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.