20 July 2007

Bike Gang

Way back on Wednesday, no, actually Tuesday B.F. (Before the Flood), Aaron Cometbus showed up in my neighborhood. We met at the corner cafe and sat there drinking coffee for a while, but then he invited me along to pick up his bike from the repair shop. Aaron has a habit of inviting me on exciting errands. Last time I saw him, practically the first words out of his mouth were, "Dude, come with me to the UPS store!"

I suspected Aaron of having an agenda, which is generally a safe assumption, and in this case, it turned out that he had decided it was time I bought a bike. The thought has crossed my mind numerous times this summer, especially when waiting in vain for recalcitrant trains or wishing I could whip silently and swiftly through the late night streets to Greenpoint instead of slogging along on foot for the better part of half an hour.

But I kept putting off on the grounds that a) bikes are too expensive in NYC; b) I already have a perfectly good bike in California which one of these days I'll theoretically manage to get shipped out here. But Aaron was keen on this bike repairman/dealer who operates out of his garage on Lorimer. "I think he's the real deal," he says, which is about as full-on an endorsement as you're ever going to get from Aaron.

And sure enough, before I'd been there five minutes, I was being sold a not particularly lovely but perfectly functional bicycle for $50, which included a quick clean-up and spruce-up, a new (well, only slightly used) back tire, new handle grips) and a heavy duty (albeit slightly rusty) chain for locking it to lampposts thrown in. No, it's not quite as nice as my OG bike, purchased in Willits, California for $75 in 1993, but it's coming in a lot more handy.

Like tonight, for example, when I was tied up on the phone for quite a while, making me rather later for the Gravy Train show over on the North Side. No problem: onto the bike I went, and was there in maybe five minutes, ten minutes max. True, in my bike riding clothes consisting of baggy shorts and muscle T, I was a bit out of place in the finely kempt and coiffed crowd of rather glossy hipsters who half filled Studio B (the rest of the audience consisted of, if you believe Jackie O. gay boys and their fag hags, or if you trust my impession, lots of little lesbians and a sprinkling of young men of indeterminate orientation).

For there allegedly being no lesbians there, Jackie O. sure got chatted up a lot, which was more than you could say for myself or Unlovable Frank, who stood morosely around the edge of the stage and greeted me on my arrival with, "Great drummer, eh?" He was referring to the woman playing drums for the first band, Love Or Perish, who turned out to be one Molly Neuman, late of Lookout Records, Pee Chees, Bratmobile, riot grrrl, etc. etc.

She is a very good drummer indeed, and seems to have gotten even better since the last time I saw her. The rest of the band? They were very good, too, or rather they played very well and looked good. The songs were a bit forgettable, though, and the last one went on for an unforgivable five or six minutes.

That crime paled, however, compared with what was at least an hour's wait for the next band. This being Williamsburg, of course, nobody in the crowd had to go to work the next morning (except Jackie O. and Unlovable Frank, and yes, I'm being sarcastic about the rest of the audience, too). Jackie explained that the reason we'd been subjected to this seemingly interminable barrage of cheesy dance music (which actually started out good but plummeted rather precipitously downhill for a very long time before it finally stopped) was that we were being graced with a "celebrity" DJ, namely J.D. Samson from the band Le Tigre. Why someone supposedly knows how to be a DJ because they play in a band has always baffled me, but I'm giving J.D. the benefit of the doubt and assuming that she was responsible for the good dance music in the first half of the hour rather than the reprehensible codswallop in the latter.

I also discovered, lurking in the front row, the long-presumed-vanished Rop, also formerly of Rice, the Pee Chees, Lookout Records Mail Order, and a host of other activities. The last time I saw him, in Park Slope in the year 2000, he was leaving for New Mexico, and most people I knew assumed he was still there. "Actually, I never left Brooklyn," he breezily informed me. "I just didn't come out much for a while." Unlovable Frank introduced me to the writer/illustrator Cristy Road, who I'd been hearing and seeing so much about, and we had a nice chat about Florida and books and all sorts, and STILL there was no sign of another band playing.

Okay, they finally did come on, "they" being something called VIP, which turned out to be three manic gay white rappers, two of them sounding as though they'd swallowed helium balloons in the vein of MC Chris. The gay disco Beastie Boys, I opined, whereupon Unlovable Frank responded with, "A high school talent show in Chelsea." I found them a lot more amusing than Frank did, and he eventually sulked off to the bar to wait them out.

He waited in vain, however, as they were back to share the stage with Gravy Train in the night's big production number, and also appeared in a music video/short film which aired in between bands and during the entire time Gravy Train were playing. At least Gravy Train didn't make us wait for hours; they came clattering on to the stage rather quickly, in fact, led by a rubber-limbed and gurning Brontez, who as usual was the life of the party. Seth (Hunx) and the ladies lurked behind the keyboard at the back of the stage while Brontez hectored and harangued the crowd into a frenzy, and both boys were down to not much more than their underwear (well, Brontez was down to his tighty-whities and nothing more) well before the set was finished.

Although Jackie O., Unlovable Frank and I had all arrived separately, we left together and simultaneously discovered that we'd all come on our bikes. Off we went, through the back streets of Williamsburg, like an incredibly diverse (in terms of ages, genders and orientations) bike gang with a total membership of three. It was a relatively short journey before Frank had to peel off for the bridge and Manhattan, and Jackie left me in her dust and headed off to Bushwick.

But for about ten minutes it was one of those timeless rides, mostly in silence, where we seemed to fly in formation and the streets and sidewalks belonged to no one but us, a few moments when biking through the back streets on a warm summer night seems like the best - hell, like the only - thing in the world to do. Earlier in the evening I'd been talking to a different kind of biker - his Harley was parked out in front of my house - and he told me how he and two buddies had, on the spur of the moment, ridden off to Philadelphia to get cheese steaks one Sunday night. And that's how it felt on my bike tonight: I just wanted to keep riding and riding until nothing short of the ocean or the Continental Divide put a stop to my meanderings.

But instead I came home and wrote about it just for you.

19 July 2007

The Downside Of Living On A Low-Lying Island

I woke this morning to the sound of thunder, and no, I'm not about to go all Bob Seger on you. But there is something especially spooky about a storm that comes crashing in on you at dawn, especially when it parks itself directly overhead and rolls balls and well of bolts of lightning down your street accompanied by window-rattling bursts of thunder minus the usual delayed reaction that you get when the lighting is striking a few blocks or miles away.

I'd only slept fitfully all night anyway, and now there was no way I was going to sleep at all; even with the blinds closed the lightning was still illuminating the room like some satanic strobe light, and the thunder was so loud that even when I turned on the radio to see what time it was and to find out if Armageddon had been declared without my knowledge, I couldn't hear anything but static.

I turned it up louder, but there was still nothing but static, and there for some reason picked up the phone - I don't know why; when I was a boy I was constantly fed horror stories about lightning striking your house and coming out the receiver of the phone and blasting away the brains of whoever was foolish enough to be talking on it - but it was dead. The sound of the rain smashing on the window and roaring down the street in a newly formed river was now almost as loud as the thunder.

Ever since I moved into this basement apartment, I've had a gnawing fear of hurricanes - not everyone knows it, but they do strike New York from time to time - and the possibility that if one did hit I'd be put through my own mini-New Orleans. And apparently I wasn't the only one this had occurred to; the landlord had installed two heavy duty pumps under the bedroom floor after the last bout of high water sometime in the 1990s.

And so far they'd worked. Any time water begins to rise underneath the house, the pumps are set in motion by a float device not unlike the one inside your toilet tank. But in order to operate, they need electric power, something which seldom is in ready supply during times of hurricane.

But it's not hurricane season for a couple months yet, and the electricity was working just fine, so there was no reason I couldn't lie back and enjoy the celestial pyrotechnics. Or so I thought until the voices on the radio, which had inexplicably started to work, were nearly drowned out by a deep gurgling sound.

At first I couldn't tell if it was on the radio or outside or from the pumps under the house. Eventually I decided that it must be the pumps, but decided to get out of bed and investigate, at which point I stepped into a pool of fast-rising water. The bedroom, which is slightly higher than the rest of the apartment, was just beginning to go under; in the living room and kitchen, rugs, waste baskets and shoes were beginning to float away.

I tried to call the super; oops, phone's dead, remember? The cell phone worked, but guess what, no answer. Meanwhile the water is starting to rise over the numerous power cords that run this computer and the host of other machines and gadgets one finds in the modern home. I yanked one set of plugs out of the socket, but my foot got a distinct little electric shock before I could get near the cord powering the TV, and I retreated.

I tried the super again and got him; he'd be right there, he said, but when he arrived, all he could say was, "Everybody on the block's flooded. What can I do?"

He did a lot, actually, once the water started to recede, helping to mop out the whole place, pick up stuff off the floor, etc., and even offering to pay for my computer power adapter, which had been destroyed. A few books and magazines were lost causes, one or two items of clothing, and a whole lot of tax and bank records which I'd unwisely spread out on the floor in preparation for working on them.

Probably a bit more damage will make itself known in the days to come, but so far it's nothing too drastic, just a rude reminder of what havoc nature can wreak when it gets a mind do, and a rather more sobering illustration that if a real hurricane should ever land on us, this place is likely to be filled to the ceiling, and everything I own and can't get out of here in time will probably be destroyed. Good thing I don't own a lot of stuff, isn't it?

But I'd miss this little computer and all the info that's on it, not to mention my electric piano and my guitar. The prospect of having to swim out of here in the dark is less than heartening as well. Not to mention the fact that every time it starts to rain - which it did several times today - I risk going into full-on panic mode. Oh well, at least I've got a better than average excuse for not getting anything done today.

08 July 2007

The Last Night Of The Fest

I just sat down for the first time in what seems like about 16 hours. Upon more careful reflection I realize I'm probably engaging in hyperbole: I recall briefly parking myself in a chair in the upstairs bar somewhere around 7 pm, and of course I had to sit down to drive the car back here to the hotel, but apart from that I've been not just on my feet, but pretty constantly in motion for over 14 hours now.

I remember at one point someone asking what time it was and how many more bands still had to play, and realizing that even though we'd already put in a pretty full day of rocking and rolling, that it was only 5 o'clock and there were still eight (in the end it turned out to be nine) more hours to go. "If this were a job," I said, "We'd already be collecting overtime." It wasn't a job of course, though right now I'm feeling like I just put in a double shift at the steel mill; what it was - and no hyperbole here either - was one of the best days of my life.

A bit over the top, you ask? I don't blame you; it sounds that way to me, too, and when the phrase first popped into my head around the time the Mr. T Experience tore into "I Fell For You," I thought I'd better check with a few other festgoers before dropping it on the public. But the first five people I asked instantly agreed that it was one of the best days of their lives as well, and Jackie O. unhesitatingly pronounced it THE best day of hers.

I pooh-poohed that notion at first on the ground that her life hadn't been much more than a third as long as mine, but then accepted that both of our opinions were quite valid. Still, I hadn't fallen in love or won the lottery, or even done much at all apart from watch bands, dance, and run around talking to a couple hundred people. So what made it so special then?

The only answer I can come up with is: everything. Every single blessed thing, even the minor and major annoyances like getting clumped in the head by the flailing feet of a couple stagedivers or the power going out last night and shutting down Friday's fest session about four hours early. The latter was a disaster that would have sent lesser men (like, say, yours truly) running for cover, but faced with the likes of Chris Thacker, Pat Termite and Mark Enoch, the disaster quickly turned into no more than in a minor hiccup. The power was back up and running this morning, and with a few quick adjustments to the schedule, it was possible for nearly every band to play, and because set times were shortened (in most cases) to half an hour (strictly enforced by Mr. Termite, one of the best stage managers in the business), the bands wound up turning in tighter shows and better thought out sets than we would have dared hope for if they'd had 45 minutes or an hour to screw around in.

One exception to the half hour rule was Ben Weasel. The organizers wanted him to play for an hour, at least twice as long as most Weasel extravaganzas I'd ever seen, and in this case they turned out to be correct. Backed by New Hampshire's Guts and opening with a trio of songs from My Brain Hurts, Ben then proceeded to whip through a selection of Riverdales, Ramones, and Ben Weasel tunes, topped with a Queers cover ("Love Love Love." Ben then came back as guest vocalist with the Steinways, who've been known to insert the odd Weasel cover into their set list. The look on Chris Grivet's face as he played drums behind the man who'd been a punk rock god to him for 13 or 14 years was priceless.

"Grivet, back when you were a kid listening to Screeching Weasel, did you ever think..."

"No! Not in a million years."

"...that you'd be sitting there staring at Ben Weasel's ass while you and he played some of the favorite songs of your life?"

But the day was full of priceless moments like that. In fact, I'm tempted to say that's all the day was: an unbroken string of priceless moments that people will still be talking about 20 years from now, the same way they still talk about Gilman Street in 1987, or the first time they saw Operation Ivy or Screeching Weasel or Green Day.

I know, I said something like that about last year's fest, and I don't take any of it back. The thing is, this year's fest was just like last year's except for being bigger, better and even more amazing. I couldn't even begin to list all the highlights, musical or otherwise, especially not tonight when I'm desperate to get a few hours sleep before an early morning wakeup call for the trip back to New York, but let me just mention the Ergs, who were about as sensational as I've ever seen them, the Methadones, with Dan Vapid singing sans guitar for the first time I've ever noticed and topping off their set with a blistering version of "What We Hate," which, sadly, Ben didn't get round to doing, and the Copyrights, one of last year's sensations who have clearly upped the ante since then.

Also upping the ante were the Parasites and the Beatnik Termites, who to be honest haven't always impressed me in the past, but who each turned in the set of their lives tonight. It was as though bands were feeding off the incredible energy of the crowd and sending it winging right back at them. That, coupled with the excellent sound system and an audience fully prepared to sing along with every line, meant that were to be no bad performances, at least not that i saw. The Guts were sensational, both backing Ben Weasel and maybe even more so on their own (not to mention when Wimpy joined them for a mini-set of classic Queers songs). Hell, I don't know anyone who wasn't sensational, to the point where I was worried whether enough of the crowd would still be on its feet by the time the Mr. T Experience took the stage in the very nearly wee hours to wrap up the fest.

I needn't have concerned myself. Despite having spent much of the earlier evening propping up the front bar and possibly attempting to drink it dry, Dr. Frank demonstrated once again why show business is his life, treating a frenzied audience to exactly what I hoped he would: a delicately balanced admixture of mid-90s pop-punk classics and more contemporary stuff that should be classic, even if it isn't yet. He even threw in MTX's big "hit" from the 1980s, "Danny Partridge Got Busted," which pleased the purists and completists no end, but seemed to leave the younger end of the audience looking a bit bewildered. Roach and Scampi from the recently defunct Groovie Ghoulies, jumped on stage to do a number with Frank and the boys, and when I saw him heading in that direction, I figured B-Face, himself a former Ghoulie, was going to get in on the action, too.

Sadly he didn't. I guess you can't have everything after all, though the one wish I wasn't granted was for MTX to finish up their set with "Dumb Little Band," the song that probably sums up as succinctly as it can be summed up the whole pop-punk experience of the past 10 or 20 years. But such was not to be the case, so... maybe next year.

And there will be a next year, probably twice as big again as this year's model, and they're also talking about taking the show on the road. Just in case there was any doubt about it, today's/this weekend's events proved pretty definitively that this pop-punk thing isn't going away any time soon.

But I am: geez, I really have to get some sleep. Don't worry, much more fest coverage is sure to come to your way soon, and if you have a spare week or two to read it all, hop on over to the PPMB for what's likely to be some of the most exhaustive and exhausting discussion ever. Just don't mention the donuts.

07 July 2007

Out Went The Lights

No three part harmony versions of the Star Spangled Banner, even though six of us ended up making the trip to Fort McHenry (in a four-seater car, just to add spice to the journey) through a typically Baltimorean morass of badly or not at all signposted backstreets. Coming back I ignored what signs there were altogether and simply traveled in the direction that seemed to make sense. The trip took less than half the time as it did going out.

Maybe it's just me growing thickheaded with age, but I've spent an awful lot of time getting lost in Baltimore, or trying to find the most basic services - like restaurants or stores that sell food. It's hard not to think that whoever's in charge around here - if anyone actually is - doesn't have much of an idea what they are doing. It's disappointing, because the place has the potential to be a beautiful city. Miles and miles of period buildings, a friendly and good-natured population, outstanding music scene, and yet Baltimore is kind of a mess.

A genial mess, true, and that has its advantages. For example, with about a hundred people hanging out on the sidewalk and spilling into the street in front of the Charm City Art Space, many of them drinking, including a few that might not have been legally old enough to do so, and a cop car comes rolling by just as the guy next to me takes an ostentatious swig of beer. Uh oh, he says, but the cop doesn't bat an eye or even slow down to see what's going on. In New York they would have called out the riot squad.

But what, you might wonder, were we doing at the Charm City Art Space when the Fest Of The Century was taking place about a mile up the road at the Ottobar? Well, funny you should ask. Although the Insubordination folks had been running a more or less perfect fest, with nearly every eventuality anticipated and prepared for, they fell victim to something they couldn't possibly have prepared for. Somewhere around 8 or 8:30, with the sun still out but sinking blood red in the western sky, the whole club suddenly went dark and quiet. Ben Weasel and I had been talking in a corner of the upstairs bar, and Dan Vapid had just joined us when the lights went out and the music stopped. "Too bad Even In Blackouts aren't here," quipped Vapid, the first of about 500 festgoers to make that joke.

We figured - well, I did, anyway - it was a blown fuse or circuit breaker, and that someone would change it or flick it back on in minute or two. But as the minutes accumulated into the better part of an hour, we started wondering if it was just the Ottobar that was blacked out or if it was the whole neighborhood or city. As it turned out, it was just one block, but unfortunately it was the block that the Ottobar sat in the middle of.

The local electricity people finally showed up around 10:15 pm with their cherry picker truck that hoisted a workman up to the top of the nearest power pole, which happened to be in the middle of an enormous overgrown tree. He spent another half hour clipping away branches and unhooking wires only to hook them back up again, but still nothing happened. Even the ice cream truck which had parked out back shortly after the blackout began and regaled the neighborhood with an hour's worth of "Turkey In The Straw" (meanwhile selling out most of its inventory to bored and famished festgoers) had cleared out, and the impromptu acoustic singalongs by the likes of the Ergs had died down, and still the electric man poked around in the branches with classic Baltimorean efficiency.

Around 11 he announced there was "no way" the power would be coming back on tonight - blown transform, apparently - beginning a mass exodus. Some went home or to their hotels, some to a local bar called the Rendezvous, and a hundred or two set off on the ten-block trek down to the Charm City Art Space, which had hastily been pressed into service as an alternative venue. Less than half of them could actually fit into the CCAS, so the rest of us stood out on the sidewalk, which you could hear perfectly well, even through locked doors, all except for the vocals, which you couldn't hear at all. It was a bit depressing to notice how alike all the bands sounded when you eliminated the singing.

About half of today's bands had already played before the blackout, but thanks to arriving late and spending so much time upstairs with Mr. Weasel and others, I only saw the Unlovables and about half of the Riptides, who finished up with a raucous audience participation version of "Bonzo Goes To Bitburg," which made me think, "Wow, thirty years after the Ramones burst upon the scene, twenty years after Gilman and Lookout came into being: who could have imagined that this kind of music would still exist, let alone be enjoying yet another renaissance?"

And now, provided the power's back on, the entire schedule will have to be chopped and changed to allow the bands who missed out on playing tonight to have their moment on stage tomorrow. By the time I'd gotten back to my hotel (lost AGAIN, thanks to some tricky business where all Baltimore streets change shape and direction after midnight), the Insubordination had done just that, and posted it on their website. All it really means is starting an hour early and cutting most of the bands' sets back to 20 or 25 minutes.Piece of cake. Well, for them, anyway. I wouldn't have wanted to touch it with a bargepople.

To my own way of thinking, shorter sets usually equal a good thing. It forces bands to concentrate on their best material and prevents the audience from getting bored. Will I be there for the 11 am start tomorrow morning? Very possibly not, but I won't be much later. Hopefully the lights will be back on and the pop-punk universe will return to its normally awesome and flawless functioning. But even if it doesn't, even if somehow not another note gets played, it's still the best fest ever. Music is great, but people are even greater, and we've got about 500 of the greatest ones hunkered down here in Baltimore for the duration.

06 July 2007

Friday Morning Update

All predictions to the contrary, the day has dawned sunny and hot here in "The Greatest City In America" (the latest of a thousand slogans aimed at rebranding Baltimore as something more than a haven for murder and pop punk festivals. I feel like I failed to report numerous details of last night's events, like Christian being pelted with little girl's panties during the acoustic Tattletales set, one pair of which ended up on the head of Grath McGrath as he joined Team Stray onstage to sing a song that was great apart from Grath's apparent inability to stop yelling "Pop punk!" every few seconds. Let's hope he can do a better job of restraining himself when backing up Ben Weasel at tomorrow's show. Somehow I don't think Ben would find it quite as amusing.

Today P Smith, Jesse Blatz and I are off to do patriotic things, namely visit the Fort McHenry and record a three part harmony version of the Star Spangled Banner. Speaking of which, I'd better get going! More tonight, if I'm not too exhausted.

Report From The Front

Baltimore - There was some stress getting here, and I didn't choose my means of transport or lodging wisely, but I won't bore you with those details: the only important thing is that I got here on time - barely - and got the all-important wristband that would gain me entrance to the Sidebar for the first night of The Fest.

I wasn't at all sure that I would make it. When I arrived at about a quarter to five (doors were set to open at 5, the music to start at 6) there was already a line down the block and around the corner. It reminded me of the first time I showed up at Gilman to find a line waiting for the doors to open. That was for the Operation Ivy homecoming show after their first and only tour; before the tour, Op Ivy were just one of those bands that you saw at Gilman all the time. Great, sure, but kind of the personal secret of the couple hundred people that regularly showed up at Gilman no matter who was playing. But suddenly it seemed like the world had discovered them, and we Gilman regulars went wandering up and down the line gawking and wondering aloud: "Who ARE all these people?"

It wasn't quite like that in Baltimore tonight. Not yet, anyway, but it's getting that way. I could still pick out about three quarters of the crowd by either name or face, but plainly the Insubordination Fest (this is the second annual) has caught a buzz. Last year Sebby Zatopek and I were the only people who had come from overseas (well, the Apers, too, but they were performing, and were already on a US tour anyway). This year people flew in from England, Australia, Germany, Canada and Puerto Rico, not to mention a couple dozen states as far-flung as California, Washington, Arizona and Texas, to name a few.

Now that I'm permanently ensconced in New York (come to think of it, I actually only came down from New York last year, but I was still living in England at the time), I don't get any special cred for long distance travel (I did fly over from London for Pop Punk Softball last year, so I'm pretty sure I still hold the record for that event), but I tried to make up for lack of distance by upping the enthusiasm. Egged on by Matt Lame and Johnny B ("I heard you were ruling the pit last year; why don't you get something started here?"), I leapt into the fray as Delay took the stage, and while I can't claim credit for the good-natured mayhem that ensued, it was great to be right up front for what was arguably the high point of Fest Night 1.

As you may have read here, I've managed to miss Delay twice already, despite having met and talked with them at length last year, but now that I've finally seen them, I'm here to report that they lived up to all the hype. Incredible energy, incredible band. Fellow Ohioans Team Stray were right up there, too, and yet another highlight was Backseat Virgins, who, like the narrator of "Oh Susannah," come from Alabama, though sadly without banjos on their knees. Two girls, including one wielding a crazy pop keyboard, and two guys, adding up to what for me was the surprise hit of Day One (I'd not only never heard them; I'd never even heard of them before today).

Mike Blackandgold, one of the Pop Punk Message Bored's most inveterate carpers, dismissed tonight's lineup as "Kind of like the Special Olympics," featuring all the "bands who aren't talented to play the actual Fest." It may be funny, but it's totally not true. About the worst you could say of Thursday's lineup is that most of the bands aren't quite as well known as the Friday and Saturday bands. And...? Part of the excitement of the Fest is knowing that certain bands are going to break out of obscurity and set the world (well, at least our little corner of it) on fire in ways that neither the audience nor the artist ever imagined they were capable of. Two such examples last year were the Steinways and the Copyrights; who knows who or when it will be this year?

But what some don't understand - including perhaps some of those people who inexplicably passed up a chance to attend this year's Fest - is that as great as the music can be (and let's be honest: not every band is stupendous or even anywhere near it), the even greater point of the Fest is the camaraderie and fellowship, meeting up with old friends and new. Some of my fondest memories of the early Gilman days come not from inside the club itself, but from nights spent hanging out on the sidewalk out front, where gossip was traded, plots were hatched, and bands were born and died. I don't think I ever expected to feel that way again, but tonight it could have been 1987 all over, especially when Ben Weasel came striding up the street, looking tan, fit, and as though he'd barely aged in 20 years.

I could go on... and on, and on, but if I don't get to bed soon, I'll miss the start of tomorrow's Fest-ivities, not to mention our (P Smith, Jesse Blatz/Luscious and yours truly, anyway) to visit Fort McHenry before the rock and rolling starts all over again. Did I mention that tonight's show featured an utterly insane lineup of 12 (twelve) bands?!? Normally a show featuring more than three is enough to send me fleeing into catatonia, but tonight's spectacle virtually flew by, thanks to the flawless management and organizational skills of Insubordination impresarios Chris I. and Pat Termite. I think it actually ran ahead of schedule and ended a bit early, and when was the last time you could say THAT about a 12-band show? Okay, that's it for tonight, I'm over and out, and sorry to any bands, people, or legendary incidents I didn't get round to covering tonight. You were all fabulous, even when you weren't.

01 July 2007

Hounds On The Hudson

My writer's block, aka procrastination, aka bone idle laziness continues. I can barely drag myself to the keyboard these days... Well, actually, that's not true; I'm plopped down in front of the computer as much as ever, but all I manage to do is vacantly flip from one website to another, occasionally mustering up enough energy to compile lists of all the things I need to write about and then filing them away until they are hopelessly obsolete.

I'm not sure what's brought on this flagrant mopery, but there you have it. I'm not even sure why I'm bothering to tell you about it, since there hasn't exactly been an upwelling of anguish from the internet when I've absented myself from blogging for a few days or more. Which I guess proves that I'm doing this more for myself than for an audience, though sometimes it's hard to tell which is which.

Certainly I'm no 327 Dave, who's just completed the self-posed challenge of writing blog entries on 327 consecutive days, each consisting of exactly 327 words (bear in mind that he's a professional philosopher, and if you ever wondered just what it is that sets philosophers apart from the less lettered masses of humankind, now you know). For one thing, I rather doubt I could muster the discipline to limit myself to 327 words (though if I used the same formula as Dave, i.e., based on his birthday, I'd have to crank out 1,028 words), and more to the point, my life is not sufficiently structured or consistent to do much of anything on a daily basis.

A sad commentary, some might say, and I'm often tempted to agree with them. Dave, of course, is gainfully employed and a family man to boot, both of which require a structure and consistency which have largely eluded me even during those occasional (and rare) years when I did have an actual job. Bear in mind that the only time I ever worked at one place for more than a year was when I was the boss, and even then I ended up firing myself. Several friends, knowing that I'm at least semi-looking for a job these days, have helpfully suggested that I put together a résumé (I've never had one, seriously, except when they made us write pretend ones in high school), but while I'd like to think of myself as a creative fellow, I doubt I'm creative enough to make a record like that look good.

So, no job and no responsibilities apart from coming up with an occasional blog entry, and now even that is becoming too burdensome? If this were the Old West and I were a horse, they would have taken me out and shot me long ago. But this being New York City in the no longer quite so early years of the 21st century, I got some pizza and went to a punk rock show.

Rotterdam's Apers were ostensibly the headliners, but technical difficulties prevented the boys from being at the top of their game. Even Kevin, their diminutive motormouth pothead frontman, seemed unusually subdued; normally he spends at least as much time talking (and hilariously so) as the band does playing. The Apers were still frighteningly tight and powerful - if they were an American band, they would have sold hundreds of thousands of records by now, but tonight the show was stolen by the Steinways, a last-minute replacement for New Hampshire's Guts.

It was a triumphant return to form for the Queens pop-punkers, whose last couple shows have been a bit desultory and lackluster. Elfin-eared Michelle Shirelle may be no virtuoso on the bass guitar (singer-guitarist Grath McGrath frequently had to coach her on how a particular song went, e.g., "This one's in the key of 6"), but she gets the job done, and deserves to be front and center if for no other reason than her delightful line of gibberish. And Grath, as I've said before and will no doubt say again, is a genius.

The Steinways, also consisted of Handsome Ace and internet celebrity Chris Grivet, are rumored to be backing Ben Weasel for at least part of Baltimore's Insubordination Fest later this week. Longtime readers of this blog will know that last year's fest was the most amazing cultural event thus far in the 21st century, and this year's threatens to massively surpass it. Normally you have to drag me kicking and screaming to get me out of New York City, but I'm eagerly packing my bags for Baltimore already.

After the show (New York's other faves, the Unlovables, and Florida's Hi-Life also played), I jumped into the Apers' van, piloted by roadie Sebby Zatopek, for the journey from the Knitting Factory up to the East Village. Thanks to Friday night traffic, it would have been faster to walk, but that would have meant missing out on the rapid-fire commentary of four Dutchmen on the current state of Nieuw Amsterdam. You thought Americans had an attitude and didn't hesitate to express it? They're shrinking violets by comparison.

Our destination was Manitoba's Bar on Avenue B. I've walked people there, I've hung out on the sidewalk in front, but I'd never been in the joint before, assuming it would be little more than elephant's graveyard for old punk rockers (and no, I don't think that necessarily means I'd feel right at home there, Mr. Smartypants). But as it turns out, it's a fairly pleasant place as bars go, crowded but still negotiable, and with a decent blend of ages and cultural affiliations.

About 10 or 15 of us were there, mostly habitués of the Pop Punk Message Bored, and while some busily occupied themselves with getting shit-faced, I had the privilege of hearing a baleful tale recounted by Chadd Derkins, who's an even bigger internet celebrity than Chris Grivet, if such a thing is possible. Chadd, it seems, regularly has to go out to New Jersey to house-sit his parents' apartment. I'd always thought that a bit strange, not understanding how much sitting a high-rise could possibly need.

As it turns out, the real job involves looking after his parents' dog, which has to be taken every morning to a doggie day care center called "Hounds On The Hudson." Affable guy that he is, Chadd takes this in this stride, but he admitted to being a little put out by the doggie report card that little Foo Foo or Fifi or whatever it's called, brings home each night.

"It's not so much the idea of the report card that gets to me," he said, "but for some reason I'm supposed to believe that it was actually written by the dog. I'll get this card that says, 'Today I had a very good day. I ran around a lot and played with Sasha and Fred (I'm assuming these are dogs, not people) and had a delicious bowl of kibbles.'"

Does it always say positive things, or does he get a bad report sometimes, I wanted to know? "Well, they put it diplomatically, yes, but sometimes it will say, 'I was really very lively today,' which I'm assuming means 'I was a holy terror.'"

Always intrigued by these slice-of-life tales from mysterious New Jersey, I asked Chadd if he thought his parents' rather intense relationship with their dog mirrored or was an attempt to replicate the relationship with Chadd himself. He was, after all, the last child to leave home, and not all that many years ago, either.

"Well, let me just tell you this," he said. "In the living room my parents have a frame with spaces for four photos. My parents have four kids. In the frame are pictures of my three sisters and..."

"Their dog?" I asked. It seemed the most obvious answer but apparently nothing is obvious in the Derkins family.

"No! It's a picture of Dr. House!"

"The guy from the TV show?"

"That's the one."

"Don't they have a picture of you?"

"They must have thousands of pictures of me. But in the frame is Dr. House. It's cut out from some magazine."

At this point I was left speechless, as I often am when attempting to plumb the depths of the ever-amazing Chadd Derkins and the world from which he emanated. Chadd and his band Short Attention will be in Baltimore this week too, so I suspect you haven't heard the last of him just yet.