In the middle of this particularly messy election season I've been doing the best I can to keep my head down. I'm fairly disengaged politically. I think a system hijacked by two factions which brazenly demonstrate dishonesty and corruption with no accountability doesn't deserve my participation or endorsement. My protest - if it is to be counted as such - is non-involvement because truthfully bad culture still offends me worse than bad politics.

Meanwhile we scored a quick run of weekend shows back across the Rust Belt climaxed by an appearance at the 'Berserker Fest III'. We tweaked our set with a few alternates that we've not yet played live including "Alpha Male' and 'Funk You' as well as a return of 'Death Train Coming' and 'Animals, Eat 'Em'. On the Wednesday night before leaving I got to participate in a radio interview with a guy up in Cleveland. Jeff usually handles these things but he delegated the job to me this time. I felt it went pretty well considering it wasn't something I've had much practice with. Anyway, here's how the shows went down:


COVINGTON - March 3

We rolled outta Charlotte early Thursday morning. By midday we were deep into Ohio amid falling snow and slushy roads. It was a bit treacherous I suppose, but it sure was pretty to look at. We still made good time getting to Covington. Covington lies on the Kentucky side of the border of Cincinnati, Ohio. The two towns run together divided only by the Ohio River. I was a little grouchy when we arrived. I had not slept and was enduring some fairly moderate back pain thanks to a pinched nerve that infrequently pops up. My night schedule has my circadian rhythm pretty well set; disrupting it throws me out of whack really bad. This is why I always feel so sick and tired when we travel. This also means I can be a bit of a pain in the ass. I don't mean to be and feel bad about it. I find myself at age 44 trying to do things I would've been better suited for at age 24. The will and desire is there even if the energy and strength occasionally isn't. I don't want to let the guys down and be responsible for a bad performance, so I try to reserve my energy.

The club is called 'Madison Live'. Its an old movie theater converted into a music venue. There is also a converted storefront immediately next door that serves as an annex to the larger stage.This is the room we are playing. It's set up is very basic; a long rectangular room where the bar lines one wall and the stage is at the end. A stockroom serves as the backstage dressing room. Even in its spartan simplicity it is nicer than most places we play. The polished concrete floor appears freshly mopped and the walls are lined with nicely framed portraits of acts that have appeared there; mostly clean-cut collegiate types. We've already heard rumor the venue is worried we will tear shit up. This is something the band has encountered for literally decades. These clubs are never shy to verbalize their fear but when we demonstrate our professionalism they sure seem unable to find words of apology or gratitude...

We load in quickly and I retreat to the van to try to nap a bit. I feel really out of it. I run the heat to knock off the chill. The engine is making a strange rattling noise. I'm not sure what it is but it does not sound good. I snooze maybe thirty or forty minutes but its pointless. Gooch comes out to the van with Scotty Wood, a former member of the Murder Junkies. Barry comes out soon after. We discuss what might be wrong with the van. I suggest its the belt or at least the belt pulley. There was nothing we can do at the moment so we let it go.

I finally decide to go inside. I'm pleased to find a decent crowd has turned out. I sit at the merch table for a few minutes before eventually making my way backstage. It has been set up with a couple of coolers of drinks and some snacks strewn across an old table. I grab a beer and a protein bar figuring a little protein and carbohydrates wouldn't hurt. One of the opening bands have stored their gear here and are breaking it down. They are cool folks and we make small talk. Sitting backstage I realize that despite feeling cruddy, wore out and old, sometimes all this is pretty cool. Curiously, I still get nervous. I'm eager to play, I just gotta make sure to pace myself.

We hit stage with 'Death Train'. I quickly find a comfortable pace and settle in. My energy is running largely on adrenaline rather than nutrition, but thats ok - it gets the job done. I realize that I'm in the zone. The audience isn't very rowdy but they seem into it. I sure am - I lean into every song with renewed intensity. I feel like I may run out of gas but never do. We push hard and the set is a hot, tight one. It always feels good to deliver under adverse circumstances. I like that I'm pushing myself, I like that it's difficult. It only means that I'm giving it my all. And you know what? It's a lot of fun.

After the show we tear down our gear and load out. Gooch takes a little longer than usual because he has so many old friends here. He lived in Cincinnati for a while and he's clearly in his element catching up with people. We get the gear loaded and head to the motel. After a quick shower I hunker down in front of the tv and fall asleep watching King Kong.


CLEVELAND - March 4

I awake way too early. I look at the time and realize I've only slept about four hours. Barry is soon up as well. He decides to take the van to a shop to get checked out. I aimlessly flip channels on the TV and kill time. When he returns he tells us that it was indeed the idler pulley. With the van fixed we head over to an IHOP for a quick breakfast and then hit the road towards Cleveland. I am anticipating this stop for selfish reasons. The week before I made contact via Cragslist with a guy selling a Hiwatt speaker cabinet with a road case. I made an offer and he agreed to meet us at the club. So I was pretty excited.

We arrived early in the afternoon with plenty of time to spare. There's a store around the corner from the club we were playing called 'Big Fun'. Its filled with vintage toys, collectibles and novelties. It was a cool place and we spent ample time browsing. Gooch picked up a few things and then we went to find a room for the night. Meanwhile I start to arrange meeting with the Hiwatt guy.

The club is called 'The Grog Shop'. It's been in operation for a long time but was once in a different location. The room is square with a sort of diagonal stage. The bar occupies the opposite wall. The stage and ceiling are both low and the place has a nice intimate quality to it. The staff are friendly and helpful as opposed to the dour and resentful folks that we too often encounter running clubs. Last time we were in Cleveland we played a different place and the difference is like night and day. I like this place much better. We get easy and quick help with where to load in and soon all our gear is inside. The only downside is something I notice straight away - no flyers. Typical.

Tom Dark arrives with his band Dead Federation. They opened for us the last time we were here and are set to do so again this night. I like Tom, he's a cool character and I was a fan of his old band Knifedance. Joe Buck Yourself is on the bill tonight as well. Joe Buck has done a ton of shows with ANTiSEEN so the night was already set in my mind as a good time before I ever arrived.

The guy selling the cabinet shows up. I bring it inside and set it up quickly. I run it clean listening for any static, crackling or pops. There is only the dim hum of my guitar. Barry is smiling, a sure sign of his approval. I close the deal and am now the proud owner of a complete Hiwatt amp and cab set-up. Spirit of Pete Townshend, Spirit of Joe Young. O'l Russ is a happy boy. My old pal Jeremy Kursik lives outside of Cleveland and was the guy that located the Hiwatt cabinet for me.The cabinet I was using was a tank; a Peavy 6501 that served me well. It was given to me by another friend and I feel it correct to pay the favor forward. I gift Jeremy the old cab in thanks.

I sit backstage with Gooch. A guy walks in with a somewhat vacant smile on his face. He doesn't really say anything, just smiles and sort of giggles nervously. I'm not sure if he's with one of the other bands or not, but figure he must know somebody to just casually walk in the dressing room and pop open one of our beers. He reminds me of the Hitchhiker from 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre'. I almost expect him to flip his shit. We sit in silence for a few awkward moments before he finally gets the vibe and leaves. We laugh about it but in no time he returns for another beer. This time he doesn't stick around. I quickly lock the door behind him.

Dead Federation are soon onstage. They have a bit of a 'horror punk' image but play a tight set of straight forward punk rock that draws more from the Dead Boys than it does the Misfits. They do a killer cover of the Pagans 'Dead End America' that seals the deal for me. Joe Buck follows with his own brand of lo-fi one man band spuzz. I think some people  turned up just to see him. He has a very loyal cult following from his time spent in the Legendary Shack Shakers and Hank III.

We hit stage and I'm somewhat disappointed in the small turnout. I shrug it off and set up my new rig. It takes a little more power to drive it but sounds pretty killer. I play hard and soon my fingertips are sticky. Rivulets of blood spatter and spill across the neck of my guitar. It makes me play even harder. The sweat stings my eyes so badly I can barely open them. We charge through the set virtually non-stop.I think maybe I'm out of tune but play through it. I adjust when we hit a pause and then fire back into the set. It might be a small turnout but that is never an excuse to give less than 110%. I feel like we delivered.

Load out was tricky. My new rig is slightly larger now and occupies more space in the van. We have limited room and had to reconfigure how to load everything. It was like playing a giant game of Tetris out in the freezing Cleveland cold and snow. We get it all in though. The club has seemingly shifted gears into some sort of hip hop dance club during the load out. The doorway is crowded with young boy/men who make little effort to let us buy and laugh at us with open derision. "Aw man," says one guy, "dis be dat stupid hard core punker shit".

Whatever.

An hour later I'm laid up in front of the TV. Curiously the band 'X' is on some sitcom rerun. I barely process the thought before drifting off to sleep.


DETROIT - March 5

I had a bit of an awkward start to my day having to procure another key to our room because I left my pillow behind. After that initial hiccup we hit a Bob Evans for breakfast and then the road for Detroit. This is our third trip here in under a year. I like Detroit. Never mind the mythology of all the legendary bands that come from here, its proven to be a cool place. We just found out the place we usually play, The Corktown Tavern, might be closing. Yet another closure in what seems to be an ever increasing trend. Hopefully all this will eventually even out. It would be a shame to lose another cool spot to play.

As we rolled into town we decided to make a quick side trip over to the grave site of Fred 'Sonic' Smith, late great guitarist of the MC5. Last spring we visited MC5 vocalist Rob Tyner's grave and we wanted to pay our respects to Smith as well. It took a few minutes to locate the marker, two simple crude stones jutting up from the ground. One stone reads "Frederick D. Smith Musician XX Century". The other is simply inscribed "Sonic". We take a few pics and Gooch leaves roach in tribute. High Times.  

The venue is called the Detroit Masonic Temple. It is a cavernous building that houses a labyrinth of theaters, ballrooms, lounges, swimming pools and gymnasiums all snaked together by a maze of hallways, stairwells and ancient elevators. In some parts the building is opulent and ornate. Other parts are dreary and eerie. It is the largest Masonic temple in the world. One could easily get lost in the place, either accidentally or purposefully...

We are here for an event called 'Berserker Fest III'. We were flattered to be invited to perform. It's primarily a heavy metal festival; we are one of the few punk bands on the bill. We've been booked on the Main Stage with the other headliners. The festival is regulated to the dreary and eerie side of the temple, which actually suits the atmosphere. It is being staged on three different floors. Each floor has its own stage and PA, each one a little larger than the one below.

Our instructions were to arrive and load in between 3pm and 5pm. We arrived shortly before three o'clock. We wanted to get a head start and maybe a decent place to set up merch. Unfortunately there was nobody around to give instruction as to  where and how to load in. Our roadie Brandon and I go inside to ask somebody and of course they have no clue, An older gentleman in a suit and tie appears and looks at us with open contempt. "Oh, its the Beserker people" he says bitterly. He ignores us. Realizing this, we return to the van. They've already started to unload. We stage our stuff inside a doorway next to a freight elevator and wait for somebody to tell us what the deal is. A little old man with about three teeth in his head shows up and speaks some unintelligible gibberish. We pile our gear into the elevator and I tell him that we are supposed to go up to the fifth floor. He acknowledges this with some more gibberish and a laugh. He then takes us down two stories into a basement. .

Uh... wrong.

He chuckles. A voice crackles across his walkie-talkie instructing him where to take us. We are soon where we need to be, laughing about the guy while rolling our gear down the length of a long hallway and up a small incline into the ballroom where the Main Stage is located. Other bands have already arrived and are setting up. We find a spot to store our gear and locate the backstage greenroom. We are soon joined by the members of Ghoul. They are heavy metal band from Oakland, California. Almost immediately after, the members of Macabre arrive. Introductions are made before we all settle in for the wait till showtime.

The Ghoul guys all work on restringing their guitars. I let them use my wire snips. They had large boxes of props shipped in via train from California which are rolled into the room. A roadie begins the work of opening the boxes, sorting and assembling costume pieces. The atmosphere reminds me of a high school battle of the bands, only it doesn't really feel competitive. Heavy Metal isn't really my thing, but the guys in these bands all seem pretty genuine and friendly.

We discover that the promised catering has fallen through. We are on our own for food, so the boys decide to venture out on foot to a hamburger spot nearby. I walked about half way before deciding it wasn't worth it. I wasn't very hungry and trudging around Detroit in the slush and snow in my Converse sneakers wasn't something I had planned for. I turn around and head back to the warmth of the old building.

Eventually the boys return and the first bands start. Barry decides to go sit in the van a bit and I go with him. As much time as we spend travelling in the van it still often times serves as a tiny fortress of solitude. Its an escape from the noisy hustle and bustle of the bands, bars and occasional odd bullshit we encounter on the road. It allows a little time in your own headspace without distraction or disturbance. I take the opportunity for a quick nap.

When I go back inside Gooch announces that there are vendors on the second floor selling records. We make our way down and I start flipping though some boxes. Straight away I discover some old KISS records with the inserts. I ask the guy what he wants for them. He says "I dunno... five dollars?" Sold. I end up buying several other records as well. Another vendor had bootleg concert DVD's. I wanted several but settled for a Stooges one that had a show I had been at. Someone had a rack full of old t-shirts but they all appeared way too small so I gave it a pass rather  than be frustrated with cool shirts that wouldn't fit. Our buddy Lance Runngren shows with his wife Melissa. He has brought along his teenage sons to see us for the first time. Lance plays guitar for Busby Death Chair and gifts us all with some band t-shirts.

Advance publicity on the festival was encouraging. The Detroit Metro Times had pegged us as an act you "cannot miss". I wondered if that would affect how many people would come upstairs to watch us play. Being a punk rock band with a somewhat, shall we say... notorious reputation, it was going to prove interesting on how we might be received. I was looking forward to it. We had pared the set down to allow for time consideration and for overall impact. I had butterflies and was geared for battle. This wasn't to be an effort to offend or annoy. This was to be a statement of what this band was and what it is about.

We are given the go-ahead to set up. The soundguy tells me that they're running a little ahead of schedule. He's laid back and very cool, always a giant plus. The extra time allows me to adjust the settings for my new rig. Gooch is set up on a drum riser. I hate risers - they're not only cheesy but it makes hearing the drums almost impossible. I ask the sound guy to put the kick and snare in my monitors. I also ask for a whole lot of my own guitar. We get a line check in and it sounds fine. Then we cluster at the side of the stage. I nervously swill some water. Then it is time...

We open with 'Death Train' and I try to restrain myself from exerting too much energy. I stare into the crowd unable to see anything beyond silhouettes.The lights are low and blinding. I get momentarily lost and hit a bum note at the start of Violence Now. I doubt anyone notices but it knocks me back in line, and for good. You gotta always keep your focus. These songs are deceptively difficult; if you lose focus its easy to get lost. I am reminded of my first show with the band at the Muddy Roots Festival. We've come a long long way since that show, and we're twenty times better. I won't abide any mistakes tonight, no matter how minor.

I shift gears and charge harder. Soon blood pours from my fingertips and it forces me to drop my pick. I finish the song without it. My fingers will be bruised and shredded by the end of the set and I don't even care. The sweat pours into my eyes and I again stare through the stinging blur at the crowd. I can't tell what their reaction is. I occasionally make eye contact with Barry but I'm largely running on instinct. I barely notice Jeff at all except for the moments we nearly collide. We all are working hard and the set is intense. We close out with 'Fuck All Y'all' and I leave the stage with a wash of feedback.

After the set it takes me some time to come back down. While tearing down my gear Kevin Roberts from the Meatmen appears and says 'hello'. I wished I had more time to speak with him. His other band, Ricochet, were scheduled to play but I think dropped off. I finish tearing down and go backstage. I have the shakes so I sip a cold beer. The guys from Ghoul all come over and shake my hand. "I'm glad we don't have to play directly after you guys", says one. "I mean we're gonna look like pussies with all our fake blood after all your real blood" he laughs. I tell him I feel reasonably certain that wont be the case. Those guys have no pretense or ego. They are all very cool and they've come to do the exact same thing we have come to do - deliver. The audience is the winner in this scenario, just as it rightly should be.

I miss Macabre, but Gooch is seriously jazzed to see them. I watch some of Ghoul's set. It's somewhat akin to GWAR; they all dress like highway murderers with masked faces and lots of props spurting all kinds of blood and goo. They've been together as long as ANTiSEEN and have their whole thing down solid. They don't take themselves too seriously and its campy, aggro fun that the crowd eats up.

After the show we wait to load out. Barry isn't feeling well; he thinks he ate something bad. He waits in the van until we are ready to load. The logistics of the load out aren't quite as ramshackle as the load in, but due to the volume of equipment of all the bands it takes some time. We are again at the mercy of the mush-mouthed elevator operator. Eventually we get all our stuff back down to the parking lot and are loading up. Barry is clearly not well but soldiers forward packing the gear. Suddenly he pauses and turns towards me and begins to gag. I am a dyed in the wool 'vomiphobe'; I hate all things puke and puke related. In a flash I'm clear across the other side of the van. Later I find out he was bluffing. I totally fell for it.

The ride home was long and uneventful. It is always a pretty ride across West Virginia though, especially so with the snow capped mountains looming in the sunrise... 



We had not played a show in over two months until this trip. In that time we've had to find yet another practice room. Fortunately we've landed the coolest place possible. John Hayes found a building to store leftover stuff from Tremont Music Hall after he shut the club down. He set up a room with a small stage and full PA and generously opened it to us. Its a great room to work in and hopefully we can call it home for awhile. We've been writing new material as well as giving older songs some some workouts. We always welcome requests and suggestions, which you can lobby for on our Facebook page. Of course, no promises, but you never know...

Our primary focus for 2016 is to record and release as much as possible, and as promised there are finally new releases in the works. The first one on deck is a split EP with HEWHOCANNOTBENAMED of the Dwarves. This one is via our friends at Rusty Knuckles. This is my first record with the band so it's obviously a big thing for me. If all goes according to plan it should be out really soon. Then we have another project in the works that I feel might be just about the coolest thing this band has ever released and I'm super excited about it. Can't spill the beans just yet but trust me on this one. It's gonna be killer. Our next scheduled show is April 15 in Spartanburg South Carolina with EYEHATEGOD. We have some other big news in the works that I hopefully can announce in another week or so.
So stay tuned...