Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Boys of Summer

It wasn't until about a week ago that I finally sat down and listened to Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer," and realized what a terribly melancholy, maudlin song it really is. I never really listened to the lyrics, content to just bop along to the video of Don Henley riding down the street on his motorcycle, no doubt heading off to single-handedly save Walden Pond. Now that I think about it, Don Henley's songs are almost always melancholy and/or maudlin. Which leads me to Champaign, where good rock and roll isn't the kind of thing to make you go, "Man, I just want to go home and slit my wrists now." If there's one thing that college kids know that apparently record labels don't, it's that rock and roll is about getting laid.

48 Safe Days

Driving through Gibson City on Route 47, there's a giant soy plant that denotes the number of consecutive "safe days" on a big sign out front. My friend Davy pointed this out to me once, wondering what entails an unsafe day; as though forty-nine days ago, someone tragically fell into a soy hopper, was buried, and is now part of a "tofurkey" somewhere. This is the sort of thing that goes through my mind, as it's about a three-hour drive down to Champaign; less, if you're not stuck behind a U-Haul like I was. I would have passed it, were it not for the four cars in between myself and the U-Haul that were scared to exceed forty-five miles per hour.

Champaign, Illinois is like every other college town I've been to, in that the city makes it as difficult as humanly possible to park. If you're in town to visit for the weekend, plan on taking a cab from Mahomet, because there's no parking on the street after 2 A.M., and parking in a lot is reserved for the exceptionally lucky. As it stands, I'm driving Louie to the show, since I don't have the slightest idea where I am, beyond what is absolutely necessary to get out of town in the event of an emergency, such as a very sudden paternity suit, which is always possible, because I'm hanging out with a rock band.

Plinko, Plinko, Plinko, Everybody Plinko, Plinko, Plinko

Nadafinga is a terribly interesting band, and I mean that in a good way. Lyrically, they're a lot like Blink 182, Nerf Herder, or Tenacious D. With regard to their tone, it's really, really crunchy, which -unlike Blink 182 or Nerf Herder- doesn't go away during the verses, which has always annoyed the hell out of me about Blink 182 (and even earned the mockery of THC-Squared). Nadafinga is like a good cereal that doesn't go soft in milk, despite how much milk you put in or how long you let it soak. Crunchy to the end.

I'd have considerably more to say about Nadafinga, but I only decided to start writing this after their set was over, and so I don't have anything about crowd reactions and such, partially because I was enjoying the show too much to look around at the time.

I Hate Napervillains

Next up is Troubled Hubble, which is absurdly -and I mean that in a bad way- loud. Their harmonies are reminiscent of Nada Surf, which I would enjoy immensely if the band wasn't so damn loud. I begin to wonder whether it's their fault, or if the sound-guy at the back of the room just has something against them. Their opener, whatever it's called (the vocals are completely inseparable from the chaotic mess that is the rest of their sound) sounds a lot like Nada Surf's "Bacardi," if you were to take that song, hook it up to the giant amplifier from the beginning of Back to the Future, turn all of the dials up to eleven, and then stand directly in front of that amplifier, listening intently while food processors mix cookie dough next to your ears and you are bombarded with gamma rays of lethal intensity. So I just presume it sounded like "Bacardi."

As Troubled Hubble is playing, the singer of Nadafinga is hugging very attractive college girls, which brings to mind two immutable and interrelated facts of the universe:
  • I need to start a band, because:
  • The Wooderson Axiom holds true for college girls. That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.
By their third song, the Nada Surf magic of Troubled Hubble is long gone, and I notice their bass player -despite being talented- looks barely old enough to shave. They begin playing a space-rock solo that's over as soon as it's registered in my mind, and go back to ... whatever they're playing. I try to take my mind off of the band by thinking about how good the P.A. system must be in this place to project this band and the last in all of their glory. I suddenly realize that if any band sucks tonight, it will be entirely their fault, because this is probably the best P.A. I've ever heard.

Between songs, one of Troubled Hubble's guitar players tunes into signals from outer-space on the band's keyboard, and the singer says they have a few more songs. Rats. They play a song that they call their dance number, but no one is dancing. The bass player holds the song together over the cacaphony of guitar noise and lyrics I can't make out in the least. But at least the P.A. is good.

Finally, on their last song, Troubled Hubble's cacaphony finally works for them, and it turns into a ninety-second symphony of dissonance -if that makes any sense- and they suddenly, with two guitars and clapping, like some kind of "Come On Eileen" interlude on a combination of acid and crank, turn out a fantastically catchy closer.

And Then It All Goes Dark

Walking by me goes a goth-girl with strikingly bad, very thick, very painted-on eyebrows. She is followed by two guys lugging the biggest goddamn guitar effects board I have ever seen in my life. Back to the eyebrows, though, let me give you a description: Imagine if Robert Smith of The Cure got a sex change and went back to college, and then took up Wicca. And then he somehow mated with Boy George. This girl would be their offspring.

This band, I:Scintilla, has a rather impressive drum machine, with eyebrow-girl on bass, a guy in a shirt and tie (and I mean that in a button-down way; not Angus Young, mind you), and the other guitarist is a dead-ringer for a circa-1991 Clive Barker. They are waiting around for their sound system to pull itself from the ninth circle of Hell. The bass being pumped through the wall of subwoofers under the stage are causing California to fall into the ocean at this very moment.

The fans are easy to spot: The guys wearing eye shadow and the women dancing as though they were possessed Crucible-style, which is to say that it's all for show. In all, it's like listening to a more synthetic version of Ministry, if Al Jourgensen was a 20-ish woman and did slow movements onstage between verses that make one wonder if it's all for show or if she's actually tweeking like crazy.

There is an older gentleman, who's got to be fifty or so, with a graying ponytail in front of me, rocking along to the current industrial ballad. His wife is doing "the Batusi" until the next song, which is pretty rocking, except the vocals cut through a little too much. In any case, the wife is doing a slow and seductive dance, somewhat like Julia Stiles' table-dance from 10 Things I Hate About You, which would be pretty hot if she was like thirty years younger.

At the end of their set, I suddenly realize a number of facts:
  • The singer is doing the Jabba Slave Dance between each verse. Whether or not she's aware of that, I do not know.
  • Ponytail guy looks just like Hannibal Lecter, if they gave him some time in the yard to work out.
  • The band sounds like a cross between Garbage, Ministry, and a band called Within Temptation, but without the string-section.
Commentary From the Peanut Gallery

I return to my table to find four guys I do not know. Thankfully, my notes, cigarettes and beer remain. The dumb guy next to me knows a guy who knows a dude who knows a McCree from my hometown. I love drunk people. I will now try to make sense of his comments as written down on my scrap of paper (all corrected for spelling, grammar, etc.):

"For one, Troubled Hubble was pretty toight. I've only seen them one time... but as a pseudoalkaline style band, they represented their Naperville style quite well. (I'm laughing my ass off as I type this). The following act... I'd give a thumbs down. Unless you're into that hard shit. I had a ground (?) that enjoyed it. Then most of use were just interested in putting a ball down on the lead. She was into us. Blog this shit. C-town, homie."
Oh, but wait, there's more:
Music has been downhill since the late 90's. Bush sucks, yet we need reform in government and in art... Danny.
These guys clearly think I get way more hits than I actually do.

The Ending Never Looked So Good

Finally, The Ending takes the stage, and the sound check goes quickly. I'm told to stand up front for the first scream, and I have only a general idea what that entails, because the screaming on the tracks I've had preview copies of sound extremely processed and don't sound anything like what you'd expect to come out of human lungs; sort of like that happy little elf that lives in Dolores O'Riordan's throat, but it quit a couple years ago, started smoking eight packs of Camel Wides a day and took up worshipping the devil. And then it moved in with Louie.

The band kicks off the show with "The Ending," and I think it's a good thing that it's a catchy song, because I never recommend a band name a song after themselves or vice versa, but that's probably just because I hate the song "Bad Company." Once they start playing, it's obvious that about half of the crowd has seen the band before, because that scream that I was supposed to be waiting for sounds just like the version on the CD, except for the fact that the crowd is screaming back. However, I'm struck -which I shouldn't be, given that this is Louie we're talking about- that he can scream like that in a live environment.

I'm standing in the stairwell as Louie almost has the crowd goaded into moshing, which conjures memories of his band in high school, when Nirvana's song "Breed" caused the crowd to turn into this swirling mass of fists, elbows and flying geeks who had the misfortune of getting in the way. No sooner is the crowd braced for inclement weather than the band switches up which song they're going to play.

The harmonies work surprisingly well, considering that this is hard rock that we're talking about. Given the last project (THC-squared), it's obvious that the band is capable of harmonizing, but getting it to work in an acoustic situation and then in one that occasionally falls over into the category of metal are two different things, and the latter works surprisingly well.


At the end of the night, Cowboy Monkey starts clearing out, with the exception of klingons and people like me who are actually helping to break down the stage and carry equipment out, despite the fact that Louie continuously tells us that we don't have to. There is an absurdly drunk girl milling about, and I've no idea how it is that she's still standing. Louie receives The Ending's cut for the night from one of the bar employees; I see twenties, but it looks pretty thin. Hopefully the CD sales went well.

Louie and I go back into Cowboy Monkey one more time to make sure that we've got everything and that the band didn't somehow lose its welcome status with the establishment. We get back outside to the news that Supple's bass has been run over by a Ford Explorer. Louie looks as though he's about to have a conniption, and just continuously mutters, "Show me the bass," until it is brought to him, despite everyone's statements that the bass is fine. Though the case is pretty mangled, the bass is in good condition, unless it's suddenly become a Mosrite, and all that's holding the thing together is the string tension. I am then told of the story of how that bass went through a fire and came out unscarred. A note is made to send/sell the story to Carvin, the manufacturers of the bass and its case, to see if any freebies can be scored.

Later on, back at the overpriced (but very close to campus) apartment, beers are cracked open, cigarettes are smoked. Louie and I sing "Weird Al" songs, though I can't recall nor fathom why. I try to explain how Billy Idol's new CD sounds more like Generation X than it does the "White Wedding" days. Outside, in the little smoking-lounge area, I meet a girl who's apparently the staff photographer for the local bands, and she wants nothing more than to take pictures of Danimal naked. I walked into that conversation halfway through, so there might be more to it than that, but Louie grants her full permission to do so.

The next afternoon, I wake up on the couch as alone as I was when I fell asleep on it; even the kid from Almost Famous had to go through a couple of weeks of touring before he got laid by the groupies. Louie and I discuss things like economies of scale and the manufacturing costs of the newly-released CD. Then it's across the street for lunch, back to the apartment to start remixing the Garageband file of Nine Inch Nails' "The Hand That Feeds," which Louie proclaims to be the single coolest thing that he has ever seen. I recall the last time I heard him say this, and so I ask him about a particular high school prank, which is still so secret and probably illegal that I cannot discuss it here. "Well, it's up there," he says.

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