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.
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….