Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 - Can I get an *AMEN*...

Well 2018 is in the archives. This was not exactly our busiest year but with both the 35th anniversary and Japanese shows it will surely go down as one of the most memorable. 

We released another record, DYING BREED, which itself is kinda special because it pays tribute to bands that influenced or inspired us throughout the years. It was recorded somewhat in secrecy so as to save the surprise for the groups we covered. We didn't wan't them to know it was happening until the finished product was in their hands. They all seemed quite thrilled with the results. Fan reaction was positive, too. I know it seems we've vested a lot of time and energy in cover songs but this project was operating on a completely different level. I think the end result was pretty strong, something that can stand on it's own merit regardless of the source material - and we chose some pretty great material so it was a plus-plus.  

We celebrated the bands 35th anniversary in October with a giant show at the Neighborhood Theater in Charlotte. The event extended beyond our anniversary to an all-around reunion of old friends separated by state lines, time zones, international borders and time itself. If for no other reason that alone validates the event to occur. However as a longtime fan I think I'm allowed acknowledge that lot of these relationships exist because of the band. So again, it's a plus-plus. 

And of course there was Japan. I don't know that I've yet fully reconciled the fact that we were able to do this. I knew well in advance that I wouldn't fully appreciate it until after we got back. There are two reasons for this - first is because I hate air travel. I was dreading that flight. Fortunately it wasn't that terrible. Second, when things are happening it almost moves faster than you can process. I kept trying to pause for a minute and just breath. To let it sink in and appreciate the moment. I think I was able to do that, too, however I still find myself reflecting back on the trip with an ever increasing appreciation. Someday when I'm a wheelchair-bound invalid recounting my glory years as a middle aged punk rock road warrior (!!), I'll use the Tokyo trip as the standard by which all other other things are measured. It was a pretty special trip. 

As this year drew to a close we hit yet another milestone as the Gooch marked his fifth year since joining. As a fan since 1989 I've seen virtually every drummer this band has had, so I think I'm qualified to say that Gooch is an an elite position as one the best. His style is unorthodox to say the least, but it has the right ratio of swing, skill and style to create the necessary back and bottom that fleshes out the music where it's most needed. Not too complex, not too simple. Sometimes he leaves us scratching our heads and occasionally frustrated. This is because he doesn't drum like a machine - he drums like a beast. You can't cage him and expect the same results. It has to be just right for the whole thing to work - and Gooch makes it work quite well. Plus he's perhaps the most interesting character ever to join the band. When we were in Europe I found myself envying his eagerness to explore and experience everything. Where he is freewheeling and always ready for a little adventure, I sometimes feel too reserved and self-contained. Anyways I respect the guy immensely. 

This year wasn't without its sore spots. We lost some people close to us this year that really hit hard. Phil "Whiskey Rebel" Irwin, Jeff "BBQ" Young and Gooch's wife, Jen. We're still reconciling these losses. We recognize that time we share today is time we remember tomorrow. We never take these relationships for granted. These were people who left indelible impressions that will resonate well into the future. As difficult and sad as these losses are, we at least keep the memories strong. 

Looking ahead to 2019 we've already got a lot on our plate. It appears very likely we'll have a special live record documenting our Japanese shows. We also have begun the formative writing work on some new songs, hopefully the start of another full length LP. There is also work happening on a possible tour, but I don't wanna get too far ahead of myself. These things are always dicey. It's not as simple as one might think to put this stuff together. There's a lot of factors involved. Point is to say there is always stuff happening, even if it doesn't always work out. We are always busy with something. All I can say is that its a fair bet we'll be busier in 2019 than we have been in 2018. We start the year with a return to the cultural metropolis of Gastonia, North Carolina at Freeman's Pub on January 19th. The last time we played Freeman's was a pretty intense show so I'm looking forward to it.

I sometimes feel I've become sort of the de facto spokesman of the band with this blog. That isn't the intention. I think it goes without saying that we are all pretty unique individuals with our own perspectives and ideas. So this isn't meant to speak for the others. Primarily this blog exists simply so I have a personal record of the stuff I've been lucky enough to have been involved in. Any ideas I forward here are simply my own as formed by by personal experience. I can only try to relay my own personal motivation and intent. 

I used the term "road warrior" earlier somewhat facetiously but anyone in a band knows. It's not limited to bands that tour nationally or internationally. It's really any band that dedicates their time, money and energy into their passion, even if only to play across town. It's any band whose intent is sincere and extends beyond paydays, recognition and adulation. All of which is rewarding but at the end of the day when you turn off the lights and lay in bed you have only yourself to answer to. You have to commit to the integrity of your own sincerity - otherwise its all a useless gesture. 

As I get older it's a weird thing to recognize a lot of animosity and contempt I still hold. On one hand I try to reason my temper with a little bit of maturity, tolerance and understanding. On the other, there's still a raging teenage kid mad at the world for spinning the wrong direction. I hear radio, see movies or watch TV and it only serves to confuse and confound me. I punch the clock at my job and deal with the abject nonsense of Corporate Stupid. Sometimes it's easier (if not altogether wiser) to lock myself at home with my records and DVD's and bury my head in the sand. It's not that I don't like people, it's just their language is sometimes difficult to understand. Fortunately the music still serves as a good release valve. I can channel the frustration and anger into the volume and intensity of the music. And the best part of this music is that it posseses a rare duality of both division and unity. Division in that attacks the ones who are too caught up in their own shortsighted  hangups to get it. And unity in that it can speak to someone... and maybe even speak for them as well. And if it sometimes feel like we're screaming at the choir...

We still get an "AMEN".

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Tokyo Destructo...


So where even to begin? 

This trip was very unusual and demands an unusual report. I feel obligated to clear an impossibly high bar - a self-imposed standard that I know I'll never be satisfied with. The memory should really be quite enough but the unfortunate truth is that memories fade. I sometimes want to take moments and bottle them up to save. Then maybe open them from time to time for a tiny sip to savor. But you can't so that so you have to savor the moment as it happens - if you're lucky enough to remember to stop and do it. 

See, this happened, right? It's over now, but it fucking happened, y'all. 

Since I really don't know where to start I might as well start at the beginning. Late last winter we received a curious email from a company in Japan called Vinyl Junkie. They simply asked if we'd be interested in doing some dates in Japan. This sort of proposal had been made before by others but for different reasons it never came to pass. So rather than get excited we pursued the offer cautiously. This time things developed more positively and by summer we were given dates and venues. We still had not yet been given our plane tickets however, so we maintained a cautious optimism. Finally on September 6th Jeff texted me very early in the morning informing the tickets had come thru. It was now official. We were going to Japan. 

In the meantime we were dealing with a bunch of other important things. Our attention was primarily focused on the anniversary show, which took a lot of work and preparation. Amid that we were dealt some serious personal blows which I won't detail here. Suffice it to say this fall has been difficult. Somehow we have persevered and never lost focus. Suddenly we were staring down the barrel of this trip  - a trip that has been a longtime dream for Jeff and something I never thought even remotely possible for myself. 

We had barely rested after the anniversary before we began putting together a set for the Japanese shows. We wanted to include some of the stuff the band this band does best, our sort of "Americana Punk" for lack of a better description. The stuff that retains our southern flavor and gives this band character amid the otherwise loud, fast, rules approach we also gleefully employ. We also were keen to mirror the few releases we have in Japan. In addition we learned we would be playing a professional wrestling event that would feature the insane "deathmatch" style wrestling that inspired some of our songs. So it was only natural we include some of these songs in our set as well. We had a long way to go and a short time to get there. 

In the days leading to the trip I became increasingly apprehensive. I hate flying. I hate everything about it. It's a necessary evil to get to do these otherwise amazing things. But holy hell do I ever hate air travel. There is of course the notoriously difficult measures of maneuvering the many obstacles of an airport. The ticket lines, the security lines, the labyrinth of mazes that comprise the concourses and terminal gates, all crowded with a mass of humanity which leaves me dizzy, anxious and exhausted. And then I have to board a tin cylinder that will catapult thru the air at 35000 feet. Evel Knievel I ain't. Nonetheless we convened at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on a rainy Tuesday for the first leg of  the journey to Tokyo...


DEPARTURE - Nov 13

In advance of this trip we arranged to rent all our gear for these show, including guitars. This would help alleviate the hassle of additional luggage as well as the cost of checking the baggage. We were all able to pare down to a single carry-on bag. We of course stuffed a bit of extra swag to take with us, customs be damned. We were on a mission to share the our noise as much as possible. The only concern was baggage weight is restricted to 22 lbs. Fortunately we all eked by. 

We march up to the dreaded security checkpoint. I'm surprised to be met by a very jovial cat who asks about our band. He tells us he was once in a punk rock band in Houston back in the late 70's. It was pretty cool and made the process a lot more tolerable. After that we head out onto the concourse. Before heading to the gate we stop to change our currency from dollars to yen. With a fistful of yen we then walk towards our gate. A guy suddenly approaches me asking if I can take a picture. I'm momentarily confused. Barry follows up figuring  the guy wants one of us to take a picture for him. No, he wants a picture with us. "You're ANTISEEN, right?", he asks. I'm taken aback. I'm not used to being recognized. The guy is connecting flights to Miami and is stoked to see us. Personally, I'm more stoked. It's a cool way to start the trip.

After a short delay for maintenance we board and are soon in the air for the short ride to New York City. We are switching planes at JFK. The rainy weather makes for a bit of a bumpy ride. I have a window seat but the clouds prevent any benefit. It was a little clearer on approach to NYC. I'd hoped for a spectacular view of the nighttime skyline but am on the wrong side of the plane. Oh well. 

We are soon herding thru the checkpoint at JFK. They aren't fucking around. They are moving people through really fast, scarcely checking anything. The vibe is very much "Oh you have a bomb and manifesto? Drop it in this bucket, buddy and keep moving. We ain't got time for your shit". It's all GO, GO, GO. Seriously it doesn't take ten minutes before we are all through. We have a few hours to kill but I'd rather kill it at the gate than standing in a security line, so I'm happy. 

After a gate change we eventually load on the big jet that will take us to our next connection - Shanghai, China. We sit on the plane for about an hour before we taxi to the runway but are given no explanation. I guess communist airlines don't need to explain shit. I don't have a window seat so I crane my neck and can see the city twinkling out on the horizon. I try to get as comfortable as I can. It's marginally cramped but I have sufficient legroom and there are a few decent options on the in flight movies. I only sleep intermittently. 


Shanghai - Nov 15

It's Thursday morning here. We've entirely lost a day in the 13 hour flight due to crossing the International Date Line. If I think about it too much my brain melts. All I know is we made the entire flight in the dark. I thought I caught a glimpse of sunlight slivered out in the darkness at some point over Alaska but now I'm not even sure. Even as the sun rises it is covered by looming gray clouds. The airport is gray. Even the staff are gray. This is a seriously depressed place, save for one guy who apparently didn't get the memo. He's a cherub-faced fella chortling in Chinese at nobody in particular. He laughs at whatever he's saying to himself and continues on his path. We suffer another checkpoint with watchful guards in helmets and signs reading "BEWARE OF COLLUSION". I don't even know what that means. 


Narita - 

We finally arrive in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon. I caught a glimpse of Mt Fuji peeking over the clouds on approach. It has taken nearly 24 hours to get here. For some reason Gooch gets his bag searched at customs but they let him pass. We are met by Milly Bison and Sexy, members of Ryuketsu Blizzard. They are our host band and opening act for our shows here. Milly is the guitarist and Sexy is the drummer. Milly speaks a decent amount of English but she leaves separate from the rest of us. It is Sexy who drives us to our hotel where we are met by Kaoru, the woman responsible for organizing all the logistics for this trip. She speaks some English as well. She helps check us in and gives us an itinerary before splitting. We are on our own until tomorrow. 

I room with the Gooch. Our room is small. The beds are are very low like a child's bed but comfortable. The bathroom is pretty tight but overall its a cozy room. The only downside is that wi-fi is only available in the lobby. I turn on the TV and happily discover a channel with sumo wrestling. We try to catch a nap but are all too excited to be here. Pretty soon we are wandering the streets. Everyone here walks very fast or is on a bicycle. I feel oafish and in the way. We maze thru alleys and walkways, all populated with shops and bars of some sort. There s no wasted space here. We try to find a record shop but are unsuccessful. I feel like we are getting farther and farther away from where we started but Barry assures me we are working a circle, He's right, somehow we come back around the opposite side of the hotel. I crash out early - or at least early on Tokyo time. What time is it back home? 

Who cares??


Ikebukuro - Nov 16

Woke up and fell back asleep while the others went out for breakfast. When I finally get up Barry and Gooch take me to a pastry shop they found. Good stuff. We are picked up at 1:30 - which seems odd but I discover shows run early here, much as in Europe. We ride to the Ikebukuro district. Tokyo is so massive it basically is like 23 different cities stitched together into what is the most populous metropolis on the planet. I don't know how anyone can navigate the city but Sexy does so effortlessly. I sit in the back of the vehicle and stare out the window at everything. It's a lot to take in. 

The club is called CHOP. It is located in the basement of a building tucked away on a side street. The descending stairwell is plastered with posters heralding upcoming shows including our own. The photo used on our poster isn't a particularly good one but I think it was chosen because we are grimacing. Expression is very important here. Everything is loud flash. Even the nightly news is visually punctuated with loud colors. Our poster is no different. Unlike American posters and flyers which are often photocopied black & white efforts, the Japanese poster is loaded with red, yellow and blue. 

The room is small with black walls, red and black tiled floor and a low ceiling. The stage runs along one side rimmed with a barricade. The barricade seems unnecessary given the low stage but it's built into the room. A back line of drums and amps are already onstage. Apparently here the clubs proved all this stuff. This makes load-in pretty much non-existent save for merch, and that is handled by the promoter who has brought in help for the task. Thy have all the bases covered. Basically all we have to do is soundcheck.

We arranged to have guitars rented for our use for these show so we wouldn't have to risk cost, loss or damage of our own gear in transit. We did bring our own pedals and cables however. I've been provided a black on black Fender telecaster. Barry has a Fender Precision Bass. I also have several amps to chose from - a Marshall rig, a Roland combo or Fender Twin. I of course choose the Fender. It only takes about a minute to dial in. And holy hell does it sound good. There are two sound guys, neither of whom speak English. I expect this will take some time but am happy to be proven wrong. They know this room and their gear. We set our levels and run a song we added for this trip, "Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match". I insist we give it a few tries because I don't feel we really practiced it sufficiently before leaving. Sure enough I make a mistake but get it sorted out. And the sound is great. The low ceiling and soundproofed walls absorb all the usual echo we usually endure in rooms of concrete and steel. 

We meet the other members of Ryuketsu Blizzard (hereafter referred to as simply "Ryuketsu"); vocalist Juda and bassist Yogore. Ryuketsu translates to "bloodshed" in Japanese. It's pretty obvious they are into rock & roll judging by their street wear but they are about to transform into their onstage personas. They spend a lot of time patiently applying heavy make-up and spraying their hair. It's a theatrical enhancement of the punk rock look. 

The other band opening these shows arrives. They are called Shootmaster. They are also a theatrical act with each member adopting the persona of a professional wrestler. The singer, Mutuwo, assumes the character of Mr. Pogo, a legendary Japanese deathmatch wrestler. One of the guitarists dresses like the American wrestler Sabu, the other as Japanes legend Tiger Mask. They enter the dressing room and produce all their wares; implements of destruction known in wrestling as "foreign objects". They incorporate this stuff into their show. They also produce a giant bottle of sake, insisting I partake. "Japanese tradition!" says Mutuwo. I don't particularly care for sake, however in the interest of maintaining good international relations, I drink. 

With some time to kill Barry and I decide to explore the local area around the club. By now night has fallen and everything has suddenly exploded with electric light as if we suddenly walked onto the set of the movie Blade Runner. One thing I immediately notice is that although crowded and dense it doesn't feel as claustrophobic or oppressive as large American cities like New York and Philadelphia. There is no sense of danger and everything is clean. The only scent in the air is that from the multitude of restaurants.  

We return to the club to catch the other bands sets. Walking down the stairs I find Gooch talking with a photographer assigned to follow us. She says her name is Tatami, but I later find her name is Keiko. I think Tatami is a professional name or something. Anyhow her English is limited but she's a lot more casual and laid back than the others. She pats my beer gut and says "baby". Gooch laughs his ass off. She then sticks an old backstage pass on my shirt and says "good name". I don't even know what that means. I leave them to their conversation. 

I go backstage where Jeff introduces me to Toshi, one of the earliest Japanese supporters of the band. He was responsible for a Japanese-only "best of" release called "The Great Pogo Hits". It featured the aforementioned Mr. Pogo on the cover biting into an ANTiSEEN record. Toshi is wearing a rare t-shirt from the bands tenth anniversary and a really cool custom one-of-a-kind belt buckle of our logo. I also meet a photographer named Shigeo. He looks pretty intimidating but is really cool.  

Shootmaster soon takes stage and tear into their set. They play metallic-hardcore and do covers of GG Allin, Dwarves and surprisingly, ZZ Top. There set climaxes with a wrestling match between the singer and one of the guitarists as the rest play on. They are followed by Ryuketsu. Milly runs onstage and starts ripping out licks on her guitar. She wears an outfit that reveals her ass, on which she has written large Japanese characters that I learn mean "slut" and "whore". She plays so hard she literally flips head first over the barricade. She pops up and continues playing, quickly re-tuning her guitar without stopping. Initially I can't tell if this is part of the act or not. I only find out later it isn't. Either way it's very impressive.

Their set is very energetic and tight. Onstage they are much more animated and expressive than they are offstage. The theatricality allows for this dynamic. They close their set with this weird dance number. Sexy comes out from behind the drums and goes into some sort of rap that apparently is about sex. They do choreographed dance moves to a prerecorded track. Since I don't understand Japanese I find it confusing but the crowd laughs and applauds accordingly. It's so over the top you I can't help but be entertained by it all. 

There is a large screen they lower between bands, sort of like a curtain. They project a calendar of upcoming shows on it. We set up behind the screen and ready ourselves. We give the cue to raise the screen and begin the set with  ominous opening of "Death Train". ANTiSEEN has hit Japan. We hurl into the set and I try to up my energy. I'm a little ragged from the travel and feel a tad bit off-point. Lately my fingers have been going numb when I play. I don't what's been causing this but I double down and concentrate harder. All of this leads to a few minor mistakes so I try to relax. I doubt it's noticeable to anyone else but I set high standard for myself. Other than the numbness it's psychological; I just gotta let gut instinct take over and trust my own abilities. It works. I even get the crowd to clap along during the breakdown in the middle of "Fornication". I don't know if I could get an American audience to participate like that. It's really cool. Soon we are charging to the close. 

Did that really just happen??

After the show we sign a bunch of stuff. I get the impression they really don't get many American bands. At least not ones like us. Everyone is really cool and excited. We meet an American named Jeff . He's originally from St. Louis and now resides here teaching English. He tells us the Japanese have three alphabets. A lot of how things are communicated has to do with usage and inflection. He says even after six years here he has trouble with the language. 

After everyone clears out they set up tables and the bands gather to socialize and share a toast - "kanpai!". This is apparently the protocol here. We are told drinks at the bar are free but all we drink is Coke and water. Kaoru tells me she thought we'd be "large drinkers". I think they are pleasantly surprised they don't have to babysit a bunch of drunken Americans. I suspect they were prepared to do just that, too. We all take the time to get acquainted and enjoy ourselves. Juda tells me very reverently that we are "real punk rock". I'm humbled. 

We return to the hotel and I take a quick shower and climb into bed. Gooch plays an old Eric Burdon album as I drift off...


Shinjuku - Nov 17

I awake to the sound of someone retching. I can't tell where it's coming from but it's disgusting. I'm a Class 'A' vomiphobe of the Highest Order. It sounds like its coming from Jeff and Barry's room - great. That's all we need. Somebody barfing-sick while in the middle of the biggest trip this band has ever had. So typical. I try my best to ignore it and go back to sleep but to no avail. It continues on and on. It almost got to be funny - I couldn't imagine what could possibly be left - a lung, perhaps? 

I've only slept about five hours. I toss and turn for a bit before giving up. I get dressed and go downstairs to access the wi-fi that is only available in the lobby. I'm surprised to find Jeff sitting on the sofa checking his own phone. I ask about the retching and am pleased to discover it came from elsewhere. We all remain healthy and virus-free. Good. Barry and Gooch have already ventured out. Gooch returns having discovered a head shop where he made friends with the owners. Gooch has that uncanny ability to have a good time, all the time. I envy him. 

Again we are picked up by Sexy at 1:30. The trip was shorter than yesterday as we are playing the same province of the city which we are staying, Shinjuku. I'm told this area is the most "happening" area of Tokyo, although to me the entire city seems happening. It pulsates with its own kinetic energy, both day and night. It is unmatched by any place I've ever been - Berlin, Prague, Copenhagen... this place beats 'em all, y'all. 

The club is called Antiknock. The venue is legendary having been in operation over thirty years and hosting a "who's who" of western punk and hardcore bands. It is located near Takashimaya Times Square, a busy spot in Shinjuku. As with CHOP, the club is located in the basement. It's a larger room but essentially the same - black soundproof walls, low ceiling and stage with a barricade. There is also the back line of equipment laying in wait for us. Once again I opt for a Fender Twin. I dial-in my sound but it doesn't sound quite as good as the night before. I ask the others if they can tell but they don't hear it. Maybe I'm over-thinking it. We run a few bars of "Up All Night" and everything is tight. We have been asked if the opening bands can join on our encore tonight. They have learned "Fuck All Y'all" and we give it a go. They all nail it. It's amazing to me me. Plus it sound fucking MASSIVE. I get a little emotional. I can't help but wonder what Joe Young would think of this - traveling halfway around the world and playing a song with people who neither speak your language or even ever met before. I only wish he could have experienced this. 

After soundcheck we soldier out exploring again. Keiko (or Tatami) guides us. We walk a few blocks before turning a corner to be greeted by  giant, life-size replica of Godzilla peeking over the top of a building. Jeff lights up like a little kid at Christmas. This is just a really cool place. Keiko takes a bunch of pictures as we explore. We take pics of our own, too. I joke that I have taken more pics in two days than all the time I've ever owned my phone. We walk a few more blocks to another building that houses a Godzilla shop. They have a film-used prop of one of the heads of King Ghidorah on display. Jeff nabs some goodies and then we head back to the club. There is so much to see it is almost overwhelming. The smell of curry permeates the air, seeping from all the many restaurants that line the streets. Even in the early evening lights flash and twinkle from the ground to the top of the towers that loom overheard. It's sensory-overload. 

We nab a quickie meal from 7-11. It is unlike anything you can get from 7-11 in the States. I get chicken and rice which is served hot and is really good. I notice a bag of squid tentacles packaged like beef jerky. I'm tempted but decide not to gamble it. I sit in the club and eat while people begin showing up. Much like Europe, shows run early here. To me it's smarter - people have jobs and don't want to be out until 2am or whatever. Here the shows don't start at 10pm, they end then. 

There is a direct circuit video feed in the barroom, which is separated from the stage room by two giant, heavy soundproofed doors. I watch some the opening bands sets from here. A few people greet me as they enter the club. I feel more comfortable tonight and am anxious to play. The crowd is a little larger as well. They are also older. Another American is here, a guy Gooch knows named Mark. He's lived in Tokyo for nearly thirty years. He explains some of the culture to Gooch, particularly that of Japanese massage parlors. Gooch is eager for a Happy Ending. Apparently it isn't quite that simple: "You get what you pay for" warns his friend. Also although semi-legal a lot of the prostitution is controlled by gangsters. It can be a risky deal if you don't know where to go or who to deal with. Gooch finally begins to second-guess his prospects. 

Finally we take the stage. The sound is great, whatever concerns I had earlier have disappeared. I'm in the zone, that place where you feel you can do no wrong. I have no numbness and feel great. It's a hot, tight set that buzzes along at a good pace. We don't let the tempos get too fast or too slow. Everything is on point. Call me arrogant but I feel that when we are all on point and cooking, we are as good as any band in the world. We're bad, we're internationwide... 

When its time for the encore everyone from the other bands line the stage and plug in. I slam into the opening riff of "Fuck All Y'all", our anthem of shared international social defiance. We drill that song like never before. Juda and Milly take turns on lead vocals along with Jeff while rest of us piledrive the music into oblivion. It's a pretty special moment, a conquering gesture shared by all three bands equally. We have forged new alliances and made new family. It is absolutely an amazing moment. 

After the set I walk up to the street for fresh air and to give myself a moment. I just want to let it sink in. I may never have another opportunity to do this. I stare at the buildings and watch people walk past, oblivious to who I am or what I'm feeling. The cool night air causes me to shiver a bit. I allow myself to come down from the natural high from playing. It's been a good trip.

I return downstairs and sign stuff. The crowd quickly dissipates and as with last night, tables are set up for the bands to hang out. Jeff is giving an interview for a magazine so most of us stay in the barroom. although I've not been drinking much lately, I indulge in a shot of Jack Daniels and sip a beer. Asahi is what everyone drinks. Not a favorite but I roll with it. Plus the bartender is drop-dead beautiful. The Sabu guitarist from Shootmaster gives Gooch his jacket - a really cool one with an embroidered dragon and tiger on the back. It's an awesome gesture of respect from that guy. Gooch tries to give him money but he refuses. I finally am able to get him to take my pedals and cables. He uses the same stuff so he seems pretty happy. One pedal was my back-up, I have another identical pedal. My tuner pedal is easily replaced and I had already planned on replacing the cables anyway. Plus it frees up room in my bag. 

When it's finally time to go everyone follows us up to the street waving and saying good-bye. They continue waving as we roll away. 


Koto  - Nov 18

Today we have a few extra hours to explore the city. Milly arrives to help show us around. We take a train over to another part of the city, I think still in Shinkuku. We are met there by Juda and Keiko. Soon we are deep in the recesses of a giant shopping mall. It's not like malls in the States, rather floor upon floor of all sorts of specialty shops and vintage stores. We happen upon a store dedicated to vintage Japanese toys. It's like a museum, only everything is for sale. Jeff spends a long time in there before finally picking up a few things. There are also stores devoted to anime and manga, which my kids love. I try to find stuff they like but I'm not really too familiar with it. They gave me some titles they like but I have no luck. It's still a fun trip exploring all the different stuff. We are stopped several times along the way by people who recognize us. Or I should say, recognize Jeff. It's cool to see him get so much respect and recognition. 

We eat lunch at a cool steak place called GUTS. Pretty coincidental since Vinyl Junkie has issued a CD single of our song of the same name for these shows. The restaurant staff all wear a t-shirt with a logo fashioned after the famous Ramones eagle logo. Gooch and I try to buy some but they aren't for sale. Too bad, they'd clean up selling those things to tourists like us. The food was killer, though. 

We eventually head to the venue for tonight's show. Along the way we persuade Sexy to drive us past Budokan, the arena that has hosted everything from the Beatles to Olympic Games to the infamous Muhammad Ali / Antonio Inoki match. It is also the recording location of several live albums including Dylan, Ozzy, Clapton and the legendary Cheap Trick live album. It's kinda surreal to see it in person. There is some sort of karate event being held and kids surround the place in their karate uniforms. We don't have time to stop but we snap pictures from the window of the van. We snake thru an older, more conservative part of the city. This is where the government buildings are.There isn't the garish flash of advertising here but the architecture is still impressive. We pass Tokyo Station, a legendary and historical train station. Over 100 years old, it has witnessed the assassinations of two Japanese Prime Ministers and endured the American bombing raids of WWII which destroyed parts of it. It has survived and continues to be one of the busiest rail stations in Japan. Truly, everywhere we go there is something interesting to see. 

The venue is called Shin-Kiba 1st Ring. It is a venue used by a variety of independent professional wrestling promotions. That's right, tonight we are playing a wrestling show. Its an event called Genocide Fest and features several "deathmatch" style bouts. For the uninitiated, deathmatch wrestling is like "extreme" or "harcore" wrestling in the states, only even more violent. Tonight's matches will include barbed-wire clubs and beds of bamboo spikes. In between the matches are scheduled punk and metal bands including the legendary Japanese band Abigail. 

I walk around the venue to check it out. The set up here is not unlike American wrestling shows. There is a stage to one end that serves as the entrance way for the wrestlers. A runway leads to the ring which dominates the center of the room Bleachers line the opposite side. I try to gauge how we will be set up onstage and realize the bands are regulated to one side. It's gonna be a tight squeeze, an area smaller than most club stages we play. Also tonight I will be forced to use a Marshall amp. I don't necessarily mind, I just am not familiar with them. I wont have sufficient time to dial in my sound properly.

There is a ceremonial opening to the wrestling card which we are asked to participate in. All the wrestlers and band members are given small plastic balls which we customize with markers to include our name and some sort of personal message. I don't catch what the significance of this is other than we are to toss them to the audience when cued. We then are given sashes to wear with our names written in Japanese on one siide and band name on the other. We nervously fidget to ensure we are wearing them correctly and then head towards the entrance way to the ring. We are instructed to go last as we are the headlining band and guests of honor. Jeff has been designated as the one to make the "grand proclamation" opening the event. When we walk out the entire spectacle is surreal. People chant Jeff's name. We are taken by this. He makes the opening proclamation and everyone toss the balls to the audience. 

We return backstage. Shootmaster aren't playing this show however their singer is also a wrestler and appears in the opening match. I go to the stage and watch peeking from the entrance way. His match was the traditional old-school type. They set up some comedic spots that includes one guy baring his ass and knocking guys over with it. It's silly fun. There is also a women's tag-team match. Unlike the States where women's wrestling has only recently earned legitimate respect, Japanese wrestling has long featured women on equal billing with the men. There are shows here of nothing but women's wrestling. Tonight's show also features and man against a woman. These are all on the undercard before the deathmatch bouts. 

I only watch a bit of the other matches. Jeff loves this stuff. He's been a fan since he first acquired tapes back in the early 90's. This style of hardcore deathmatch wrestling is a gruesome spectacle. Personally for me it's hard to watch. People are actually torn to pieces with barbed-wire and spikes. It's kinda like going to see a magician and he actually saws the lady in half just to heighten the legitimacy of his act. I notice one wrestler's back. Its a scarred mess of rip rap flesh. I wonder how much money he has earned doing that to himself. In the end it's entertaining in its own shock value, a transgressive take of stylized violence that defies you to witness it. 

The schedule runs long and soon bands are playing as the matches take place. Or maybe it was scheduled this way on purpose, I don't know. As headliners we won't play until all the wrestling is over. I wonder how many people will stay and watch us. When I walk out onstage I'm happy to see most everyone has left the bleachers and have crowded down in front of the stage. We tear into the set and the place erupts. They are seriously into it, more so than either of the previous shows. People slam dance and stage dive. We are cramped on our tiny corner of the stage but it only adds to the intensity. I go full aggro, perhaps the most aggro performance I've given since joining. The Marshall sounds like shit and I manage to knock my cables lose a couple if times but it doesn't deter or throw us off point. I fix my shit and jump back into the fray. It isn't the tightest set but it certainly is the most intense. Soon Jeff is a bloody mess, rivaling the wrestlers from earlier. We speed thru this set with an unsettling urgency. It's our last show here and we mean to leave an impression. 

After the show Milly finds me and tells me this was her favorite show of the three. She tells me I played very aggressive, more than I had previously. I admit that it was an effort to match her own performance. She seems taken by the compliment. It's not bullshit and she knows it. She is amazing performer, as is everyone in Ryuketsu. They set the bar pretty high and we had to really deliver. It wasn't competitive, it's just everyone gave their all. It's the right way to do things. Bring it like you mean it - otherwise you're just wasting everyone else's time. They bring it. 

Today is Clayton's birthday. The promoters surprise him with a cake and everyone sings Happy Birthday. I can tell he's genuinely moved by this gesture. After we pack up we are driven to another restaurant for one last gathering. We drive thru Tokyo and again are amazed at all the scenery. It's like Las Vegas amplified a thousand times over. We lean out the windows with our phones capturing as much of it as we can. We finally arrive to the restaurant and take over a corner. Here you order your food on a touch-screen menu and it is delivered to your table. We are served endless skewers of beef,  chicken and fish. Keiko persuades me to have a beer, insisting to "party!" 

Juda gives Jeff a birthday present which he has thoughtfully taken the time to have nicely gift-wrapped. Jeff opens it to find a cool resin statue of an Ultraman character. Jeff has been a fan of Ultraman all his life. He even has Ultraman tattoos. This gift is really perfect. I can tell Jeff is a pretty overwhelmed by everything that has been happening. I mean, we all have been overwhelmed on this this trip but for Jeff to be here in the country he most wished to visit, doing and seeing the things he most wanted to do and see - and on his birthday no less - it's clearly affecting him deeply.

We hang out long and late. We are having a lot of fun however there is underlying sense of melancholy. After tonight it's gonna be over. We hang out probably longer than we should given we have to up early. We don't want this to end. Eventually we get ready to leave. Everyone follows us to our vehicle to see us off. They continue waving goodbye as we pull away. 

By the time we get back to the hotel and shower, it's almost 3am. I still have to pack up. We have a little bit of extra stuff now, mostly t-shirts. We all will have to tote an extra small bag to handle it all. I pack my stuff pretty easily but I fall asleep to the scuffling sound of Gooch still stuffing his bags...


TRIP HOME - Nov 19

I had set my alarm for 9am but Gooch set his for 8. Oh well. Today is gonna be a long one. When we all finally go down to the lobby we surprised to be greeted by all the members of Ryuketsu Blizzard as well as Mutuwo from Shootmaster and photographer Keiko. They've all made time in their schedules to come here on a cold Monday morning to say goodbye one last time and see us off. I think we are all deeply impressed by this gesture of kindness. 

Soon we are locked amid the rush hour traffic in Tokyo as we slowly wind our way to the airport. This is our last opportunity to see the city. As we snake along I wonder what everyday life must be like here. Everyone seems to posses a dedicated work ethic and operate with an efficiency that makes it look seemingly effortless. I'm reminded of the old maxim "work smart, not hard". Everything seems smart here. Even the traffic moves with deliberate purpose amid its own congestion. We finally arrive at the airport, unload our bags and saunter towards our gate. Sexy walks with us. We find our line say our final goodbye to the guy who has chauffeured and chaperoned us most. He starts to walk away only to suddenly run back and snap a few last pictures. 

Now we are into the unpleasantness of travel. For some reason there is a snafu obtaining our boarding passes. I don't know what the issue is but we wait it out as several different ticket agents try to sort it out. Finally we are given our passes and we our on our way. Once again we have to connect in Shanghai. By the time we arrive its already getting dark again. For some reason we disembark onto the tarmac. I recall movies like Elvis On Tour and The Song Remains The Same, watching bands descend out of a jet and leaping into waiting limos. We load into a over-crowded shuttle bus and I don't feel like Led Zeppelin. 

We reach the terminal and are greeted by the gray, dour faces of a populace beaten down by bureaucracy. There are Americans that aspire for this misery, which is inexplicable to me. Whatever. We make our way thru the security checkpoints quickly and find ourselves the next gate over from the one we came thru on the way in. I can't connect to the wi-fi here. Typical. I get an orange Fanta hoping for the same style drink we had in Europe but no such luck. It's the same as the States. I bum a sleeping pill from Jeff just before we board. It works - I sleep the majority of the flight over, waking about two hours before we land at JFK.

Upon landing we sit on the tarmac for about eighty minutes without explanation. It doesn't really matter - our layover here is about eight hours. It's about 10 pm and our flight isn't until 6:30am. I'm surprised to discover how dead JFK is at night. I figured the hustle and bustle of the airport would run wide-open 24/7. Nope. Aside from a few arrivals around midnight the entire place grinds to a dull halt. We can't get thru security until 4am and then wait it out at the gate. By now I'm swimmy headed, over-tired and anxious to get the hell back home. From a distant TV I can hear the voice of the late Anthony Bourdain and smile to myself. I've heard his voice in my head narrating this entire trip. 


HOME - Nov 20

Our final leg of the journey strangely feels longest. The sun rises and blinds me thru the tiny windows of the plane. For once I wish people would close the shades. A girl in the seat directly across the aisle from me wears a hat that reads ASS MAN and sips a morning cocktail as she doodles in a sketchbook. It's as close to in-flight entertainment as I'm gonna get. The plane bobs and bumps along the clouds before finally making our approach. We march out into the terminal and head to a currency exchange. Counting my money I figure this trip has cost me about $38. 

Gooch and I share a cab ride back to my car and I drive him home. Afterwards I make a direct trip to the nearest Bojangles...


EPILOGUE - 

The folks at Vinyl Junkie  really went above and beyond ensuring that everything went smoothly and I think it's safe to say this was the smoothest, most well put-together trip this band has ever experienced. I'd be remiss not to acknowledge their hard work in putting this all together and pulling it off. They've provided us with the trip of a lifetime, something we shall never forget. 

Way back when I first started to travel with the band I briefly thought I was going to be able to go along with them on their first trip to Europe. I don't remember what the snafu was but I didn't get to go. I was disappointed but not angry. I was genuinely excited to see the boys go on their first international tour. It was the culmination of all the years of work they had put in to that point. They then extended that tour with a full cross-country tour of the US, which I also was unable to go on. Looking back, I'm sorta glad I didn't because when they came back they very nearly broke-up. I believe the drummer at the time quit very soon after. See, touring is tricky business, particularly for a band at this level. Although there are people like booking agents and promoters that are doing a sizable mount of legwork to help organize and advertise, there are also still things that are very much DIY. So it isn't like a vacation. There's always work involved. Amid the otherwise enjoyable part of playing shows and meeting cool people there is also the stress of daily finances, logistics and travel. I mean, sure, it ain't rocket science and it clearly beats punching the clock at your straight job  - but it can sometimes drain interpersonal relationships within the framework of the band. 

Really, its yet another testament to the resolve and strength of character that Jeff Clayton and Joe Young possessed. I've seen other bands implode over far less than ANTiSEEN has endured. They've experienced every set-back, pratfall, put-down, betrayal and road block imaginable over their thirty year partnership and survived it all. And believe me, I would know. I've had a front row seat for a lot of it. Hell, I've even been responsible for some of it. But the band has absorbed it all without defense - that which does not kill you makes you stronger, right? So this trip was something Jeff earned the hardest of hard ways. He deserved it and it was as fun watching him enjoy it as it was for me to enjoy it myself. 

Anyhow at this point I can't help but harbor some sense of guilt. These opportunities are afforded me from the work others put in long before I ever joined. I try not to think about it too much other than acknowledge what others might be critical of. My answer is simply that this has far less to do with me or my contribution than it does the band as a whole. If anybody wants to hate on my participation that's their prerogative. Meanwhile I've got a job to do.

And I think I do a pretty good job. 


Sunday, October 21, 2018

The 35th Antiversary...

There used to be a yearly Battle Of The Bands deal at my high school and I would  sneak in early to watch the bands set up. I always found being around bands exciting, even if just seeing a group unload their gear. One year there was a band in particular that I knew the guitar player in. They were your garden variety hair band, only minus the hair. Sporting little more than standard mullets they nonetheless tried fluffing out their locks with ample amounts of Aqua-Net. Although they were deliriously mediocre and uninteresting, for some reason they strutted around school as if they were already rock stars. Looking back it's hilarious to think of how goddamned seriously those kids took themselves.

Anyway, this guitarist kid and I once got into a bit of shoving match at a party. I had started getting hip to the idea that there was a lot more to making music and being in a band than just trying to score girls, getting signed and all the other nonsense in pursuit of the fantasy of making it as a rock star. I was already preaching the gospel of ANTiSEEN pretty heavy at this point. And he tried to dismiss them as a loser band that couldn't be "real" and make "real money". I told him that he was a cheap sellout and questioned his integrity. Things just escalated from there. Suffice it to say I was literally kicked out of the party. 

I was used to it by that point. I had always been out of sync with everyone else. Sure I had a small circle of friends, but generally my ideas and interests were ridiculed and shamed. The point of this is to say that way back in 1990/91 when ANTiSEEN first asked me to ride along and help, it really was a giant boost to my self esteem. That might sound kinda dumb but my life turned a corner when I first started travelling with the band as a would-be "roadie" back then. I discovered a way out, above and beyond what my high school friends believed to be exciting and important. 

Contrary to popular belief, being an actual member of this band wasn't something I aspired to. I only ever wanted to be "The Help" - a guy that in addition to all the everyday stuff of loading gear, selling merch, etc, could also be one they could trust for an honest, objective outside opinion and have that opinion count . I learned the hard way that achieving this meant learning to communicate my ideas in a constructive manner. My blunt assertions usually caused more harm than good.  

Frankly I never thought I could find my place in this band. I had come close to joining once before after Doug Canipe quit. Jeff called one evening and we discussed the possibility. I instead advanced the idea of taking on Jon Bowman, which they did. Another occasion many years before he sorta floated to possibility of me playing bass but I don't think he was serious. Joe and Jeff Young had also tried to talk me into joining as a drummer once as well. Never mind that my drumming skills are, shall we say... limited, I just didn't think I could fit into the band dynamic.  

So... yeah. The irony is not lost on me to find myself now playing guitar in this band. The occasion of the 35th anniversary is something I feel strangely disconnected from and yet deeply rooted in. I can't resolve it and I won't try to. The circumstances under which I came to join the band weren't ideal. However despite the odds I think we've all given it everything we've got and in the process managed to emerge a stronger band. 

I'm often asked "what's it like?" That is a difficult question to answer because the answer is complex. People generally see only the end result via a show or a record. They think of being in a band as a recreational activity where you hang out with your friends and party or whatever it is that people think bands do. However in my experience to achieve any semblance of "success" you've got to put in the work. Sure, the work can be fun - but often times it can still be work. Some of it is spent in solitude while trying to puzzle random pieces of ideas and thoughts into some tangible working form. From there the process extends to rehearsing - where the ideas you've labored on for so long are no longer sacrosanct. They became torn apart, restructured, re-purposed and repeated over and over until you get it right. And I don't mean that negatively, its merely part of the process. It's how a good idea becomes a great one. 

Then there is the travelling. Long, seemingly endless hours out on the highway. Sometimes the trips are full of eye-popping scenery and sometimes they're mind-numbingly boring. There are even those trips which can take 12, 14, 16 hours just to get from one point to the next. You start to recognize travel plazas and truckstops because you've stopped there several times before. Air travel is decidedly worse but it allows me to do things I once only could daydream of. There is more time spent travelling than all the rest of it combined. 

Mind you, this isn't an exclusive fraternity. Very often I've encountered other bands out on the road doing their own thing. Most have day jobs not unlike ourselves. Some have torn up roots and thrown caution to the wind, gambling their prospects in any given town on any given night. The unifying factor is that we are all out there trying to make something out of our lives beyond the day-to-day demands of a so-called "normal" lifestyle. 

I hope to have imparted some of these ideas with this blog. 

So again, it's a bit of a paradox. I've experienced this band from both the inside and outside. I'm keenly aware that this anniversary is largely the anniversary of Jeff Clayton and what he and Joe Young spent thirty years together building. But it's also something to celebrate with past members, all of whom give up large parts of their personal lives to do all of the aforementioned. And most importantly, its something to celebrate with the fans. Without the people who spend their time and money to see us play or buy our albums or wear our t-shirts, etc. This is a pretty special thing. 

Over the course of the last six or eight weeks we've had to endure some pretty serious darkness. We lost friends and loved ones during this time, all people we were close to. These have been some difficult and painful weeks. In this atmosphere we were still busy with the legal legwork of our upcoming Japanese trip while also working as hard as possible to put together this show. 

I'm not ashamed to say I feel we persevered and accomplished what we set out to achieve. 


The venue is called the Neighborhood Theater. It is located in an area referred to as "NoDa" - a reference to North Davidson Street, which intersects with 36th Street.The old neighborhood has enjoyed an economic boost as property values have risen, spurred by new development such as restaurants, bars, nightclubs and the omnipresent condominiums. The old Theater was originally built in the 1940's but over the decades the area degraded into poverty and crime. The waning days of the Theater had it showing porno films to bums and transients before shuddering it's doors at some point in the 80's. It met its revival in the early 00's when resurrected as a live music venue. In the time since it has metamorphosed into a fairly upscale independent music venue hosting acts of all genres. 

The venue consists of two rooms: one is the theater itself. I don't know if the stage is original or not. There is an old curtain that runs along the back of the stage where a movie screen no doubt once occupied. On the other end of the room is the soundboard and above it, a balcony. The smaller room where the bar is located. There is also another smaller stage and an area for merch sales and then a hallway leading to restrooms. This room is open on one end for a full view of the large room and stage. A roped-off area of tables lines this spot as something of a VIP/reserved seat area. 

When we were initially offered the opportunity to play here I think we were all a bit surprised. The timing was perfect however as Tremont Music Hall had recently closed. I was a little apprehensive about how the venue would treat us. Typically the larger more "upscale" venues tend to defer us with contempt. Once, in Texas (I won't dignify the club by naming it) we were given no instruction or help with our load in. We parked in a spot we weren't supposed to park and loaded in the wrong door. After allowing our merch guy set up all of our wares they informed him he had set up in the wrong spot and would have tear everything down, move to the correct location and set it all back up again. And there is no doubt they did that all of that shit on purpose. 

Fortunately, we encountered no such snootiness here. The staff here are all on point, friendly, helpful and work hard. There are guys ready to help wheel the gear in and help load it all onstage. Everything moves with a determined purpose yet also casually and relaxed. Nobody is rushing us. My son Cody has come along to help. We unpack my stuff and set up. My old friend Phil Strickland is running sound for us. I met him years ago and would have him run sound for my shows during the Mad Brother Ward run of the early 00's. Phil played in the instrumental group Husky aka Watch Husky Burn. Their album "Circle The Wagons" has been a mainstay on my trusty old iPod for years. He's a really laid-back, good-natured guy and very patient. I'm really happy he's agreed to do this for us. 

Having an actual soundcheck is a rarity for us. Ordinarily we only do what is called a line-check - where we quickly set sound levels right before our set. However with this show things are different. We are including guests for this show and need to sort out the particulars. It takes more time than I expected. Gooch is set up on a riser, which makes him difficult to hear without the aid of the stage monitors. However the monitors don't appear to work correctly. I can't seem to get a correct level established. We run a few songs, slowly bringing things into a relative good order. I'm still not quite content but resolve to play thru whatever issues I may have. That instinct has served me well so far. 

After soundcheck I make a quick run back to my place to change clothes. I also grab a towel and clean shirt to change into after the show. I decide I have no appetite. This is fairly routine. I'm always pretty nervous before we play and it zaps my appetite. I force myself to eat a protein bar and sip on an energy drink. I try to think of any other last minute things I might need but I'm falling into the moment. There will be no more time to think - I simply take the rest of the night minute by minute. 

After returning to the club I put my stuff in the dressing room and make my way to the smaller second room. We are gathering with many former members of the band for a sort of meet and greet/autograph signing. Initially I was sorta dreading this. I always feel awkward in social situations and prefer to find a spot to be alone before a show. However this is a lot of fun. In addition to the many former members we are also joined by Kelly Dean, the Dean Of Sods. The Dean keeps me laughing the whole time.The evening is off to a great start. 

The first opening band is Taped Fist, led by our old pal Mondo Braswell. I've seen his old band, Pier Six Brawlers and knew Mondo was a great frontman. His new band plays a solid set of old-school style punk rock as he parades about shirtless and howling up a storm. Apparently their drummer had only just joined the previous week but he nailed it. They are followed by Jocephus & The George Jonestown Massacre who grind thru every gear in Rock & Roll with surgical precision. I mean they almost sound prerecorded they are so tight. They opened for us a year ago and got such a great response we invited them to open this show as well. 

Former A-SEEN bassist Tom O'keefe is serving as the Master Of Ceremonies for the evening. He takes the stage for an introduction as we gather together behind the curtain. After he speaks our "intro" music is played, Elvis' "American Trilogy". I lead the band onstage and am met with a loud roar from the crowd. It's a much larger crowd than I anticipated. I strap on my guitar and then we are into the set. I'm pacing myself a bit, as this set is over twice as long as our normal set. The issues I had at soundcheck aren't as bad now. I can hear the drums much better and sort of map out a territory where I can take visual cues if necessary. 

We roll thru the first third of the set before introducing our first guest, Malcolm Tent. Malcolm has always been a unique individual. He brought the world many off-beat and unusual recordings via his infamous TPOS label while also running the legendary record shop Trash American Style (heavily featured in the documentary "I Need The Record!") TPOS issued several ANTiSEEN releases as well as the first Mad Brother Ward record. He also wrote the song we are about to play, "My God Can Beat Up Your God". ANTiSEEN reworked and adopted this song as their own many years ago. He bounds onstage from the audience (from the wrong side of the stage, natch). Clad in a bright neon green sparkling shirt he looks like a New Wave Neil Diamond as he and Clayton trade off versus. It's really cool. 

We ran a very informal online poll trying to gauge what songs to be included in the set list. The song with the most votes was a surprise, "Shittin' In High Cotton". The recording featured local music legend Scott Savage on harmonica. Savage has long since retired and retreated deep into the hills, so we needed to find someone who could play the song. Fate interceded as we had already recruited Jason Moss to play harmonica on our new "Dying Breed" record. Moss fronts his own old-school honky tonk outfit here in town. He takes the stage and helps blast the tune out of the water. 

The guest spots have been carefully spaced across the set rather than lining all of them up in a row. We have put a lot of time into building a set that we felt best reflected the bands history while also playing personal favorites. Songs like "Burning Money" and "Masters Of The Sky" were reintroduced to our set lists after I joined. Over the last few years we also started dipping further into older material that had not been played in a long time such as "Cop Out" and "Destructo Rock", both which are in the set tonight. And for this show we also added two songs from the first ANTiSEEN record, "Drastic. And to put the boot in, we invited original bassist Bill Cates to play as well. 

Bill reconnected with the band around the time we released "Obstinate". Personally speaking it has been a treat to finally meet him. I was tasked with the responsibility of helping him relearn the two songs we had chosen to play, "Psycho Path" and "She's Part of the Scene". This was also a thrill. It plugged me straight back into what is was to be a fan newly discovering the band. 

Bill takes the stage to a large ovation. We launch into the songs and blitz them pretty hard. Bill is grinning like a kid. I don't know how much he's actually playing but it doesn't matter. He's an original, a part of the foundation on which the entire history of this band is built. This moment is his and I feel lucky to get to share in it. 

The last guest of the evening is a bona-fide punk rock legend, Wimpy Rutherford, original vocalist of the Queers. He has also fronted the reunited Jabbers, replacing the late GG Allin. It's a GG tune he joins in on,one recorded by the band with GG himself called "Cock On The Loose". I make a mental note to steer clear of Wimpy because when he takes stage, he takes over. He prowls the stage like a caged tiger, spitting out the lyrics with a venom that washes their sophomoric humor away. It's a cool spot. 

We then kick into the final third of the set. My energy is still with me and I can lean into the songs pretty comfortably. We spike thru "Cactus Jack" before slowing it down for "Nothing's Cool", wringing out every sludgy chord for maximum impact. Then we drive it in with several more songs before climaxing with "I Piss You Off" from the Obstinate record. Jeff sets his washboard ablaze and holds it aloft before smashing it down into a million pieces. People scramble for the debris as we leave the stage. 

Tom goes out to rally the crowd but they no prompting. He introduces us each one by one before we lay into the encores. The finale is, of course, "Fuck All Y'all". At the breakdown spot a large cloth-covered object is rolled onstage and as the song roars to its end, Jeff uncovers it revealing Joe Young's guitar rig. The crowd erupts to see the Telecaster and the Super Twin stand poised and ready. Jeff smacks the strings and it belches forth the legendary tone of Mighty Joe Young - the proverbial final note. We walk ofstage leaving Joe's rig to stand alone, droning out a melancholic hum. 

It was an emotionally powerful moment. I knew what had been planned but I hadn't really counted on the impact it would have. I knew it would be a powerful tribute but didnt anticipate to so see people teary eyed, if not openly crying. Even now as I write this days later, I still am hearing testimonials of what it meant to people seeing Joe's rig onstage once more. 

Ive been a tiny part of this bands history. I'm lucky to have ever been involved at all. Personally Jeff and Joe inspired me in so many ways that I almost take it for granted. Almost. When I think back to myself as that wide-eyed kid that snuck into the old high school Battle of Bands I can't help but feel a little proud. The kid I knew that played guitar and bragged of his own impending stardom has long since disappeared into a hazy memory. 

My own motivation to do what I do in this band is simple: to pay tribute and respect to the memory of Joe Young and to help propel Jeff Clayton to new destinations and accomplishments with the strongest music possible. 

Thirty five years

There were many folks involved in helping pull this show off. I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge them as they played important roles. Our longtime loyal roadies Brandon and Todd Goss, also our "auxiliary roadies" Jeff Williams and Cody Ward. Phil Strickland on sound and "Punk Rick" Scullion who captured the night on multi-camera video. Tom O'keefe for flying in and MC'ing the event. And of course all the crew of the Neighborhood Theater for welcoming us in and treating us so well. This was the best experience I've personally had with a "big" venue in the United States.   

And of course, our most sincere thanks to all of you. You are what makes all of this possible and we are grateful for the support and respect you've shown.