Photo credit: Divya
So this was the first time I ever let a band spend the night at my place. Considering how much like a redneck Sheriff I am about strangers, it was a huge feat of faith for me to drain the moat. Honestly, all it took was a phone call my homenugget, Jessica, in L.A., to assure me, with her supernatural sense of gauging character, that the band kids were good people. Since I already knew I loved their music, I figured a floor to camp on was a natural extension of my newly acquired sense of southern hospitality. Though, to be honest, I spent the night before dreaming that I would open my bedroom door in the morning only to find the apartment thick with the smell of human fluid, all my furniture slashed and torched, and paramedics hovering over a pile of bodies trying to talk several people down from a bad batch of pharmaceuticals.
The Transgressors + Party of One
15 Aug 2003: Mercury Lounge Austin, Texas
The show was at The Mercury, one of the few cool bars on the main tourist drag, Sixth Street. Their interior design theme can be summed up in a word: wood. Party of One went on first and early. Although I’m sure he has his reasons and some of them might even be good, lead singer Eric Fifteen’s stage presence was petulantly misanthropic. After the applause, he would comment “Yeah, right.” When he wasn’t sneering at the crowd he was rambling in a vaguely nihilistic vein about repression, entropy and nebulous harms that were to befall people attending the show. Not that great minds like Cobain and Corgan didn’t make entire careers out of resenting the people who paid to listen to them. But I don’t get it. Let me make a minor aside here. There are a lot of things more taxing than being an artist doing what you supposedly love, like well, just about everything else. If it pains you to be in the presence of people who admire what you do, fall down a well with a four-track and leave the rest of the world out it. Of course, I’m sympathetic enough to leave room for the ardor of touring and the ego bruise of a low turnout, but still, at some level, I have to conclude: spare me.
Despite himself, Fifteen is staggeringly talented and Caught in the Blast, Party of One’s latest full length, is one the best records I’ve heard this year. Cutting out the rambling vitriol between songs, the performance was ferociously tight, a stunning musical confrontation. Bassist, Melissa Skluzacek and little staccato demon, Terrica, on the drums, kept the momentum bullet paced and the rhythms hard and claustrophobic. Party of One are an aggressively protracting implosion. Fifteen’s snide truthin’ and eviscerating sense of melody were totally on mark, especially on tracks like “Midnight Gypsy”, where he squawked out another of one his incisive denunciations of fallen man. Despite complaining about his omnipresent hatred for others, it’s hard not to smile and nod when Fifteen spat out the first line of the set’s closer, “Snap You Like A Twig”: “You people think you got it bad, well why don’t you all just drop dead.”
The Transgressors are old timey blood balladeers. They sound a bit like Nick Cave, if he were to hire Calexico as a back up band. Or as their singer put it before going on stage: “I think all our songs are about murder, or at least attempted murder.” Lead singer, Chad Nichols has the penetrating stare of a sociopath. He leered through the crowd like he was thinking about the last time he licked blood off a straight razor. But his stage maneuvers were more complicated than mere free-range psychosis. When he wasn’t skulking in slow motion with the exactness of a hunting predator, he would do a Jagger swivel with his hips, smack a giddyup palm on his ass or hook a finger in his belt loop like a taunting working girl. It was an enthralling mix of cowboy and call girl, just the kind of subtle androgyny that makes for good rock subversion. It’s refreshing to see that kind of rock star hugeness on the small stage. The band sounded dense with tension and beauty, an overtowering wall exploding out onto the crowd punctuated by a tumbleweed blast of trumpet or a stray guitar lick that managed to make it out alive. On the slower numbers, they made classic country suicide hymns, a bit of Leonard Cohen with a heap of Hank Williams. Their severe gutter twang is grounded in Nichol’s knack for churning out abusive, back alley poetry.
The rest of the evening and the band housing logistics went off hitch-free. I spent the following morning, drinking coffee and chatting with the drummer, bassist and road manager, all supremely delightful and engaging human beings. Even Eric eked out a sincere thank you on his way out the door. So here’s my official endorsement of providing a crash pad for musicians you admire that are touring on a shoestring. Though, if anything happens to your place, I’m not legally bound to compensate you or morally prevented from chuckling if it’s some funny, unseemly tale of hair band demolition.