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...


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.


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 J├Ągermeister. 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.