16 November 2008

Music Can Make ME Stupid


I have to start out by saying I'm sorry to everyone who was bummed or stressed out by my mentioning rumors of a THORNS OF LIFE show here, especially the band and the people at the house who were putting on the show.

After seeing the details (time, place, address etc.) posted a couple places, the PPMB included, on the wide wide interwebs, I figured it wouldn't make any difference if I mentioned rumors about the gig as long as I didn't mention a specific house, but I figured wrong. By Friday afternoon, word had spread pretty much around the world and people were emailing and calling me as well as posting on every message board in sight trying to find out more info. Some people jumped into cars or buses hundreds of miles away.

At that point, someone understandably freaked out (what would you do if you suddenly heard that 500 people would be arriving at your house in a matter of hours?) and posted that there while there was a show planned, the Thorns Of Life had never been part of it. That threw enough confusion into the mix to deter maybe half the people who might have come.

People who put on house shows are the unsung heroes of the New York scene. Those of you who don't live around here might think there's no end of places for bands to play, and technically that's true, but what you wouldn't probably know is that about 98% of them completely and utterly suck unless you're a big, successful band with a fierce booking agent (if you're in that position maybe only 60% of them suck).

But if you haven't sold enough records and generated enough income to write your own ticket, house shows are often your only alternative if you want your friends to see you without getting reamed for cash, bossed and bullied around by obnoxious bouncers and sound men, and generally demoralized. So if/when I do anything to jeopardize New York's thriving house show scene, I deserve a good kick in the pants, though I hasten to inform any of you lining up to take on that task that I've already administered said kick myself, so you needn't bother.

So what ended up happening? Well, the Thorns Of Life played after all, to a living room crammed full of more people than should ever be crammed into a living room, but it wasn't unduly uncomfortable or unsafe, and what do you know? They're a good band! Surprised? No, seriously, a VERY good band. More than one person was heard to be opining that they're the best band Blake's been in, which for a second show is probably more than slightly over the top praise, but people were feeling pretty excitable about the whole business. Given my indiscretion from earlier on, I was halfway afraid to set foot in the place for fear of being tarred and feathered, but the worst indignity I suffered was getting my foot stepped on.

It'll be interesting to see where this band goes. As fun as it is playing low-key house shows, they may be fooling themselves if they think they can carry on that way for long without generating insane levels of interest that will overwhelm any attempts to keep things on the DL. Unless, perhaps, they can find some friends with a very large house. MAYOR BLOOMBERG and GRACIE MANSION come to mind.


JIM TESTA, editor-publisher of JERSEY BEAT and dean of the Jersey scene since practically before there was one, came sidling over as the lights went up on the wreckage and detritus of the last-ever Ergs set.

"Have you ever seen a band breakup like that?" he asked, with the air of a man who doesn't expect to be contradicted, and looked crestfallen when I said yes, I had. So much so that I wanted to run after him and shout, "But only once, Jim, only once!"

The breakup/last show I had in mind was OPERATION IVY in 1989, and even though you can no doubt find as many differences as similarities between the two bands, I'm sticking with it. Both bands represented the culmination of a scene that had grown up organically and - to everyone except a couple thousand true believers in the punk rock underground - almost invisibly. Although the last Op Ivy show was the biggest thing that had happened in the history of GILMAN STREET and was swamped with fans to the point where the warehouse held three to four times its legal capacity, it didn't even rate a passing mention in the local press.

Five, six, seven years later, those same newspapers would be falling all over themselves to write knowing portraits of the scene that was "the birthplace of GREEN DAY," and Operation Ivy finally began to get the recognition they deserved from the mainstream (they already had plenty from the underground, with record sales doubling or tripling every year for the first seven years after they broke up. A band that had sold all of 2,000 7"s at the time they played that last show went on to sell something like a million albums.

Everything is different today, I keep being told, and it's true that the odds are considerably more stacked against the Ergs ever selling that many records. Very few bands do these days. But the fanatical devotion, the ever-growing interest that eventually vaulted Operation Ivy into one of that handful of bands that go down in history because they encapsulated, illuminated and inspired an entire scene is something that the Ergs can also look forward to. Ten years, twenty years from now, they'll be far more famous and far more loved than they are today. I got laughed at and ridiculed - including by members of the band - when I made that prediction about Operation Ivy. No doubt I'll get a similar reaction when I predict something similar for the Ergs. come back and laugh at me in ten or twenty years if I'm wrong, but I don't think I will be.

I say this while not being nearly as familiar with the music of the Ergs as I was with that of Op Ivy, which put me at a big disadvantage yesterday when a packed house at the legendary ASBURY LANES (legendary can mean a lot of different things, but trust me, this place qualifies) went wild for and sang along with every single song. I didn't even know the names of many of the songs, and often only recognized them with, "Oh, that's the one with that great little bit of 60s-style backing harmony," or "That's the one where MIKEY comes up front and sings about Miles Davis." Okay, I'm exaggerating a little; I've been seeing quite a bit of the Ergs lately and by the time of their last show I'd at least heard most of the songs.

But that's not the point. Even though I met at least two it not all three of the Ergs way back around 2000, when the band was just getting underway, I was very slow to appreciate their greatness, and even today I don't "get" them on the level their rabidly devoted local fans do. But that's all right, because this is not about me. If I came late to the Ergs, I also came late to this scene, and it rightfully belongs to the people who kept it going and nurtured it back when it seemed like nobody really cared at all. (There was once actually going to be a zine about this kind of music called NOBODY CARES, but you can guess the punchline to that one.)

When Op Ivy played their last show, security at Gilman lost all control of the doors, so nobody will ever know for certain how many people were actually there. For the Ergs' last shows at Asbury Lanes, ticket sales and entry were far more tightly managed, meaning that hundreds of fans who would have liked to have been there couldn't be. The lucky ones who were got treated to between two and three hours (because of course most of them had to see both the afternoon and the late night show) of vintage and modern Ergs, finally wrapping up in a massive and marathon rendering of "Upstairs/Downstairs" that lasted about half an hour and involved first members of HUNCHBACK and then everybody from the audience who could fit on stage banging or pounding on something and chanting the chorus unto near-infinity.

"That was your version of Op Ivy's extended dub mix of "Hedgecore," I said to Mikey afterward, and he knew exactly what I was talking about. Outside a frigid wind had come sweeping across Asbury Park, turning what had been an unnaturally warm and rainy November day into the proverbial dark and stormy night. There were a couple points during the long ride back to New York (it actually flew by, but indulge me here) where I feared we might be blown off the road, and I didn't get home until 4:30 or so, but oh, what memories I carried with me. There couldn't have been more than a handful of people in that crowd who won't treasure this experience for the rest of their lives, and that was probably because they spent the evening comatose (yes, there were such, about which more later), but speaking on my and everyone else's behalf, thank you, Ergs, thank you for your devotion to the music and the love for your friends and fans, and for the eight and a half years of amazing-ness you gifted us with. I don't think there's a single band that matters in the immediate NY/NJ scene that doesn't owe something of its heart and soul to the fact that the Ergs existed. And for that reason alone, they'll live on forever.


Although I don't imbibe myself, I don't begrudge my fellow music lovers the occasional tipple, and in fact their drinking escapades often furnish me with as much (in some cases, more) entertainment than the bands themselves. Yesterday being such a momentous occasion, the tipples grew far more than occasional for quite a few attendees, so the hilarity that ensued grew exponentially as well.

In most cases, that is; intertwined with the revelry there were the quiet tragedies as well, for example that of the recently-turned-18 lad who drove 175 miles to bid goodbye to the Ergs, drank three quarters of a bottle of whiskey in anticipation of the excitement, and wound up spending the evening passed out in a friend's car and missed the entire show. Even here, though, the humorous aspect was not entirely absent: who else should materialize at the show but errant 18-year-old's dad, who spent an hour or so being given the runaround ("Oh, don't worry, ____'s fine, he's probably watching the show from over there. Or maybe over there. Oh, look, is that him by the snack bar?") before finally being led to his comatose (I know I already used that word once, but what else suffices?) son. Hopefully all has been resolved happily by now, but I am here to testify that in my own teenage drinking, puking and passing out days, my father is not one of the first people I would have preferred to encounter. And guess what? It happened anyway! One of those immutable laws of destiny, I suspect.

And then there were those two movie star lookalikes who rolled in from Ohio for the festivities; let's just call them, say, JONAH HILL and MARKY MARK. Well, it seems that Jonah walked into the room to discover another partier, a normally very sophisticated, well-spoken, sharp-dressing (well, he wears shirts with collars on a regular basis, and they're often plaid - I hope I haven't given too much away here) simultaneously puking and crying and somehow also declaiming, "Oh, my life, my life!" while Marky Mark pointed at him and laughed hysterically (in the original version I heard, PLAID MAN was saying, "This is the greatest moment of my life!" which would have been better, but this column has some regard for veracity. When it's convenient, er...).

Then there's the Incredible Case of the Disappearing Toe, involving (this has already made it on to the internet, so I don't think he'll mind being identified by name) DREW PEABOTTOM, Ph.D. (yes, folks, he's a genuine doctor of the engineering variety) who managed to engineer a hotel shower door onto his foot and remove a portion of one of his toes, necessitating a trip to the emergency room (one which, I note, didn't prevent him turning up midway through the following day's punk rock show up in New York). Despite the great hubbub made about his loss (including innumerable jokes that involved asking unanswerable questions and replying "I don't toe," urging people to kiss their girlfriends "under the missing toe," and comparing Dr. D. to a pizza chef that tossed his dough while Drew lost his toe), the scuttlebutt is that the actual missing portion of his anatomy amounted to little more than toenail. Oh, and lots of blood, witnesses avidly reported. Do you suppose there might have been alcohol involved in this incident? I don't toe!!!

It wouldn't be a drunken bacchanal without CHADD DERKINS putting in an appearance, and sure enough, there he was, wobbling unsteadily in the rain while he serenaded all and sundry with a charming little ditty called "Smell Yo Dick," which apparently has become quite a hit in certain circle (no, not the ones you're thinking) and is the poignant tale of a neglected young lady who is being left alone by her lover until 5 in the morning and apparently wishes to use her keenly developed sense of smell to try and ascertain where he might have been. And when Chadd trailed off, CHELSEA (one name is all she needs, but you auslanders might know her from her hitmaking combo SHORT ATTENTION) gave us a version of "So What - I'm A Rock Star" that was so good you could dance to it even a cappella (well, I could, and I wasn't even drinking, remember).

Who should turn up in the midst of this glamorous mise-en-scène the scène actually was a muddy field across from the Lanes, from whence we'd been unceremoniously booted after the first show) but PHRANK MARTIAN, straight out of Binghamton with his gym-toned new body and (not that there's any connection) the police. About half the crowd then retreated to GEORGIE'S, a neighborhood bar described on one website as "the gay Cheers," where apparently CHRIS A., sporting a lumberjack shirt and several days (weeks?) worth of beard growth, got hit upon in a way he wasn't anticipating.

I missed most of these hijinks, having opted for a half hour power nap in the car, which reminds me of things like sleep deficits: my wonderful new bed has now been in my apartment for three whole days, during which time I have slept in it a total of, if my calculations are correct, nine hours. I think it's time to make like OBAMA and remedy that deficit!


But not before I fill you in on today's CAKE SHOP show, put together and masterfully orchestrated by the inestimable CHRIS GRIVET, which provided a fitting coda to what just might have been the best weekend ever.

It was more than a little surreal to see bleary-eyed rock and rollers wandering tenuously into the Cake Shop's confines at the ungodly hour of 2 pm, barely 11 hours after the last notes of the Ergs' demise had been rung, and considerably fewer hours than that since most of them had gotten to bed. But there they were, perhaps not on top form, but that they were on any form at all should have been sufficiently miraculous.

But that wasn't all: quite a few of them then proceeded to jump up (well, it really isn't very high at all) stage and give us what was easily the best Cake Shop show of the year, featuring the UNLOVABLES (they cheated, though; HALLIE had actually had a normal night's sleep) (but who was on drums? who else but the indefatigable Mikey Erg!), the LOST LOCKER COMBO (who made a bigger mess than usual, but who almost everybody liked so much that for once they didn't mind), FULL OF FANCY, who were awesomely good, FOR SCIENCE, who were playing their last show with JEFF ERG on vocals (remember, original singer, LSD, freakout, Hawaii? you've got to pay attention, folks!), and rounding off the evening (yes, by now it was dark), an absolutely sterling set by THE STEINWAYS, which included one spectacle I'd never seen before and hadn't expected to: MICHELLE SHIRELLE interrupting the usual shenanigans to TUNE HER BASS. Not that she even needed to; I mean, sure, it could have stood tuning, but she was in such rare form tonight that nobody would have noticed if she hadn't.

The pit, of course, was ruled by MATT LAME and myself, being among the handful of people there who hadn't had a drop to drink the night before and were ready to rage all over again. But Matt, usually in full command of his world and all he surveys, momentarily got GOT when Michelle used her microphone to refer to him as Matt No-Fame. Gotta hurt when the guy's in the middle of one of the most professionally managed and effective marketing schemes ever seen for his and CARLA MONOXIDE's combo, SUCIDIE. It's still a safe bet that when all the photos are in, Matt Lame will be in more of them than the combined total of all the members of the bands who were actually on stage. So what, he's a rock star. Once Carla helps him pick out those new tight jeans, there'll be no stopping that guy.


Jersey Beat said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Op Ivy's farewell show pretty much a homegrown affair?

Unlike the Ergs, I dont think Op Ivy had people flying in from a dozen different states, Canada, and Europe. Nor was it a three day affair. Just sayin'.

Marc said...

Was I the only European there? I cannot thing of any other right now. But I didn't know each and anyone in the audience though.

Larry Livermore said...

Op Ivy's farewell show was far more locally based (I think I mentioned that), with most people there coming from within a fifty mile radius in Northern California. But in those pre-internet, pre-cell phone (for punks, anyway) days, "local" meant something very different than it does today. As somebody pointed out, people around the world had the chance to know about Dr. Drew's missing toe before he'd even got back from the hospital, whereas in 1989 you'd have to wait a month or two before it cropped up in somebody's column or the letters page in MRR. There's no shortage of books and theories on the shifting nature of both physical and cultural geography due to modern communications and cheap air flights; if anything, Operation Ivy's being able to draw so many people from a very limited area and with barely any publicity could be considered even more remarkable than people driving and flying in from around the country. Who knows what it would have been like if we'd had the internet then? (Answer: nobody.)

Also, though it's not that widely known, Operation Ivy's "last" show was actually not the last show; they did a smaller, unadvertised one, mostly for friends, the following day in Eggplant's backyard in Pinole. The Ergs just did it the other way around, having their secret show at the beginning of the weekend rather than the end.

Anyway, I'm not trying to draw an exact parallel; both the times and the bands are very different from each other. History doesn't repeat, remember, but it rhymes.

Anonymous said...

Who knows what it would have been like if we'd had the internet then? (Answer: TOEbody.)

Chris said...

I was wearing a hoodie, not a lumberjack shirt. I expect a full retraction and apology.

chelsea said...

uh.. yeah, i wasn't even fully drunk at that point. i'm taking a break from that evil stuff!

carla said...

That was very mean of Michelle, Good thing I told her to stop screaming in the mic.

MATT FAME! said...


AdRock said...

Left a comment today on your "Big Green Monsters" post of Sept. 06, then saw this--you're stirring up lotsa memories! In the summer of '89, at age 19, I hitchhiked from Pennsylvania out to the Bay Area, mostly for the hell of it, but also in hopes of seeing OpIvy play. I was all jazzed, because I knew this guy who knew this guy, named Tony, who shared an apartment with Kamala and Matt Freeman, and who said I could crash there for a few days. So yeah, I blew into town (still don't know how I did that) only to find that OpIvy had broken up--as you say, those were pre-internet days, and I either hadn't received or hadn't read the latest MRR. I remember saying to Matt (in some awe, though trying to maintain my punk bearing) that I had wished I could see them live, and he replied tersely, "You're a little late." But you could see the band was important to him, and he was still kind of coming off the experience; this must have been around June.

I had an awesome time out there though. While I was staying at that apartment, The Offspring came into town for a show and crashed there too, as did a couple Seattle hardcore bands, Subvert and Christ on a Crutch. Everybody was all over the floor. The Offspring were just another band, of course. I saw them and what seemed like a hundred other bands in the space of a just a few weeks at Gilman Street (I couch-surfed elsewhere after the first few days). It was a great scene, which I had the privilege of passing through just briefly. A year or so later I moved to Seattle and got to be pretty good friends with the guys in Christ on a Crutch--then a few years after that their bassist Nate ended up in Foo Fighters--pretty wild--all of it.

Best wishes,


Sarah said...

Well the shower thing did not happen to be due to any alcohol at all. Only a poorly designed bathroom!