Sunday, December 27, 2015

#Goodbye Tremont...

I've already written at length of the importance Tremont Music Hall has played for this band. Penny Craver extended her welcome from the minute she opened the doors twenty years ago and it continued thru subsequent owners Dave Ogden and John Hayes. ANTiSEEN has enjoyed relationships with many good people and establishments over their history, but few have been as strong or as appreciated as what we have shared with Tremont Music Hall. However it extends beyond what we ourselves shared; in addition to hosting many famous and infamous national acts, Tremont stood as an open door and proving ground for the inexperienced and untested. It was a venue that allowed discovery and exposure.To see it closed and shuttered is a disheartening reality check on the state of underground and independent music.

The first show I remember seeing there was the Flat Duo Jets. Dexter Rombweber seemed to be channeling out some serious shit that night. After the set he walked to a corner and slumped against the wall. Nobody approached him; it was just too intense. I also saw Iggy tear it up in one of the best shows I've ever seen. After his set I got to meet him. It was usually pretty easy to meet your musical heroes at Tremont. I saw X there twice, both times were great but I think the second time might be in the top five shows I've ever seen; they just were on that night. Afterwards I got them to sign a setlist  (handwritten on lined yellow notebook paper no less) and Billy Zoom complimented my Motorhead t-shirt. I saw Rollins Band on their West Memphis Three benefit tour doing all Black Flag songs. Keith Morris was with them and did the first third of the set - a killer show. I got to see Cheetah Chrome and Sylvain Sylvain play together to a crowd of about thirty people (way to go Charlotte). I was able to get Throw Rag booked which of course proved to be great.

As Mad Brother Ward I had some pretty strong sets of my own there, too. It was also where I played what I thought would be my last ever show  - until I was recruited into ANTiSEEN. To find myself suddenly thrust into the position of being in the band that closed the club forever is surprising  and almost feels somewhat undeserved. So it was not something I wanted to take in stride. Although I try to treat every show as important and special in their own in individual way, this one I knew held a little more gravitas - not only for me personally, but for the band, for John Hayes and  - I dare say - for Charlotte Music. This truly was the end of an era.

The show was an all day affair featuring local acts from across the musical spectrum; rock, alternative and hip hop. Tremont employed both its stages; one act performed on one while another prepared on the other. This kept the pace of the show from dragging and the energy from waning. It also allowed sufficient set up time. We actually had loaded our equipment in a day early. When I arrived I simply had to position my gear and perform a quick line check. Even with ample preparation and a solid road tested set, I was still pretty nervous. I knew this wasn't exclusively "our audience". This was a cross section of people who simply wanted to be present for the last waning moments of Tremont Music Hall; from the die hard fans to the casual curiosity seekers. It was important to leave an impression.

We took the stage in a haze of fog and set the tone with 'Self Destruction'. It was quickly followed with the anthem 'Queen City Stomp'. We blitzed from one song to the next with short respites to acknowledge what we were a part of. Then back into the fray: 'Stormtrooper'. 'Wifebeater'. 'Cactus Jack'. 'Cop Out'. The audience was soon a swirling mass of frenzied excitement; stage diving, slam dancing and pumping their fists in the air. I stood at the lip of the stage staring deep into the crowd. I wanted to remember this moment. I wasn't only a performer onstage, I was part of something I hoped was a shared, communal experience.

At the end of the set Jeff introduces club owner John Hayes. John straps on a guitar and joins us for the closing songs. I always love it when we have a second guitar. It just sounds monstrous. John has joined in with the band a few times before. We wanted to include him in the final moments of Tremont's last stand. I surge into the opening chord of 'Fuck All Y'all' and the place erupts. People have jumped onstage to sing along, I'm so deep in the zone I barely notice. The song climaxes as Jeff ignites his scrub board. It explodes. He lifts the flaming remnants in the air and smashes it down on the stage. John follows suit by smashing his guitar. People scramble for the pieces. With the amps ringing out a wash of feedback we all take to the lip of the stage - the final curtain call.

Tremont Music Hall is closed.

Thank you Charlotte, and goodnight...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Motor City Madhouse & Chi-Town Heat...

Power to the people, motherfuckers!!!

Can you tell I've been to Detroit again? Ah yes, Detroit Rock City - spiritual wellspring of cross-cultural bravado and inspirado. Less reality than mythology nowadays, but whatever. I am unabashedly and unashamedly wet-nursed on the myths and legends inscribed in vinyl and passed down from one generation to the next. Somebody's gotta do it. I mean after that, whattaya got? Anymore its a land that time forgot, paved over with the pacification of techno-trinkets, gizmos and toys. So-called 'millennials' enjoying the stupor of obviousness and allowance - there's really nothing left to rebel against anymore. Simply purchase some convoluted brand name ready-made rebellion (Occupy/anti-war/Free Tibet/insert your favorite here) and be a part of the gang, maaaan...

And yes, even cynicism such as mine is passé, too - but I've been employing it since at least the last thirty years (stop acting surprised, already!) so I give myself a pass. Personally I was never one to follow any sort of leader or movement, no how. I'm a street walkin' possum with a heart full of apathy. I felt/feel the same ambivalence towards the left wing loony-tune politics of the MC5 as I do the cuckoo conservatism of Ted Nugent. And yet it still somehow confuses people when I profess to being a fan of both. Whatever dogmatic principals espoused - however righteous or wrongteous - never meant much to me. I have a brain of my own, thank-you very much, capable of reasoning and sorting out what I feel to be morally and ethically correct. After that all I really need is some sort of genuine transference of emotion; bring it like you mean it. Kick out the jams, motherfucker.

Otherwise you're just wasting everybody's time.

DETROIT - Dec 11

We trekked out of Charlotte early, perhaps a bit too early. By mid-afternoon we were on the outskirts of Cleveland and with plenty of time to kill, took advantage of taking in a visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I won't labor debate on the validity of the RRHoF, but it's a swell museum if you happen to be into that sort of thing. I am. There is much to feast yer eyes on and mine were stuffed on the endless display of cool stuff: from Hank to Hendrix and all things in between and beyond. Johnny Ramone's Mosrite was a highlight. We scurried about the place like excited little kids at the zoo; all wide eyed wonder and awe. After a quick perusal of the gift shop (where the money changers scored on this easy mark) we were back in the van and on the road to Detroit.

The club is called Corktown Tavern. We played here last spring. The building sits a block away from the site of the old Tiger Stadium. Its a two story tavern with the stage located upstairs - a wee bit of a job to load in. We knock it out in rapid order and after some beef stew and a long neck bottle of Schlitz I await the festivities to begin.

Our pal Drew Toth arrives with his wife Lorie. Drew operates Juggernaut Graphics and has come with a hefty load of freshly printed ANTiSEEN hats (check out for details on how to get yours). He and I have a long conversation about music, culture and musical culture. I try to reassure him that, despite my self-sanctimonious ramblings here on this blog I am in fact, an OK guy... Drew is definitely top shelf; a quality person I've been fortunate to meet.

'Punk Rick' Scullion arrives from Toronto with his trademark omnipresent grin. He's another character I look forward to seeing. I fist met Punk Rick in Pittsburgh years ago while working merch. He has videotaped scores of bands over the years and amassed an impressive collection of archived shows. He has not yet seen this line-up with Gooch and myself, so I'm eager to impress him.

Lance Runngren arrives on a badly injured leg. He had a car accident about a month before and is hobbling about with the aid of a cane. He's also the guitarist for Busby Death Chair who are opening the show. As with last spring when we were here, Lance has generously opened his home for us again to crash after the show.
Our set is a good one. We tear into our set and I pace myself a bit until I find my zone. Sometimes while playing I can almost lose myself in mental isolation. I have a moment of stark awareness while playing 'I Don't Ask You For Nothing' - it was one of my earliest favorite A-SEEN songs when I was a teenager. Here now, onstage over twenty-five years later, I'm again struck with the realization of the position I occupy. I lean into the songs ringing them out for what I personally desire. Sometimes its a selfish trip, but I truly believe Joe Young would want me to make it my own. The Corktown is an excellent room - it just sounds great in there. The crowd slam dances as we churn out one song after another. I love the taste of my own sweat when we play. I love that it stings my eyes.
After the set the sound guy shakes my hand. He tells me that his boss said he would love us. "I've head that before", he says. "But this time he was right. I knew something was up when half the old school punk rock royalty in Detroit started showing up!" It's a great compliment.

As we load out I look at the skyline of Detroit. I can't help but kinda smile. "You know," I tell Barry, "maybe I never made it to Cobo Hall, but then I never thought I'd ever even make it to Detroit..."

Not too shabby.

LOMBARD - Dec 12

Before leaving Detroit we are treated to lunch at Zeke's Rock & Roll Barbecue, We were given the same treat the last time we were here and it was much enjoyed and appreciated. The place is really cool and the food is incredible. We stuffed ourselves and then were soon back out on the highway. We were making a little extra time to make another side stop  - this time to visit the Home of the Gooch.

Gooch is originally from Indiana and his parents still live there. We roll in just after dark and are met at the door by his father. He leads our scruffy little troop into a beautiful home. Gooch's mom has laid out a spread for us to chow down. We relocate to the recreation room downstairs - a cool spot with a pool table and retro furnishings. Gooch's parents are cool and they are all clearly happy to see one another. We hang out for about an hour before heading back out.

Lombard is a suburb of Chicago. We roll into town amid a misting rain reflecting the neon and florescent light of an endless maze of shopping centers, convenience stores, fast food restaurants and gas stations. This is the heart of middle America; a suburbanite utopia of middle class self indulgence. Here lies the final resting place of the American Dream:Tastes great, less filling. Have it your way. You deserve a break today.

The club is called Brauerhouse. It is situated on the corner of a strip mall, a restaurant that doubles as a music venue. For some reason or another the promoter doesnt actually come to the show. Instead we are directed to the restaurant manager - a large and marginally scary looking guy who seems annoyed he has to deal with us. However the sound guy is very cool and accommodating. He is called 'Flash' and readily answers our questions as to where we load in and where to set up merch. The load in is awkward - we have to park on the far end of the building and walk our equipment along a long narrow hall to the other side. Eventually we get it together and are settled.

People are already arriving. Some are wearing ANTiSEEN t-shirts. I also spot a Cocknoose shirt. A lot of GG Allin paraphernalia as well. I retreat to the tiny room that serves as the backstage. Soon the first opening band are blasting away. Their set is short; maybe twenty minutes. Then the next band takes the stage. Evidently their drummer is MIA so they have called in a substitute. Apparently very last minute - he doesn't arrive for another half hour, delaying the entire show. Eventually they get it sorted out and knock off a set that climaxes with a few choice Black Flag covers.

My friend Ann shows up. She moved to Chicago several years ago and we try to meet up anytime I'm out this way. Last time thru she was busy, but this time she made it. I have enough time for a quick 'hello' before getting my equipment ready.

The crowd is small, maybe forty people, but most are fans. They sing along and shout requests.There is an older guy standing in front of my side of the stage rocking out the air guitar. It's pretty funny but also pretty cool. We charge thru the set and it feels really good. Rivulets of sweat drip on the neck of my guitar making it difficult to play. I readjust and keep focus. There's no drum monitor so I try to make sure Gooch and I are on point. We communicate with our eyes and it holds together. There's a lot of synergy in this line-up.

After the set I say good-bye to Ann and start to pack up. While doing so I spot a guy from the opening band with the drummer problem. I introduce myself. His name is Jake. I ask what was up with the drummer. Apparently their regular drummer was sick and they decided there was no way they were gonna miss an opportunity to play with ANTiSEEN. So they winged it with a guy who didn't really know the songs.I tell him it was impressive, considering the deceptively difficult Black Flag tunes. He seemed really excited to have played with us.

We finish loading out. A quick pit stop for gas then the overnight drive back to Charlotte. Gooch takes shotgun and plays DJ on the stereo while Clayton takes the wheel. Sitting in the back I try to sleep but can't. I stare off into a dark horizon dotted with the strobing red beacons of of a windfarm. The van catapults on thru the night... 

We are now poised for the closing of Tremont Music Hall. It has been our honor and privilege to have been offered the rather dubious position of being the last band to ever play there. I suppose its a rather bittersweet proposition. There's a lot of history for this band at Tremont covering twenty years and three owners. This will also very likely be the last time we play locally for awhile. So make sure to make time, because this will be history after Saturday night...

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Smoky Mountain Reign

Hello again everybody. I don't update this blog as often as I would like in part due to chronic laziness and also the simple fact that sometimes there isn't much to write about. That isn't to say we haven't been busy - more on that in a second. First a quick little recap of our recent weekend trip in the Great Smoky Mountains...

CHATTANOOGA TN - November 20

We arrived in town early at the invite of our old friend Tom Hughes and his wife Kristi. They extended us the generous hospitality of an awesome barbecue dinner in their home. Tom is the guitarist of Hellstomper as well as Lookout Mountain Daredevils. He has converted his attic into a pretty cool little home studio filled with a varied array of instruments, amplifiers and other assorted musical goodies, gizmos and gadgets. We spend time talking shop as he shows me around. Pretty soon it's time to head on over to the club.

The club is called JJ's Bohemia. Its a long narrow sliver of a room lined by a bar. The tiny stage is awkwardly positioned right next to the bar facing the opposite wall eight feet away. I've been here before when I worked merch, so I know firsthand the cramped space usually makes for a fun show. We load in, our equipment spilling out around the stage. There is just nowhere to put it. We soon sort it all out and people start piling in. Our pal Mondo has driven up from Macon, Georgia. Also in attendance is 'Chicken Farm' Eric Sanders, subject of the underground documentary "My Name Is Eric". Soon the room is filled with plumes of cigarette smoke and loud music. I escape to the fresh air and relative peace out in the van. Barry and I go over a few parts of songs. We are opening our set with 'Self Destruction', an old favorite of mine. We've only practiced it a handful of times and Barry wants to ensure he has it down correctly. We also discuss another new tune to the set, 'Reconstruction'. This is the one I've been having trouble with. We go over both and decide we feel good about them.

A bit of a surprise is the appearance of Tom O'Keefe. Tom was the bass player during the "classic" ANTiSEEN era covering the years of 1988 to 1995. It was Tom who first suggested I ride along with the band way way back around 1991. He's since gone on to enjoy a successful career working in the music industry as a Tour Manager for major label acts. I tease him occasionally via Facebook due to his work for "big time" musical acts, but the very real truth is he paid his dues the hard way. It was Tom who ran his phone bill up to astronomical figures helping set up deals and shows for the band. He even generously helped my first band get some shows back around that time as well.

We spend time catching up. The contrast of his world to that of mine is almost funny. He's about to go out on tour with Weezer and discusses some of the amusing details of that. We talk about production logistics and how freely money is spent in the world of corporate rock. Sometimes the transportation costs of getting a band and crew from Point ' A' to Point 'B' is more for one day than I earn in a year. Meanwhile ANTiSEEN have to carefully manage every last dime ensuring all our expenses are covered correctly, all the while enduring jabs from know-it-all punkers who think we are "rock stars" because we have a guarantee. 
I talk about songwriting with Tom; his playing, style and sound. It's fun for me to pick his brain because I am such a huge fan. It isn't too often you get to sit down and pow-wow with your musical heroes. He tells me funny stories about how songs were put together, how he approached his playing and what his influences were. I confess my nervousness about playing in front of him - this will be his first time seeing me play with the band. He assures me I was the logical choice to replace Joe. I laugh and tell him he may feel different after he sees me play...

After getting the high sign we load out gear onstage. It barely fits. People pile around the front and we are soon into the set. I'm not certain but I believe the PA is only for the vocals. There's a single monitor on my side of the stage but it's a useless prop. My guitar sounds wrong, I'm not sure what the problem is. It distracts me somewhat and I also am trying to pace myself to keep my energy up and consistent. I'm not so sure anyone notices. They are all busy jumping around, slam dancing and singing along. At some point there are fights in the crowd. I pay it no notice whatsoever. We reach 'Reconstruction' and Chicken Farm Eric jumps onstage with his tambourine and jams with us. Its a cool moment.

We start off 'Hammerhead' sorta wonky - Gooch's bass drum beater has broken. Fortunately Joe Thomas, drummer from Lookout Mountain Daredevils is on the spot and we soon have the bass drum fixed. Tom joins in on vocals for an encore of 'Haunted House' and then its over.

Afterwards Tom gives me a big hug and assures me I have his endorsement. The emotion and importance of this doesn't hit me for another 36 hours, and I feel pretty good about it now as I write this. To have the endorsement and support of Tom, Greg Clayton and Joe Young's brother Jeff means a great deal. I've had people look me straight in the eye and tell me point blank it's not the same for them anymore. Well, no kidding. It's not the same for me either. But I do know this - we are as good as this band has ever been, and I'm pretty goddamned proud of what we are doing. And if thats bravado, braggadocios or flat out arrogant... then good. To someone else this may be just another noisy band but to me it was something that gave me insight, enlightenment and direction. It was something I am very lucky to have had and to now be a part of.

ASHEVILLE - November 21

After a Waffle House breakfast and quick stop at a music store to replace Gooch's broken beater we are back out on the highway burning up miles across the Great Smoky Mountains. We trek back into North Carolina to the sleepy mountain city of Asheville. Populated with neo-hippy liberals and rising tides of millennial hipsters eager to escape the grizzled hard-nosed demands of Corporate America, Asheville enjoyed a bit of a boom in the early nineties. In may ways it is much like the stereotypical college towns we occasionally find ourselves in; lotsa coffee shops, craft beer bars, art houses and comic book stores. It is very trendy and generic with a collectiv(ist) arrogance masked by a pretentious fake smile.

The club is called the Mothlight. Its a pretty nice place with a sizable stage and modern PA. It appears to be a club more suited to the indie and acoustic styling that caters the atmosphere of this town. I'm over-tired and feel run down; I have no patience for a sound guy giving me heat on my volume. I have come loaded for bear; trigger happy and eager to level off the rose tinted sheen of this towns naive peace and love culture.

We arrived in the early afternoon with lots of time to kill. After loading in we check out some of the shops and soon work up a hunger. Barry and I both are craving McDonald's McRib sandwiches. The others split off for a burrito place while Barry and I soldier off on foot in search of the Golden Arches. We figure surely there has got to be a McDonald's close by. They seemingly exist on vitrtually every street corner in America, right


We walked what felt like forever. We finally gave up and settled for a pizza place. Not the greatest pizza place, either. Staffed by disinterested millennial hipsters grudgingly trying to swing rent to evil slum lords, the wait was over twenty minutes for two slices of mediocre cheese pizza. I scarf it down with the same reluctant enthusiasm it was no doubt made with. We then return to the club.

The green room is located downstairs. It is equipped with a large sectional sofa, a television and dozens of VHS tapes but alas; no VCR. However there is a ping pong table we make sport of for awhile. Eventually I crash out on the sofa for nap. I am awakened by some kids, presumably members of one of the opening bands. They hang out and the room soon reeks of a peculiar skunky odor. After a bit they retreat upstairs. I try to go back to sleep but the rumbling noise of the show soon begins. I'm pretty groggy so I sip some water. I need to get my energy up. These trips are hard on me simply due to my regular night work schedule. Flip-flopping my schedule for the weekend is difficult and I never get much sleep. It leaves me feeling groggy and sick. I am somewhat startled by my reflection in a mirror; my eyes are bright red and beset by underlying dark bags. I look old and feel older. The water seems to help and as I change my shirt I make a mental note to keep myself hydrated while we play.

Eventually we hit stage. The sound guy is actually very cool, he says nothing about my volume. The monitor mix leaves a little to be desired but at least I can hear myself. As with the previous night I'm pacing myself a bit. We hit a stopping point and I swill some water and shake off the cobwebs. Pretty soon it comes together - we are firing on all cylinders and my energy improves. I feel focused and steadily on point and get in the zone; my magic spot where I can channel out my angst and frustration of my straight job and other general random stupidity. My Hiwatt roars with the chords I strangle out of my Telecaster. The release feels good. Before I know it the set is over. Sweat stings my eyes as we walk off stage.

After the show I speak with some longtime fans. They thank me for keeping the band alive. This band ultimately is the product of over thirty years of Jeff Clayton's hard work, not mine. All of it would be a pointless exercise without the people who come out to the shows. It's awkward for me to accept the compliments but they are appreciated. I assure them it is they who keep it alive.
I finally arrive home just before dawn. I chuckle to myself and sing "Success Story" by the Who in my head as I take a hot shower:

"...just got home / six and the birds are singing
I need a drink / and my clothes are wet
ooh and my ears are still ringing...."

After much innuendo, implications, promises, threats and attempts, ANTiSEEN converged in the early hours of a recent Sunday morning at Tremont Music Hall and finally got down to the business of recording several new songs. The session was assisted by former A-SEEN bassist Jon Bowman and his brother Jordan (drummer of the mighty Flat Tires) and yielded about eight songs.I was gonna write some lengthy detailed description of the recording process but truthfully its actually pretty dull and uneventful. Fortunately we were all on the same page, trying to capture the proverbial ' lightning in a bottle' by going for energy and excitement rather than the laborious exploration of various techniques to get the perfect "sound". We took the opportunity to re-record some old standards in addition to the new songs simply because we felt we have been performing them well as of late and frankly, we just could. Why not? Exactly where, when and how these recordings will be released is currently being planned and hopefully by the turn of the year we'll be able to announce all the details.

Meanwhile I suppose I have some things on my mind I wanna address. We have been confronted with the news that our home club Tremont Music Hall is permanently closing in December. I've already written at length on this blog what Tremont has meant to this band. We've also learned our friend Joel Greenfield in Pittsburgh has closed his legendary 31st Street Pub, truly one of the best bars in America. We've heard reports of the shuttering of Red 7 in Austin and the Masquerade in Atlanta in addition to the demise several more clubs across the country. These closings sorta underscore the unfortunate truth of what I've already written in this blog.

Things are pretty bad at there, y'all.

It depresses me that so much of what I've devoted my energy and interest in has evaporated right before my eyes. If I am to be totally candid, I'm not surprised. I've seen most of what passes as popular at virtually every level and frankly its all pretty goddamned terrible. Sophomoric, half-baked clumsily cobbled together outfits either in third rate wholesale imitations or absurdest amalgamations of every conceivable horseshit concept disguised as 'eclectic' all the while plastering their names via graffiti art or cheap stickers on backstage walls and bathroom mirrors assuring us of their importance and greatness... god knows, a clever logo can take you pretty far. 

But don't fool yourself for one minute that major mass media hasn't got you pinned. Even the outside realms of mainstream acceptance offer a myriad of avenues for the rise of banal mediocrity at virtually every level. They have formulated a method that speaks to every angst, ideology, frustration, alienation, depression, hope, dream and aspiration that all you gotta do is choose your preferred size and color, plug in, tune in and fuck off...  I suppose it only stands to reason that as each succeeding generation lay claim to their own ground the real estate was gonna get devalued, desecrated and destroyed. I mean the endless sub-sub-sub genres of empty meaningless labels (neo-pagan-post-blackened-math-core???) designed to codify and define someones ego-driven pursuit at self-appeasement only amounted in splitting a hair so often that nothingness is all that remains...
So nothingness is where we find ourselves. Oh sure, you have the random festival that arise here and there, but frankly I'm just not the festive sort; I don't bowl and I don't have fun fun fun. If this music and culture is to survive there must be a reckoning; somewhere, somehow, someway something has got to occur to reawaken, restore and reestablish the angst ridden dangerous drive of uncompromising hate-fueled rebellion against this stagnant, politically correct, "hey brother can't we all just get along" dogma of the Almighty Cool.

And I just don't see that happening.

Meanwhile we soldier on, doing what we do and enduring the random stupidity of the aforementioned politically correct crowd. Apparently the show in Asheville was being attacked by some pseudo-activist punker types who saw ANTiSEEN as an invading mongrel horde come to rape and pillage their precious little mountain hamlet. It's almost funny; these stupid crybabies who seem to know so much about who we are and what we're about - completely unaware that the four members of this band are probably on four complete different corners of the political spectrum. We are, however, united in our delight at pissing people off. So joke 'em if they can't take a fuck.

Fortunately there are still those with enough common sense, reason and sanity to make all our efforts worth while. I don't mean to sound sappy or condescending; we truly appreciate all the support we receive. And contrary to what the PC Thought Police might tell you, we receive anyone and everyone, no blood test or loyalty oath or even simple agreement required. Just love for the loud, fast, hard... and the rest can sort itself out. Because every trip, no matter how grueling or how far, is worth it when we get to play. We try to give you all 120% no matter the size of the crowd or club. And as I've already stated on this blog before - this is no vehicle to cheap, easy entertainment or ego trip for me. I care very deeply about this band, its music and its legacy. I did long before I ever joined and I will long after I'm able to play. And I intend to keep playing even as at it all withers away.

Even Nero fiddled as Rome burned.