the ride home, listening to crazy free jazz shit with Clayton. Somehow it's weird to me that in a single night I can see the skylines of NYC, Philly, Baltimore and Washington DC. I'm a mark for stupid shit like this. The sun rises as we cross Virginia. I stare out the window at the trees all colored by the fall weather.


It's a pretty good way to spend a Sunday morning.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

On The Spot...


In the years I worked merch I came to refer to weekend trips as 'road trips’ - meaning any trip which the band had multiple gigs. Otherwise I call them 'spot shows', meaning we travel somewhere, play and come home the same night. We recently did two 'spot shows’ - both were kinda unusual for different reasons...

 

RALEIGH, NC - Oct 25

ANTiSEEN has an odd relationship with Raleigh, probably stemming from an ancient rivalry that unfairly pitted them in a "Charlotte vs. Raleigh" contest for "hardcore superiority".  I would be lying if I said that as a fan I didn't actively participate in the rivalry. I always perceived Raleigh as superficial and easily impressed by what I refer to as 'bottom shelf obviousness' - simply meaning that any trendy bandwagon that rolls thru is readily and eagerly hopped on and rode hard. I think this was (and remains) largely due to the fact that Raleigh is home to several major colleges. The influx of young people carrying along their decidedly tepid tastes yields an unending parade of totally generic and boring bands content to regurgitate whatever is deemed culturally significant at the time.

However there have been some really great things to pop up out of Raleigh, most notably the late, great Flat Duo Jets. Their legend and reputation no doubt precedes so I'll let it suffice to say that when they were at their peak they were mightily impressive. Another Raleigh group I enjoyed was the Dirty Feather Boas. They released a great single, "You've Got No Reason to Be" but never got the recognition they deserved. Then there was a group called the Semantics. They played straight forward hardcore punk without all the buffoonery that usually accompanies it. Their bassist was a chick called Lutie who had more onstage presence, personality and energy than most dudes. The guitarist Doug was a fan of the old Mad Brother Ward records. He was always very cool and we've maintained a friendship over the years.

But my favorite Raleigh band was Dragstrip Syndicate, a powerful combo built upon the tradition of legendary high-energy Midwestern rock & roll a ‘la MC5, Ted Nugent and Grand Funk. I first saw Dragstrip Syndicate in the tiny Fat City Deli in Charlotte. I'm a notorious music snob and it takes alot to impress me. Dragstrip did. They were opening for another group but played such a blistering set that I cannot recall the headliner. It was like throwing dynamite into a fire - the tiny stage barely containing the energy and intensity of the group. I made effort to see them every time they played Charlotte. I bought their recordings. I was a fan.

On odd occasions I'd run into their guitarist, a guy named Erik Sugg. I remember we had the odd chance meeting at a music festival in New York City once. He kinda seemed stand off-ish but looking back I probably came off as a total spazz. I think I kinda freaked him out a bit because I ran up on him, excited about the band and what they were doing. I've never been much good at the art of 'cool', if something strikes my interest I can become an unabashed fanboy, and conversely if I hate something I can be an unabashed asshole. Both are decidedly me not at my best. Erik unfortunately had to contend with my fanboy side.

Anyway, as fate would have it, both Doug from the Semantics and Erik from Dragstrip were members of the opening bands. Doug plays guitar for KIFF (Knowledge Is For Fools) and Erik for a group called Demon Eye. In addition both Joe Young's brother Jeff ' BBQ' Young and Eddie from Self Made Monsters  have come along for the ride. These are people I admire and respect, so I know that I gotta be on point and perform well.

The club is called the Maywood. It used to be the Volume 11 Tavern. I've played here before when I was doing the Mongrels side project with Clayton. That gig was something of a disaster; the other members of the band were apathetic and fucked up. Several songs sorta collapsed and we came off looking amateurish. It left me with a bad memory so I want this to be a vindication of sorts. The layout of the place has been dramatically altered since my last visit. What had previously been the room where the bands played is now a billiard hall. The stage is now in the barroom, which makes for a more intimate setting.

KIFF open the show. Although competent musicians, they don't take themselves too terribly serious, mixing oddball covers of groups like the Godz with originals such as "It's Like Taking Candy From a Baby, Baby". Demon Eye follow. Their music is rooted in early 70's heavy metal and hard rock. Both bands are really, really good.

We finally take stage, allowing some time for the sound guy to set the levels. My guitar starts squealing. I know what it is; the wiring in it is faulty. Fortunately I have a backup guitar so I quickly grab it. We set the levels and are ready. People pile against the stage, they’re ready. Clayton come out, makes the big introduction and then it happens. My guitar suddenly farts out.

We're left standing onstage looking like idiots and it’s entirely my fault. It's like a nightmare you can't wake up from. Sweating bullets, I try to figure out what the hell happened although I figure it’s the same problem as the other guitar. I had both wired by the same guy, so it stands to reason both are faulty. There is still some question that it may be my amp. Fortunately Doug and Erik both are on the spot. Doug lets me use his Marshall and Erik hands me his Les Paul. I'm flipped but we gotta make this happen. I get it together as best as I'm able and we start the set.

I'm freaked out and playing the Les Paul doesn't help matters. Nevermind it probably is worth more than all my equipment combined, but it’s an awkward guitar for me to play. There a toggle switch located right where I like to strum. Moreover I can't dial in my sound, so it’s sounding completely wrong. I also keep dropping my pick. I'm wrecked and I can't get my energy up. I get totally lost at the start of 'Black-Eyed Suzy', but quickly catch up. Clayton walks over at one point and reassures me that its ok, to keep playing. About halfway thru the set it finally clicks. We all fall into place and pull it off. Not our best set, but it still feels like a triumph.

The next day I buy a new guitar, another Telecaster. Oddly enough it's what I wanted for a long time, a white one with a tortoiseshell pick guard that I added. It's pretty sweet. Clayton calls and tells me he was proud of the way I handled the problems. A few days later I go to the practice room and try everything out. I still need to get the other guitars fixed, but I'm back in business. Good thing because we have another gig the next weekend...





MACON, GA - Nov 1

This one is for Mondo Braswell, a longtime friend and fan of the band. He is getting married to his girlfriend Leslie and has asked ANTiSEEN to play the reception. An unusual gig but then Mondo is an unusual guy. I like Mondo, he's a mark for old school wrestling like I am, plus, like me, he ain't ashamed to swill a bottle of Boones Farm. We once did just that outside a club in Charlotte. He produced the bottle announcing it as "the last resort". We had no shame.

We left out that day amid drizzle and even an occasional flurry, arriving in Macon just before sunset. The venue is called the SoChi Gallery, an art gallery and event center. They don't host bands, so we set up right on the gallery floor and use a simple vocal PA. Very informal, but still adequate.

The wedding ceremony itself is unorthodox. The guests have been encouraged to come in costume, keeping in the spirit of Halloween. Others are dressed semi-formally. It’s all very casual, not at all stuffy or pretentious. Mondo enters wearing a wrestling mask and cape, which is removed by his groomsmen. Leslie is more traditionally dressed in white. They exchange vows in an unrehearsed impromptu way. It’s a nice ceremony.

After about an hour we are given the go-ahead to play. People crowd around us in an interesting mix of young and old, fans and curiosity seekers. We launch into the set. It's difficult to hear without the aid of monitors. Instinctively I root in front of my amp. Clayton’s mic lead is short and runs across my path. I worry I might make it unplug. I think it eventually does.

The set starts a little ragged. In the unusual setting people are more reserved. We play several songs at the request of Mondo and Leslie. One is a cover of the Ramones 'Chainsaw'. I have only just learned it and worry about messing it up. We don’t, however. We nail it. Mondo is given the mic to front the band for 'Sabu'. He's having a ball. We all are. By the end of the set I'm in my zone. We blitz thru 'Star Whore', 'She’s Part of The Scene' and close with 'Haunted House'.

Afterwards we take pictures with everybody before loading out. We are back on the highway by 10:30 and are home at 2am. It’s the end of daylight savings time so the clocks all reset to 1am. Oddly enough we made it home earlier than if we had played our own hometown.

We have a few more shows left before the year winds out. The big homecoming show in Charlotte is December 6th with the mighty Self Made Monsters and the Paint Fumes. It's gonna be a great night of rock & roll music, so all you locals make plans to be there. And the rest of you should just go ahead and make travel arrangements.

Think of it as a Christmas present.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Road Journal - Pt Three


Day Four – SAN ANTONIO

After the Austin show we went ahead and split for San Antonio. It was only about an hour away and we had a free place to stay. Our hosts are Phil ‘Whisky Rebel” Irwin and his wife Marla Vee, the duo behind Rancid Vat, another band with a long and storied career. Phil Irwin is a working class renaissance man. Once a child chess prodigy, he continues to compete in tournaments. He also is an author of several books. It’s always fun to talk with Phil. He is versed in virtually any subject you can imagine, no matter how trivial. Their association with ANTiSEEN goes back over twenty-five years, sharing several split singles and a deep friendship with Clayton.

After a good night’s sleep we congregate on the back patio debating all matters of pop culture and politics. Contrary to popular belief the members of ANTiSEEN are not at all rigidly aligned towards one political party or ideology. Nor are we rigidly aligned to any one style of music. It makes for some hilarious conversation. With time to kill Phil recommends a barbeque shack for us to try. It doesn’t disappoint. We unanimously agree it to be much better than Stubbs.  After lunch we return to Phil’s where I promptly fall back asleep. I’m awakened hours later to head to the club. I had been sleeping hard; it takes some time for me to shake off the fog.

The club is called the Limelight. It has an impressive neon marquee and a large gated front patio. Other than that it’s a basic no-frills music room: a long, rectangular concrete bunker with a stage on one end and a bar at the other. It’s a perfect room for music. Nothing to distract attention away from the stage except for a few video game machines by the front door. Although the a/c is working overtime in the front, it doesn’t work at all backstage. There’s scarcely room to sit anyway so I hide my gear and go back out front.

We split up for dinner. Barry, Gooch and I are craving pizza while the rest search for authentic Mexican food. We walk a block or so down to a place called “Joey’s”. It sounds like authentic Italian. We’ll never know because they won’t allow Gooch in since he is wearing a sleeveless tee shirt. I guess Joey’s is a class joint. Can’t be dirtying up a place like that, what with all the people crowded in the place. Oh wait, my fault – it’s virtually empty. I see only a few fat old men silently nursing beer. Class.

We return to the club and order Domino’s. The weather is nice so I sit out on the front patio. People are showing up, mostly milling about on the patio. Here I’m subjected to some of the most vacant conversation on earth. A lady sits near me and launches into some endless idle chatter. Gooch makes a quick escape. She claims to “know all the bands”. I don’t know what exactly she means by this but when I hear Rancid Vat taking the stage I head inside. She stays put, chirping away to anyone who’ll listen.

I’ve only ever seen Rancid Vat once before. It was twenty years ago when they came to Charlotte. The late Cosmic Commander of Wrestling was the singer then. He always had a knack for baiting an audience, and that night he succeeded in getting the band thrown offstage. Despite the antics Rancid Vat has always had some great musicians, chiefly Marla Vee. She can shift gears from oddball atonal stuff into full on classic rock licks. In their current incarnation she is augmented by a bassist that could probably write his own ticket into any gig he chose. The whole affair is gloriously unconventional and a lot of fun to watch.

I’m in a great mood; this is the first show where I’m not nervous. I notice one of the PA columns is clipping out. I mention it to the sound guy. He starts tracing cables and checking connections. It stalls our set. I’m excited and anxious to play, the delay is kinda annoying. He sorts out the problem and his solution is to just run vocals. This is somewhat disappointing but I’ve learned long ago in my old band that the best way to deal with these problems is to knuckle down and play thru it.

We tear into the set and it feels great. I don’t know what the sound is like out front but it sounds killer onstage. People are packed against the stage and sing along.  I’m once again drenched in sweat. It stings my eyes. I love it. We play ‘Masters of the Sky’ and I’m struck with the curious realization that I had played it incorrectly the night before. I don’t know if anyone noticed or not. I laugh out loud to myself. Ordinarily this would really get me sideways, but I realize sometimes too much concentration can be a bad thing. At the end of the day the idea is to have fun. Maybe fun at the expense of others, true, but fun all the same. We add ‘Today Your Love’ and ‘Stormtrooper’ into tonight’s set. I’m almost disappointed when I launch into ‘Fuck All Yall’. It’s the best set I’ve had since joining.

The Meatmen seem concerned about the PA but once onstage it all comes together. The room carries the sound great. They’re great as usual. Kevin, the Meatmen guitarist is badass. His style is tight and direct. He knows exactly what to play and where to put it. I find myself envying his playing, which is unusual for me. The rhythm section is killer, too. The bassist, Dan plays foil off Tesco with his one unique character. He’s a funny motherfucker.  John, the drummer has come in at the last minute. He also plays for the legendary Negative Approach. The week before this trip he was in Russia. The week after this trip he was headed to South America.  The Meatmen have their gimmickry and costumes but don’t let it fool you – coz them boys is fierce.    

The place goes crazy when Clayton joins in at the encore. San Antonio is a great town with a pretty cool scene. It doesn’t seem as jaded as Austin or as hip as Dallas, or even as self-centered as our own hometown for that matter. Everyone is laid back and cool. It is probably the most relaxed and fun night of the trip for me. The last time we were here I was working merch. I remember that show being largely the same. San Antonio is a cool place. I look forward to returning.

 

Day Five – NEW ORLEANS

After the gig we had stayed at the Irwin home again. Phil generously hooked us up with copies of his books and Rancid Vat cd’s.  We get up early; it’s a long drive to New Orleans. It’s pouring rain when we head out. I try to get as comfortable in my seat as I can. The van is tightly packed but I at least have some leg room. I like staring out across the Texas scenery. It’s a relaxing ride, but with the rain there is a sense of melancholy. Tonight is the last show of the trip and I don’t think any of us are ready for it to end.

Our route takes us thru Houston, a city that ANTiSEEN hasn’t played in years. I’m somewhat disappointed that we weren’t booked there on this trip. I know people from Houston; they always speak of it as a great place to play. My friend and former bandmate Joe Dead is from there. I take a picture of the skyline as we pass and send it to him over my phone. I hope to play there someday.

The club is called ‘Siberia’. It doubles as a restaurant specializing in “Slavic soul food”.  It’s a tiny place, the smallest place on this trip. However it’s apparently the only place in town that caters to punk rock.  I know the Queers and Dwarves have played there, and their calendar boasts groups like 7Seconds, the Toasters and DRI.

It’s a long rectangular room; the stage is right by the front door. A bar runs the length of one wall. Some pool tables in the back serve as merch tables for the bands. A second smaller room in the rear has a small bar and a corner area for the bands to store their belongings. We take over the small bar and order food. I get a Rueben sandwich. It is excellent, one of the best I’ve ever had. I share fries with Gooch. They are awesome. I get over-full. Now I feel like a slug.

Some of the Meatmen guys figure we’re not far from Bourbon Street. Evidently it’s in walking distance. I somehow doubt this. The neighborhood we’re in is fairly rundown. People openly smoke dope on the street. Even if it is within walking distance, it doesn’t seem the kind of walk I’d care to make. Plus I’ve always imagined Bourbon Street to be a douchey tourist trap. They invite me to go with them but I decline. I feel gross from all the food I ate anyway.

For some reason my nervousness returns. The place soon is packed. I watch the first band play for a bit. They are called the Pallbearers. They opened for ANTiSEEN last time they were here. They play pretty straight forward old-school hardcore punk. The singer is an older dude with long greying dred locks. Their set is short and enjoyable.

Our roadie on this trip is Brandon, a kid I've only recently met. Initially I was a little bit apprehensive about him coming along. Some people seem to think these trips are endless parties and want to act accordingly. The truth is there is a lot of hard work, long days and cramped quarters. Brandon turns out to be a perfect fit. He keeps his shit together while dealing with ours. We all lean on him at different times for different things and he never complains once. He works his ass off and is always in a good mood. We are lucky to have him on board.

When I step onstage I notice it is covered in beer and water. I ask Brandon for some towels and try to dry the deck as well as possible. I don't relish the idea of slipping on my ass while playing. I almost had that occur at Muddy Roots. I get my stuff in order and pretty soon we're into the set. It takes a few songs for the sluggish feeling I have to wear off. I’m trying to focus and keep up. The crowd is really into it, slam dancing and singing along. A guy hands me four shots of jager which I promptly spill. So much for drying the stage. Now the smell of jager permeates the air, I'm sweating like a whore in church and trying not to slip and keep my wits. It's an odd feeling standing in front of a couple of hundred people staring at and having the isolated thought of what it is you’re doing, feeling totally alone. There’s just a tiniest twinge of self-doubt. It’s like I'm watching a movie, it almost doesn’t seem real. Suddenly it seems to all comes together; the volume, the energy and excitement. I'm back on point. We charge thru the rest of the set and its killer.

The Meatmen quickly follow suit. They really are blasting away, maybe their best set of the trip. I watch Kevin play and it’s just flat out great. Dan stomps about with his bass on the tiny stage being funny as always. The audience press against the stage pumping their fists and chanting along. Tesco controls the show like the seasoned pro he is. It’s a lot of fun to watch. When they play the encore with Clayton the rest of us ANTiSEEN guys join in singing along. I can feel the heat coming off the crowd. We all take a collective bow... and then it’s all over.

We load out the gear and sorta meander. Nobody wants it to be over, but it is. The Meatmen all congratulate and compliment me. It’s humbling. They don’t have to say these things, so I feel it to be sincere. Seeing them perform every night was really eye-opening and deepened my respect for them. We take more pictures together and say our good-byes.

-------

Epilogue -

The ride home was a long one - crossing the time zone and losing an hour confused things for me. Clayton drove all night and I sat up front with him. It was good to sit and talk with him. The last several months have shifted gears from heartbreaking to hectic. It has largely centered on the band and its continued survival. There was work to be done, schedules to keep and shows to play. Now with nothing but empty highway and a midnight ride ahead of us we finally had some downtime to just shoot the breeze; two old friends passing time with meaningless idle chatter that actually means an awful lot to me.

We ride up thru Alabama as the sun rises. There’s a low fog hanging just above the highway which is lined with long stretches of forest. We cross a river on a high suspension bridge. The view is awesome. It’s a humbling moment for me, riding along in the van carrying the memory of my first trip as a member of the band I grew up loving. The sunrise seems to suggest promise of a future I never expected but am grateful to have.

We stop in Montgomery sometime after sunrise for gas. Clayton asks if I think anyone would wanna see Hank Williams grave. They are all sleeping soundly. I shrug. I wanna see it, so I say "Who cares? Let’s go." It isn’t far off the highway. The boys wake up and don't mind we've made this extra pit stop. We take some pictures and are soon back on the highway.

Coming home was difficult. The harsh facts of reality and all it demands quickly wipe any semblance of ego or self-importance. The crowds may have cheered you last week, but this week you’re back to being another cog in the wheel. You still gotta go back and punch the clock. The bills still need to be paid. The rent is still gonna be due. Still, it feels good to finally get some shows under my belt. The winter forecast for ANTiSEEN seems to be calling for some more woodshedding and songwriting. There are still a handful of shows on the calendar, including a homecoming show in Charlotte in early December. Then who knows what 2015 will bring… I’m sure it’ll be good stuff.

Hope everyone comes along for the ride….

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Road Journal - Part Two


Day Two – DALLAS

We ride out of Hattiesburg the next morning. Our next stop is Dallas, Texas to hook up with the infamous Tesco Vee and his legendary Meatmen.  This is a treat for me. The Meatmen are perennial mainstays, a cornerstone in my awareness of punk rock. Clayton and Tesco shared correspondence at some point in the early Eighties. They finally struck up an active friendship several years ago. The Meatmen invited ANTiSEEN to play their annual ‘Tesco Fest’, then returned the favor opening ANTiSEEN’s thirtieth anniversary. That these two bands should pair together seems obvious. That it has taken so long to make a trip like this happen is not. Fortunately it finally did.

The club is called Three Links. The promoter meets us at the door. He is very cool and accommodating. We are given a great spot to park and load in quickly. A cute young bartender appears and procures our dinner. She is gracious and works hard. The Meatmen were already there when we arrived. We all introduce ourselves and are soon hunkered down at tables in the rear of the club to eat. They are all very cool and laid back. I'm concerned my equipment might be in the way of Kevin, the Meatmen guitarist. He is very cool and assures me my stuff is fine.

After eating I retreat to the backstage green room, which is actually upstairs above the club. There is a small refrigerator filled with drinks. I don’t know if they’re intended for us or not, nobody explicitly said so. I don't care; I help myself to a Gatorade. On my first trip to Texas years ago as a "roadie" I basically stayed buzzed the whole time. I decide that keeping my alcohol intake to a minimum would probably be wise, not only for the sake of performance, but to avoid the long van ride between cities hungover. Believe me, that’s a drag.

I miss seeing the opening bands. Gooch and Barry report that one group, the Swinging Dicks, are really good. While waiting for them to tear down their gear I decide one beer can't possibly hurt. We've been given drink tickets to exchange for beer. Gooch and I go to the bar. In the din of noise the bartender and I can barely communicate. Gooch orders a Budweiser. I order the same. For some reason I'm given a Bud Light. I throw it out and get a Lone Star. When in Rome...

We ready our equipment and are soon tearing thru the set. My nervousness is still present. It’s an odd feeling.  I’ve never really experienced stage fright before. I look out into the audience. They seem into it, but they’re also reserved. I find myself mildly resenting this, but maintain my focus. This isn’t competition; it’s a tag-team effort. It’s an opportunity to win over a few converts. I play harder. We roar thru ‘Cop Out’ and I’m on a natural high. I'm so enveloped with what I'm doing I barely notice the rivulets of blood on the stage. Clayton has lacerated himself.  I step up my game, letting my guitar howl and growl thru ‘Nothings Cool’.  We grind out the rest of our set and the audience cheers approval. Mission accomplished.  

The Meatmen take the stage after us. They are killer, a well-oiled machine kicking out the proverbial jams and taking no prisoners. The costumes and gimmicks are mere icing on the cake. These guys can rock the house.  They invite Clayton to join them for the encore, a bruising cover of the Sex Pistols ‘Bodies’. This would be repeated for the rest of the trip. It was awesome to see Tesco and Clayton together onstage. There’s a lot of punk rock history between them. I feel fortunate to be in the spot I’m in, witnessing it as it happens.

After the show I feel energized. I get to speak with an internet friend, interestingly named - no shit - Ross Ward. Our German friend Marcus appears, he has flown over to follow us on these shows. He has done this many times, probably the most doggedly determined and dedicated ANTiSEEN fan in the world.

We finally load out the gear and retreat to a Motel 6. I shower and crash out watching an old episode of ‘Pawn Stars’.

 

Day Three – Austin

We awake in Dallas. After a breakfast run to Denny’s we decide to swing over to Dealey Plaza, where Kennedy was assassinated. This is my second time visiting the spot, however last time we went at night. In the bright of day there is more to see and understand. Personally I don’t subscribe to the conspiracy theories, but I still stood behind the fence on the grassy knoll. I wanted to go into the book depository but we didn’t have time. We took some pictures and split.

On the way to Austin I felt giddy. The van can get a little claustrophobic if you let it. Gooch and I banter back and forth in silly voices, making jokes and keeping the mood light. Our friend Kathleen Johnson calls in, she’s writing an article about the band for a Charlotte magazine. She catches me in full tilt stupidity, talking in a British accent and just generally being obnoxious (Sorry Kathleen!).

We arrive in Austin during rush hour traffic. Austin was once a quaint outpost of alternative culture steeped in the traditions of Country & Western, Tejano and Blues filtered thru a rock & roll sensibility. Austin was home, proving ground and spiritual wellspring of diversity resulting in the music of legends such as Willie Nelson, Roky Erickson and Doug Sahm. Now, Austin is largely a hellish cesspool of hipster elitism. You are far more likely to find rooms filled with willfully ignorant masses grooving to some moron with a laptop blasting synthesized bathtub farts thru the PA. Fortunately it remains a stronghold and requisite stopover for bands like ours. Austin all but guarantees a healthy turnout for a package like Meatmen & ANTiSEEN.

I can’t help but feel some nervous anticipation. I played Austin once many years ago as Mad Brother Ward. It was what could be best described as a disaster. I played on an outdoor patio in thirty-degree weather to about twenty people. I’m eager to have some sort of vindication. To do so I need to perform well.

 The club is called Red 7. ANTiSEEN has played here several times before, even recording a live album here. It’s a large place with two stages; one inside and one outside in a large courtyard. We circle the block a couple of times trying to park. The Meatmen arrive shortly after us. We are finally able to park and find out we are playing on the inside stage. This is ok by me; the outside is service by porta-jons which stink after a while. We load in and decide what to do about dinner. We all decide to go to Stubbs Barbecue, which is just another block over from the club. We descend upon Stubbs like a mongrel horde; Meatmen, ANTiSEEN and crew. We are ushered into a back corner room, presumably not to disturb the yuppie clientele.

We return to the club. The opening band has arrived, the Bulemics. They are something of a local institution, fronted by the infamous Gerry Atric. I like Gerry, but he scares me. There is that gleam in his eye that alerts my spidey-sense to danger. He throws his arm around me reciting Mad Brother Ward lyrics, calling me a 'genius'. It's flattering, but he pulled the same routine the last time I was in town. I doubt he has any recollection of it, so I indulge him, but it gets to be a wee much. I go out to the merch area. I see Stig Stench from the internet radio show 'Stench Radio'. We make small talk about Cheetah Chrome, Humungus and other nerdy fanboy shit. I turn around and see Jeff Skipski. Jeff put out the second Mad Brother Ward record. We catch up for a while until the Bulemics take the stage.

The Bulemics play their brand of revved-up rock and roll while Gerry Atric sneers and leers.  He invites Stig Stench onstage and they blast thru the old GG Allin tune 'No Rules'. They finish up and tear down their gear. Gerry comes backstage and I notice that a startling transformation has occurred. It's as if Mr. Hyde has come to possess Dr. Jekyll. Again my spidey sense tingles. I shrug it off and ready my gear. I'm nervous enough. I need to get focused on the job at hand.

We hit stage and crank out our set. I like the set we worked up for this trip, the songs flow together and are a lot of fun to play. The heat is intense, I'm drenched with sweat. I can taste it. My playing feels a bit sloppy but the energy is right. I lean into the songs and play hard. I realize I'm getting comfortable in this role now. I’m gathering more confidence and strength. I suddenly am struck with the realization that I’m onstage with my favorite band, playing the music I grew up with. This line-up is really great, too. Gooch and Barry are responsible for this fact. They are great musicians, providing be a solid foundation to layer my barre chords over. I’ve always loved this band, and now I love playing in it.

The crowd isn’t as reserved as Dallas, but still seems jaded. I make a joke about it and Clayton plays it up. "You mean like Aerosmith, Jaded?" he says over the mic. He seems content to play the heel at the expense of the audience. I like it. "Yeah," I reply, "but not as good". We finish out our set. The plan is to encore with our cover of Roky Erickson's 'Two Headed Dog'.  Brian Curley is supposed to join us. Curley played with Roky for a spell. He also was a member of the Delinquents, the band Lester Bangs recorded with. However the ineptitude of stage manager precludes this as they immediately cue music over the PA and begin striking the mics from our amps. It slightly sours an otherwise strong set.

The Meatmen kick ass. I watch them play from the backstage area. Tesco reveals a giant cut-out of a penis which is rigged to shoot confetti over the audience. When he fires the confetti somebody throws a full beer at him. It looks like it hit Tesco in the face. I can see him wince from pain but he doesn’t miss a beat. After the song ends he announces that it broke his finger. This is a phenomena I don’t understand; the ‘I Love This Band So I’m Gonna Show It by Throwing Shit at Them’ phenomena. I’ve seen it happen to ANTiSEEN. It stopped a set in Lubbock several years ago when a pint glass hit their last drummer Phil square on his forehead, cutting him badly.

I step outside for a minute to catch some fresh air. Suddenly I see several people – presumably bouncers– throw Gerry Atric out. He’s spazzing a bit, drunk, or high or both. A friend of his calms him down. People are passing on the street, dressed like modern day disco dandies, clearly prowling for the nearest dance club. A couple is walking past, a girl in a billowy glittered dress with slutty high heels. She is escorted by a square jawed behemoth, a monster of a man who reeks of obviousness. His expensive cologne makes him smell cheap. I’m sure he possesses more than one ‘Affliction’ shirt in his wardrobe. Gerry isn’t paying any attention; he’s clearly in other world. He lightly brushes against the dress of the girl. The behemoth flies into an instant rage. He clearly was looking for a fight and fate has afforded this opportunity. He grabs Gerry by the neck with giant hands, choking him. It looks as if Gerry’s head might simply pop right off. He looks like a toy in this monster’s hands. “DON’T TOUCH HER!!!” growls the behemoth. He slams Gerry against the brick wall of the club. His head hits with a resounding POP, opening a large gash. The behemoth throws him to the ground, eager for more action. Gerry’s friend scoops him from the sidewalk and drags him away. He is bleeding heavily from the back of his head. The behemoth looks straight at me, beady little eyes crazed with anger. I hold his stare. Although I’m terrified, I don’t show it. It’s probably the only thing that keeps him at bay. He struts off into the night, no doubt eager to brag to his buddies that he beat up a punk rocker. I thought it sucked. It was like watching a puppy get hit by a car.

Bummed, I go back inside reckoning it wiser and safer. I watch the Meatmen carry on with the set. After several songs the drummer, John, stops abruptly. He stands and points to the rear of the room. Someone has grabbed the penis prop and is trying to sneak out with it. They retrieve the prop and finish out their set. The Meatmen are generally good-natured about this sort of thing. ANTiSEEN would probably react in a more angered fashion. I don’t think either response is “correct”, it’s subjective. To me the real issue is why fuck with a bands shit?

After the show we are back on the street loading the gear into the van. The club next door is pounding dance music loudly. It echoes across the street where we see two guys shouting at each other over what appears to be where one guy parked his bike. The people passing eyeball us as if we’re trash. A guy is guiding a very drunk girl around, she asks us unintelligible questions. He swiftly guides her away. Don’t speak to the scary men, dear.

Once loaded we head on to the highway, straight on down to San Antonio.  Although I felt our show was stellar, I’m happy to be leaving. The unofficial town motto is ‘Keep Austin Weird’…

 On this night all I saw was stupidity.
-to be continued-

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Road Journal - Part One


It's been a couple of weeks since my last post. I wanted to make this a weekly thing but I'm prone to go off on tirades and rants about unrelated topics. Since this blog is intended to chronicle my time in the band I figure it better (and probably wiser) to stay "on topic".

So...

Since my debut at Muddy Roots I've gotten a lot of well-wishes, kudos and kind words. Some were from people I wouldn't have expected. I won’t 'out' anybody, but believe me when I say it was very much appreciated. It's been a lot of hard work, especially considering that this was not something I had been planning on. I've not played music since 2010, and that was what could be best described as a hobby. To have been suddenly thrust into this juggernaut of perpetual motion has been quite an experience. Add into the equation the very real and present understanding of not only the thirty-plus year legend of the band itself, but also the legacy of the man whose shoes I'm trying to respectfully fill... Well; it's a lot to deal with.

A lot.

As a “roadie” I’ve traveled with ANTiSEEN many times before. The tour routine is not something new to me. I learned long ago how and what to pack, where and when to spend money and (usually) when to speak and when to stay quiet. Putting six people in a van for an extended period of time can be a gamble. Personality differences become achingly magnified.  Sometimes it’s easier and wiser to suppress your own selfish interest for sake of general harmony. I’ve traveled with people that didn’t understand this fact, and I’ve been the person that didn’t understand this fact. Fortunately, this trip was one where we all got along great. I doubt I’ve laughed as often or as hard on any other trip.

The obvious difference about this trip was that I am now an actual member of the band. I’ve been asked many times how it feels. There’s no simple answer to that. This isn't something trivial or an easy ticket to some cheap entertainment for me. I care very deeply about the music of this band; it’s something I take extremely personal. So as the date of my first show approached I suddenly become nervous. It was an odd feeling, because I’ve never had stage fright before. I couldn’t rely on the others to shoulder my shortcomings or self-doubt. It was now my obligation to deliver. So I’ve had to stay focused and work a little harder. And so far it’s been a rewarding experience.

Anyway, this is a rundown of what happened on my first trip as the guitarist for ANTiSEEN….


Day One – Hattiesburg, Mississppi

We soldiered out shortly before sunrise. I tried getting as comfortable as I could and caught a few hours of sleep. I awoke somewhere in Alabama and contented myself to take in the scenery as we drove on into Mississippi. We arrived in Hattiesburg around 4pm. Our hosts were Walt and Heather Wheat. Walt is the guitarist in Before I Hang, longtime allies of ANTiSEEN and our opening act for the evening. He also graciously allows us to stay in their home while in town. We are greeted with a giant spread of amazing food; ribs, macaroni, slaw and the most amazing sausages I’ve ever ate. We stuff ourselves silly before piling into the van to head over to the club.

The club is called simply ‘The Tavern’. Situated in an old storefront its layout is basic. The stage runs along the front wall while a small bar occupies the rear corner. An adjoining room houses some pool tables and another smaller bar. We load in quickly, forgoing a soundcheck. This would set the pattern for the rest of the trip. Soundchecks are usually a waste of time; it’s easier and as effective to do a quick line check before our set.

I’m largely nervous. This is only my second show. I worry about breaking strings and equipment failure, but mostly I worry about making mistakes. I made a couple of blunders at Muddy Roots. I remind myself to stay focused. Trying to relax I sit in the van playing games on my phone. This is another routine I’d come to adopt. Although it concerns me that I might appear stand-offish or antisocial I find that a little downtime alone keeps the nervousness minimized. I overhear some people talking. It becomes apparent they are talking about “the new guy”. I can’t make out exactly what they’re saying. A guy tells a girl something about ‘matching telecasters’ and ‘been around those guys forever’. I can only hope it was positive.

I hear the first band begin, a group called the Grim Creepers. The name suggested a Misfits type deal. I see two girls in ghoul make-up and assume they are associated with the band. I guess wrong – the group is just four guys playing no- nonsense garage rock with some surf overtones. It’s hard to discount a basic rock & roll band, and these guys were pretty cool in my book.

Before I Hang quickly follow. I’d seen them a couple of times before but something about them seems different. I never quite figure it out (still nags as I write this). Their sound was amazing, really tight and powerful .The bassist is playing some sort of oddball rig. I recognize none of his equipment but it sounds killer. They blast through their set with determined confidence. Seeing them pummel through their set I realize they set the bar high.  It makes me more nervous. These guys are old-school ‘SEEN fans. I gotta measure up to expectations.

We finally take the stage. The crowd piles down in front of us. It’s a small crowd, maybe forty people. I don’t know what constitutes a ‘good’ turnout but it certainly seems good for a Tuesday night. I let my guitar begin to feedback and we launch into Queen City Stomp. I’m still somewhat nervous, so I root myself in front of my amp and try to keep focused. The crowd is totally into it. They chant along with the choruses and dance like spastics. I can feel myself grinning like an idiot and can’t help it. I’m having a blast.

Afterwards I get a lot of compliments and well wishes. It means a lot. A guy has an ancient ANTiSEEN shirt he wants me to sign. I’m uncomfortable with it. I kinda knew eventually I’d be asked to sign something with Joe Young’s picture. I never reconciled how to handle it when it occurred. Now confronted with it I suddenly realized exactly what to do. I write ‘RIP JOE’ and sign it. It feels right to me.

We return to the Wheat household. More food and drink is made available and I’m given my own room with a giant bed. The Wheat’s are incredibly generous and thoughtful. I decide to sleep on the floor in my sleeping bag rather than mess up the sheets.
I slept like a baby.

-to be continued-

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The First Show...


I’ve been sitting here staring at my screen for about an hour trying to process and put into words the events of this past weekend. It seems like it went screaming past without so much as glance. So now I’m trying to sift and sort my memories in hope of capturing some semblance of what occurred. I do know this easily and readily; it was an absolute blast…

Friday afternoon we slowly winded our way through the Great Smoky Mountains and on over into Tennessee to our destination; a tiny town known as Cookeville. We arrived, checked into our lodgings and soon rendezvoused with our old pal, filmmaker Jason Griscom. We then followed the route that winded its way straight into nowhere, made a left turn and went even farther out. It is here the June Bug Ranch is located, site of the Muddy Roots Festival. Muddy Roots is a three day barrage of punk rock, country, rockabilly, blues and folk. Past festivals have featured a diverse array of luminaries such as Dr. Ralph Stanley, Black Flag, and Billy Joe Shaver.  This year was the largest yet, featuring Mudhoney, the Weirdos, the Blasters and Bobby Bare. ANTiSEEN wasn’t scheduled to perform until 6:00pm the following evening, but we wanted to get there early to see one of the headlining acts: spiritual ascendants, forefathers and garage rock legends the Sonics.

If you recall the film Apocalypse Now envision something akin to a cross between the scene when the Playboy Bunnies perform and the bridge at D’o Lung. Assorted vendors pedaled their wares in tents, trucks and trailers. The smell of sausage, sweat and stale beer hung in the air. Random people on motorcycles and golf carts zip about aimlessly. Fireworks periodically explode in the sky. The term ‘organized chaos’ would be apt. Several hundred acres of rolling hills transformed into a tent city populated with the children and grandchildren of Flower Power, Women’s Lib, Punk Rock and No Nukes. This is where the naïve hippy idealism of Woodstock and the wanton mindless violence of Altamont genetically merge. Its spawn are the refuse of middle class America; a dystopian sub-culture of tattooed and pierced ruffians raised on fast-food, cable tv and heavy-metal music.

We make our way to the main stage, aptly called the Old Wood Stage. My initial thought was the clapboard contraption would hardly withstand the weight of our gear. I can’t claim the veracity of the age but it certainly looked old and indeed was made of wood, half of which was covered by corrugated tin seemingly of equal old age. The lip of the tin roof was lined by a string of stage lights illuminating a mass of assorted equipment strewn across the boards being readied for the show.

The Sonics take what feels like forever getting ready, but when they finally kick in it’s incredible. These dudes are as old as my parents and rock harder than most young bands going today. Which proves that actual age is irrelevant; spirit has longevity. Opening with the bomb blast of ‘Cinderella’ and charging on through one classic after another, from “The Witch” to “He’s Waiting” to “Boss Hoss” to “Have Love Will Travel” to delivering the one-two knockout punch of “Psycho” and “Strychnine”.  The Sonics delivered a solid, good old-fashioned ass whuppin’ and left my ears ringing. Moreover they played some new unreleased material that sounded as vital and killer as their classic stuff. We left duly inspired.

Returning the following afternoon we killed time wandering about the festival grounds checking out the ancillary vendors and auxiliary stages located in large tents. The Rusty Knuckles folks had constructed a large booth allowing us ample room to set up and sell merchandise. Although initially overcast, the sun soon broke through the clouds and it appeared it was gonna shape up to be a pleasant evening.

We are given the high-sign to load our gear onstage. The organizers thoughtfully provided a handful of volunteer stagehands to assist us. We set up, do a quick check of the monitors and suddenly with minutes to go until show time, the sky opens forth with a torrential rain. I’m talking monsoon. The sound crew scurries to cover their gear and shut down all power onstage. Fortunately we are high and dry under the tin roof of the stage. On either side there are embankments that quickly flood. People have unwisely set up camp in these low-lying areas and are suddenly forced to confront what has essentially become a small river running through their tents. I can’t help but snicker at their dilemma. A port-a-jon begins to tip, threatening to flip over completely. People begin to watch it wobble in the rapidly rising water as it were a prize fight, some cheering for the water, some for the port-a-jon. The jon wins, remaining upright however I think its contents were voided in the floodwater. Pity those downstream…

Former ANTiSEEN drummer Phil Keller has showed up along with Owen Mays, a longtime friend and fan of the band. Mays is also a talented and respected musician in his own right. We pass the time talking wrestling and guitars. Still, I’m nervous and anxious to play. The extended last minute delay chafes my sense of order but not my overall good mood. After about an hour it finally lets up and decent crowd has gathered, braving the elements and is anxiously waiting. Finally we are given the go-ahead to play. I am somewhat out of sorts with my equipment but there is no time left to fuck around.

Clayton introduces us and before I can even think we’re off and running. We blast through the songs in rapid succession and I suddenly realize that I’m running largely on instinct. The volume of my Hiwatt amp seems to reverberate through me. I ground myself steadfastly in front of it, feeling the power surge knowing I’m controlling it. My Telecaster growls and howls and I love it. It’s an awesome sensation. I can’t hear the others very well and the stage is slick from the rain.  Trying not to slip I look again and the crowd has easily quadrupled in size. I’m learning on my feet, realizing this shit is not as easy as it looks. I’ve played guitar in other bands, but this is another beast entirely. I make a major mistake, losing the end of ‘Black Eyed Suzy’ completely. I learn the hard way if I don’t hold on to the reigns tightly I’m gonna get bucked. It’s a good lesson for me, I needed it. Gooch grins at me good naturedly, knowing exactly what I’m thinking. I get about a nanosecond to catch my breath and we continue. Before I know it I’m churning out the opening chords of “Fuck All Y’all”, our final song.  As it climaxes, Jeff takes his scrub board and sets it on fire. I churn out droning feedback while Barry and Gooch play a shuffle beat.

And then, as suddenly as it began, it’s over. 

I walk to the rear of the stage and am suddenly embraced by Clayton. This was his first ANTiSEEN show without Joe Young. I know it’s a heavy moment for him but he’s clearly pleased.  Then I hear the crowd. They are chanting “ONE MORE SONG!! ONE MORE SONG!!”  We return for a quick encore and then we are done.

Standing on the side of the stage is a familiar face. It’s Zander Schloss from the Circle Jerks. He also plays bass for the equally legendary Weirdos, who are playing after us. He shakes my hand, introduces himself and tells me my guitar sounded killer. Captain Sean from Throw Rag appears from the dark, gives me a hug and tells me “Thank-you”. My mind is blown. These are heroes of mine. We pack up the gear and I drink a celebratory beer, watch the Weirdos kick ass and then, exhausted, finally return to the motel.

I’m notorious for my harsh critique of most any and all things, but I reserve the harshest judgment for myself. I admittedly made some mistakes losing focus amid my nervous energy, but ultimately I feel really good about how it came off. And this is only the beginning. There are a lot of things in the pipeline heading on through fall and into 2015. In a few weeks we’ll be out on the road with the infamous Meatmen. So heads up.  It’s gonna be killer. 

Now get ready to get down and get with it….

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Live To Be Hated...


August 29th would be GG Allin’s 58th birthday, believe it or not. Although somewhat ‘off-topic’ I wanted to take the opportunity to remember him as he meant a lot to me and my outlook both musically and personally.

So indulge me.

In the fall of 1989, I had just turned 18. I was about six weeks into my last ditch effort to complete high school and failing miserably. My friends were generally nice obedient church going kids preparing for a life of middle-management, middle class, middle of the road, middle of nowhere. I was a misfit among them. My hair was longer, dirtier. My grades were far worse. I liked the harder edged music and the darker, gorier films. I was a weirdo. I just couldn’t fit in. I had grown completely disenfranchised with most everything in my life.

My musical exposure was limited to the standard variety commercial radio formats and the videos that flashed across MTV.  In my dim awareness rock and roll was largely staged in the arenas and stadiums of the world. The clubs might provide a glimpse of future mega-gods as they ascended to rock star glory, but I was still learning. I was unaware of the concept of 'All-Ages'.  To my limited understanding and knowledge, clubs were largely the domain of beer swilling frat-boys and wet t-shirt contests.

Punk rock changed all that.

I saw ANTiSEEN and as the cliché goes, my life was changed forever. ANTiSEEN was unlike anything I had ever seen yet were everything I had dreamt of. They were primitive, chaotic and scary. By coincidence it was almost exactly the same time I first heard of GG Allin. I was still in school, just a few weeks shy of dropping out. I sat with some girls who I didn’t really know, young metal -mamas in waiting. One was a brunette, rather severe looking. The other was a chubby bleach blonde with a big ass I liked to stare at. I cannot remember their names. It was simply odd fortune that for whatever reason I wasn’t shooed away from their table. It was all the more fortuitous that one of them would have a copy of a heavy metal magazine that contained a letter from a performer called GG Allin. In it he proclaimed his intention to commit suicide onstage on Halloween the following year.

I had never heard of GG Allin. The sincerity of his writing spooked me – I couldn’t fathom what he or his music could possibly be like. I quickly searched out his records and still yet was afraid to buy one. I would stand in the record shop staring at the covers trying to imagine what sonic horrors they contained. I knew intuitively that it wasn’t heavy metal, nor would it sound like what little punk rock I’d heard. GG Allin wasn’t a mohican fashion victim, and with song titles like “Sleeping In My Piss”, “Dope Money” and “Drink Fight and Fuck” he clearly wasn’t wallowing in political dogma.  GG Allin was in a league all his own. I also learned of the reputation that was fast growing into legend: violence, bloodshed, defecation and coprophagia.  In the punk rock ethos that prided itself of ‘outsider’ status, GG Allin was the ultimate outsider.

I’m not sure how I came to realize that ANTiSEEN and GG Allin were friends. It certainly made sense that they would be associated in some way. These were the purveyors of the scariest, most intense noise that had ever existed. After I had seen ANTiSEEN preform the idea of onstage death no longer seemed like a cheap publicity stunt. Unlike say, David Coverdale who stood safely above the masses flanked by security detail while prancing about with his carefully coifed hair, Jeff Clayton was unafraid to get hurt. He was unafraid to hurt others and unafraid of how it looked to anyone else. He was a spastic mess of hair, blood, sweat and phlegm. And I was a terrified teenager in total awe of what I was witnessing. I remember very clearly watching him bash his face repeatedly with the mic and landing in a clump at my feet.

It only occurred to me later how revolutionary a moment this was in my life. I had stumbled into an underground movement of rock & roll performance elevated beyond theatrical convention. It was actual bloodshed and scarred flesh. It was actual violence.  I never thought of a concert as a place where my personal safety could be violated by the band. It provided awareness that rock & roll performance wasn’t always a pose, that it could be - should be - the expression of inner emotions shared in a genuine tangible way.

And now this character called GG Allin was threatening to go over the edge once and for all.

ANTiSEEN had brought GG to town in 1987 and although they did not perform together it still managed to be one of the sickest, most twisted shows the city of Charlotte had ever seen. Unfortunately this was just before I got hip to the shit, and I missed out completely. By the time I got wised up the show had already transcended into legend. Years later a crude recording of it was released as a 7”ep called “Carolina In My Ass”.  It added to the mystique of GG Allin.

I finally collected a few GG records. They were all different. I couldn’t piece it together. Some of the material was tight, sharply produced hard rock with a vocal that sounded positively adolescent to my ears. Others were grinding sludge with menacing vocals that sounded shredded and snarled. And yet still others sounded like they were recorded on a boombox in somebody’s basement. The attitude was largely the same, however. It reflected a sensibility that I found myself eagerly identifying with; the attitude of individuality. The proverbial “fuck you” without regard of what anyone thought, positive or negative.

I began championing GG Allin and his looming suicide pact. “Just wait” I remember telling a co-worker, “this is gonna change everything. This is gonna be front page news all over the world!”

Well, it didn’t quite happen like that.

Instead GG was arrested on trumped up charges of sexual assault and languished in the slams for 18 months. In that time grunge exploded and a new awareness of punk rock rose in its wake. For a moment it looked as if the cracks in the commercial music dam were gonna give way completely and some actual revolution in music might occur. But nope, the major labels just co-opted and codified the deal and instead of seeing the GG Allins and ANTiSEENs of the world get the acknowledgment and accolades they rightly deserved, we got spoon fed the sugar coated, safe and palatable Green Days and Nirvanas.

Nevermind?

Whatever.

Released from prison in the spring of 1991, GG skipped parole and headed to North Carolina. He and ANTiSEEN finally teamed together to record one of the last truly iconic punk rock records, “Murder Junkies”.  Although sitting far off on the sidelines I was lucky to be around as it all was happening.  Some friends rehearsed at the same place ANTiSEEN did and got to see them work up a new song. My friend Brad called telling me all about it: “Man, they took the music from ‘Charlie’s Blues’ (a song from Joe Young’s solo ep) and GG put these words to it, just going ‘I hate people’ over and over…"

Yeah, I was pretty jealous. I won’t lie about it.

I finally met GG and was somewhat surprised how laid back and good-natured he was. GG forever had people in his face with a pen and a camera. I never really did that when he was around, so I think he accepted me as genuine rather than an opportunist. I did manage to score a couple of autographs at a record signing he did. Unfortunately I no longer have them.  Once he saw a Ramones shirt I was wearing and flipped on it. “Where’d you get that shirt? Man, I gotta have it!! Whattaya want for it??” He traded me a shirt out of his bag on the spot. I no longer have that, either. This isn’t to say I was “friends” with GG; that would be patently untrue. But we were friendly and remained so whenever he passed through town.

My favorite memory of GG was seeing him in Atlanta on Valentine’s Day, 1992. I got to ride down with Clayton. We met at his house and he immediately asked if I could play the drums. I had been playing drums in my first band, but I wasn’t particularly good. I asked what was up and he told me that GG and his drummer Dino had been arrested the night before. They bailed GG out but didn’t have enough to get Dino, so they needed a drummer for the gig. I nervously said that I would but I knew there was no way I’d be anywhere near what they would want or need. I seriously doubt Jeff thought I was either, but the options were clearly limited. Fortunately they found a guy in Atlanta that could do it. Good thing, I would’ve made a train wreck out of the gig had I played.

We got to the club as the opening band was finishing. My friend Brad rode down with someone else and we soon met up and found ourselves backstage. Some half-naked junkie stripper girls were there with their shit openly on the table. I’d never been exposed to this stuff before. I thought I was a pretty badass punk kid but I learned real quick I was still a white meat babyfaced virgin when in the world of GG Allin. I at least had enough sense to keep my mouth shut and stay out of the way.

We were given very explicit instructions where to stand just before he took stage.

The show was incredible. GG took the stage clad in red satin panties and sporting a black eye from the police beatdown he got during his arrest the previous night. “Point out the undercover cops so we know where they are!” he commanded. “They came to arrest me tonight but I ain’t gonna fuckin’ let em do it!”

The band tore into ‘Live To Be Hated’, one of my favorites. It was great, everything you’d hope it to be and more. Although the drummer didn’t know the material very well, he was a total pro, filling in like he had been with them from the start. They were pretty tight and powerful, giving GG a solid musical foundation which he so often lacked on his recordings.

He took to the crowd several times, people scattering like scared children running in a bizarre game of tag. I have a very distinct and clear memory of him standing on a pool table, bathed in fluorescent and neon light, manically kicking cue balls.

The stripper girls joined him onstage adding further luridness to the entire spectacle. The set was short, perhaps twenty or thirty minutes. He didn’t do anything he was famous for; there was no shit, little bloodshed or fights with the crowd. Yet it was one of the most thrilling events I ever witnessed. Rock & Roll delivered in its most urgent and direct manner by one of the last great practitioners of the form.

We were again ushered backstage, sitting along the wall trying to be mindful of our surroundings. I’m sure I probably thought I looked pretty cool, but the truth is I was pretty scared.  More and more people crashed the dressing room, all trying to garner GG’s attention. Somebody brought a stack of pizzas and sat them next to me. They smelled great and I was starving but I wasn’t about to throw down on GG’s pizza. Suddenly GG was next me and said “you better eat some of this pizza, coz I sure can’t eat it all.”

He sat down with me and Brad and we all dug in. He told us that Clayton had told him about our band and how we were like the “bad guys” in our scene. We had played a gig the week before and got in trouble with the club and wound being banned. Evidently Jeff had bragged about it to him. He said “You guys probably got friends and girlfriends and shit, but whatever you do, do it full on. Don’t hold back and don’t let anybody ever stop you, fuck those motherfuckers!” I couldn’t believe GG Allin was giving me a pep talk, but here we were, backstage surrounded by assorted ruffians, wannabes and hangers-on. And GG had come over to us.  “Do what you gotta do” he said. “Don’t do what I do, do what you do. And do it hard!”

I realized immediately what he meant. It wasn’t about the spectacle; the blood, piss, shit and vomit. It was the will to do all that… and more. It meant taking everything you had at your disposal and using it as ammunition against the conformity and complacency of everything that you hated. It meant committing yourself beyond expression; taking action without regard to consequence. It meant conviction.  

 I’ll never forget that as long as I live.

Most still cannot recognize this fact about GG Allin. They still want to ignorantly dismiss him as some sort of freakish sideshow or odd footnote in the annals of punk rock. Because to acknowledge the strength of will and character of GG Allin is an admission to the fact that 95% of what has been passed off as “punk rock” - or rock & roll for that matter – is just complacent fluff; fraudulent and pandering.

Because it is.

GG Allin died on June 28, 1993. I was in the studio recording the second Mad Brother Ward record with Clayton sitting at the mixing board. He got the call, gathered us into the control room and broke the news. We sorta sat in shock for a moment and then we all knew what had to be done: to do what we had come to do. And to do it hard.

Looking back all these years later it strikes me that the more notorious “outlaws” of the punk rock underground were almost always more accepting, understanding and open than the dogmatic politically correct scene tastemakers and standard bearers. Unlike the elitists, there was no calculation to their cool. They had nothing to gain or benefit from it. However they continually took the greatest amount of heat, always and forever outside the neatly defined and carefully policed lines of punk rock acceptance and respect.

Others in this town might brag of some imagined bond they believe they shared with GG. They might have pictures, autographs, souvenirs and memorabilia. What I got was a lot better. I got influence and inspiration. I got schooled directly from the man himself.

And I’m taking that knowledge with me every time I step onstage.