Atlanta Mess-Around 2017 by Eric Peterson

Friday

Vincas

Vincas opened the Friday evening show at The Earl. Through no fault of their own—and only due to the nature of playing first in a lineup of six bands that night—the crowd was relatively sparse to start with, though that didn’t seem to affect Vincas’ delivery. The lights were low, in reds and blues, blending like an open door between a darkroom’s safelight glow and the ultraviolet vibes of a high school stoner’s basement sanctuary. It all seemed to set the proper mood and allow for both the band to narrow focus on their performance and allowed the crowd to more comfortably draw near and be snake-charmed by the mesmerically repetitive pulse of the bass lines.


Vincas proved to be an appropriate opener because they seemed perfectly content just doing their thing, no matter who or how many were there. They were also a wise choice for inaugurating the evening shows because if there were any stragglers from the day show or pre-gamers downing shots and sandwiches in the restaurant-and-bar area of The Earl, the band was heavy and loud enough to draw attention and summon their presence.

Vincas might have been the heaviest band I witnessed at the Mess-Around (granted, I was unable to catch many of the daytime shows, but for what it’s worth, the next night Dale Crover was drumming for Redd Kross). My first introduction to them was their LP, Deep in the Well. The first track, “Blackout,” had me hoping that the opening guitar part had been inspired by the late-night jam session featuring The Doyle Hargraves Band in Sling Blade. Seeing them live reminded me of the time I bought a Laughing Hyenas 12” EP and listened to it for way too long before realizing it was supposed to be played at 45 rpm instead of 33 1/3. (Still sounded great either way.) There are also elements of The Birthday Party, though Chris McNeal (bass, vocals) has a bit more of a steady baritone, monodic croon that occasionally grows into shouts, interspersed with screeches that might as well be a baboon’s war cry as it’s tearing ass toward a soon-to-be-neutralized threat.


Poison Rites

Poison Rites have been loosely compared to The Marked Men, which makes sense in that they’re respectably committed to tight, fast 4/4 music with bass and an abundance of power chords falling in sync with mostly sixteenth-note-driven patterns on the drums. The vocals don’t so much hold true to the comparison, because whereas The Marked Men’s dual vocalists tend to be more melodically based, Poison Rites’ primary vocalist Reed Bruemmer has a deeper, tougher edge to it that might have taken more cues from Motörhead than anything else (though to get that signature Lemmy rasp by raising the mic and angling it downward to catch the sounds from the throat in a posture more traditionally befitting funneling beer bongs than singing, Bruemmer’s stature would require a mic stand capable of reaching seven feet or so—dude’s pretty tall).

During the show, lead guitarist Nick Santa Maria also took the mic for a few songs, which called to mind the times Dee Dee warthogged the mic on old Ramones tracks. Some of the lead guitar thrown in calls to mind some Turbonegro influence of the Ass Cobra and Apocalypse Dudes eras, whereas some more Euroboy-style songwriting might focus more on resting on the melodic hooks, Poison Rites might treat a hook as more of a brief embellishment or stylistic reference utilized more in a transitional way. Some sections seem like they might as well be straight off of Damned Damned Damned playing through a blown-out speaker.

While they’re steadfast and straightforward for the most part, occasionally there’ll be a chord change here and there to introduce some compelling shift that you’re not sure will reappear. They’re fairly judicious about not overdoing it when something works. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want more of that dopamine rush that accompanies the pleasantly unexpected, but just when the hooks sink in and you feel yourself wanting more, Poison Rites are like, “No,” and it’s back to adrenaline.

Poison Rites come from Denver, Colo., a fact which they relayed with the disclaimer that it might be better if weed became illegal again just so people would stop moving there. They also proclaimed the need for more fast rock’n’roll and less “jangly shit.” Though my first-hand knowledge of Denver only comes from stopping for gas as I drove through it, I can’t help but think fast, relatively straightforward rock’n’roll is in part some reaction to their environment that might be saturated with the noodly meanderings of jam bands and corner buskers or—a less disagreeable alternative—the hybrid breeds of rock and/or metal that problematically find “stoner” in the first half of the appellation belonging to their loosely-defined genres. (To quote Jared Warren in a Big Business interview with HavocTV, “‘Stoner’ is really lame… everybody smokes pot, so that’s any kind of music… ‘long-haired music’ would be more accurate, I guess… ‘cigarette music.’”)


Heavy Lids

Heavy Lids took the stage third, bathed in blood-red light and loud as all hell. I’d seen John Henry Kelly (vocals/guitar) in Buck Biloxi And The Fucks at Gonerfest 13 last year, and until looking into Heavy Lids before The Mess-Around, I hadn’t realized he was in The Detonations, a band whose album, Static Vision, I listened to a lot in the early-aughts and apparently I learned nothing more about them beyond the names of their songs.

Heavy Lids, as their name adequately implies, are heavy. Part of it is due to the combined focus on simplicity and volume, with sections of songs playing along the same pulse, but shifting in and out of alignment between agreement and dissonance. Their sound warrants some comparison to The Spits, though that seems largely due to the presence of organ and the seeming simplicity of the song structures.

Considering that The Detonations’ LP is titled Static Vision, as well as Kelly previously being in a band called Static Static with Heather Vinz, Marie Dufran, and Miss Mass Destruction (also of Heavy Lids, and I’m fairly certain all of those names refer to the same human being), it should come as no surprise that Kelly, et al. seem fond of blending frequencies into different shades of noise. The results conjure up images of being stuck in a cloud of gnats, with mosquito ringing needles in your ears, all while cicadas and swamp bugs rattle their tymbals and stridulators, and maybe while you’re wearing a beard of bees, to boot.


The New Natives

The New Natives are led by Greg Cartwright/Oblivian and Gentleman Jesse [Smith], though the act was referred to and billed as “Greg Cartwright and Gentleman Jesse” up until maybe the week or two before the show. (However, any Google-Fu I might have has mostly yielded results pertaining to a seemingly inactive band from Valdosta, Ga. with the “New Natives” name.)

The New Natives seem to have been the result of initial efforts to bring a “Gentleman’s touch” to the songwriting process for a second release by The Parting Gifts, Cartwright’s band that is co-led by Coco Hames, but when plans for more Parting Gifts material fell through, Cartwright and Smith continued working together.

I’m personally more familiar with the Cartwright oeuvre than Gentleman Jesse’s, but for what I could tell, the songs in The New Natives set were mostly original. It’s hard to describe as anything other than exactly what it is: a hybrid of Greg Cartwright and Gentleman Jesse and The Parting Gifts. I’m looking forward to getting my mitts on a release, whenever it comes out in the future.


Timmy’s Organism

Timmy’s Organism is a comic book world’s deviant underbelly come to life. Their image invokes a sense of nostalgic déjà vu, seeming like they wouldn’t be out of place as ne’er-do-well denizens of Tromaville or a part of Bill Paxton’s gang in the beginning of the first Terminator movie. Bassist Jeff Giant looks like he could be a forgotten son of Roky Erickson, drummer Blake Hill seems plucked straight out of “Listen to the Flower People” era Spinal Tap, and the eponymous Timmy Vulgar blasts out of the gate like Beetlejuice summoned after the third mention of his name.

I had the pleasure of seeing Human Eye at Gonerfest 2 and Clone Defects at the 2006 Blackout, experiences I was respectively too far gone and blacked out to remember entirely, though I do have brief glimpses of memories that involve fish heads impaled on knives taped to headstocks.

In lieu of piscine decapitations, subsequent impalements, and other strewn organic miscellany, for Timmy’s Organism there was more party-supply-store ephemera, including streamers vaulted into and out of the audience, as well as a suitcase full of glitter that barfed its contents out onto the floor. At some point, both of these elements became cephalic garnishes for T.V., the former serving as a sort of headband with indeterminate ends that disappeared into the crowd somewhere, and the latter bejeweling his dome (later in the set, he planted his face in the pile on the floor to ensure maximum coverage). At one point, he donned a cape that might have been a Mylar “space blanket,” along with a full-head mask which seemed to be an exaggeration of his own head, including his downright enviable male-pattern skullet, two bulging eyes, and a giant third, ostensibly representing the gateway to enlightenment and higher consciousness, or perhaps just a source of laser beams and/or x-ray vision.

Vulgar has a knack for carving out some deliciously ugly guitar tones. He’s clearly got chops too, but technique takes a backseat to energy both in performances and on recordings (as it often, if not always, should), and sometimes the stammered imperfections give you that feeling where you think there’s one more step at the end of a flight of stairs, but floor meets foot before you expect it to.

T.V. is the kind of guy who gives his body to his sport. He gets the ghost of James Brown possessing his feet and he prowls the room in a way that breaks down barriers between performer and spectator, all while maintaining the distinction of the stage as a platform for spectacle. Also, the Timmy’s Organism music videos are testament that this guy shouldn’t ever have to have a day job if he doesn’t want one. I’d be happy if all he did every day was make shit for people to look to and listen at.


The Gories

The headlining act on Friday was The Gories. Early in the set, Mick Collins and Dan Kroha started a song in different keys, then stopped and each ribbed the other for being the one who got it wrong before Collins conceded that Kroha was right (the latter insisted he would be the one to know because he practiced the songs fifteen minutes before the show, or maybe just practiced for fifteen minutes, or maybe both). Collins laughed and made a comment about nothing having changed in thirty years, and they restarted the song in the same key. The guitars seemed to go in and out of tune inexplicably and without any interference from their players. Sometimes they’d sync up, and sometimes not, like two sinusoidal waves going in and out of phase.

More than anything, The Gories seemed to love playing together, and the crowd loved them too. Peggy O’Neill kept the pulse steady on toms with the only differences among them being their tunings and the fact that one of them can function as an ersatz snare when a tambourine is taped to it. Collins and Kroha played and sang their parts, occasionally facing their respective amps to sculpt the feedback and play out a sort of push-and-pull communication with the sound coming out of the speakers.

There’s something to be said for retaining the ability to come across with the excitement and rougher edges of a band before they figure out what their instruments are for. It’s not right to say that over three decades they haven’t gotten better, because they were already somehow great. Their sound is perpetually preserved and untouched by time. The old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” doesn’t really apply here because there’s plenty of broke shit going on, but that’s kind of why it works so well in the first place.


Saturday

RMBLR

When I was eight or nine years old, I endured a phase shift in which the godhead of my youth was dethroned, and Axl Rose was usurped by Elvis Presley. I traded in the magnetically-applied gold cross earring that dangled from my earlobe for a meant-for-your-grandmother necklace with a TCB/ [lightning bolt] pendant. (An abbreviation that stands for “Taking Care of Business (in a flash)”, and isn’t some electrically-themed form of frozen yogurt as many of my shit-talking peers might have implied.)

The fact that RMBLR’s singer, “Chase Tail,” has the same abbreviated Presleyan motto tattooed under his right eye (though with a dagger in lieu of a lightning bolt) just goes to show that this guy is probably more legit than my single-digit self might have ever dreamed to be. He also reminded me of what I hoped the little hellion from the Problem Child movies would grow up to be.

RMBLR is from the mullets-mean-business/ rockin’-is-ma’-business-and-business-is-good school of thought. Almost like some Jets vs. Sharks West Side Story gang rivalry that involves coordinated dance routines and narrative exposition in the form of musical numbers, one is forced to wonder why the threat of getting a broken bottle embedded in your ribcage can have such an upbeat soundtrack to accompany it. They have a sound that is more fun than one might think they would. Songs like “Name Game” sounds like the equivalent of some “If You’re Happy and You Know It” for teenage truants who finally found a friend with a fake ID and the wheels for beer runs.


Terry & Louie

Terry Six and Louie Bankston, as most are well aware, are the two remaining members of The Exploding Hearts. I never had the chance to see The Exploding Hearts, seeing as how I was on the other side of the country and unaware of their existence until after their years as a band were heartbreakingly cut short, though I caught Six in The Nice Boys at the 2009 DMMR BMMR in Portland, Ore., and I’ve seen several of Louie’s bands over the years.

King Louie has never seemed to be one to phone it in (except, maybe literally, at Gonerfest 2 when he received a call from Quintron on his cell phone in the middle of his one-man-band set and got the crowd in the Goner store to shout out a greeting to him before launching into the next song), but I can’t remember ever seeing him deliver on a performance in such a sentimental way. It was nothing overwrought or saccharine, but there was something in the way he spent the majority of the songs with his eyes closed and smiling slightly that made it clear (at least compared to, say, a Kajun SS or Persuaders show) he was soaking in some of the closest connection he could have to some old friends that he hasn’t seen in a while. That—and the songs are just brilliant in and of themselves.

For the Exploding Hearts numbers, Louie took the vast majority of vocal duties and though his and the late Adam Cox’s voices have vastly different character and timbre, the songs sound just as authentic as they ever could (which makes complete sense because Bankston had a major hand in contributing to the bulk of the band’s material). Another brief nod to a late friend was during the song, “Sleeping Aides and Razorblades,” where in place of the lyric, “And it didn’t hurt you told all my friends I’m a retard,” he slipped in a reference where the last two syllables were “Jay Reatard,” though I can’t remember what exactly came before, if it was anything different at all.

There was one song that I’m ninety percent sure was called “Throwing the Towel In” (a quick search for the song name plus “Terry & Louie” only fetched links to hot deals on terrycloth towels). Before they started into it, Terry relayed that upon hearing the song, Quintron said it sounded like “a redneck The Jam.”

They closed the show with a cover of “Teenage Kicks” by The Undertones, keeping in the spirit of willfully arresting one’s youth and protecting its recklessness and imperfect purity even into the years of graying hair and more health-conscious life decisions. It all seemed to underscore that Terry & Louie were their own new thing, holding true to their past while still forging forward without resting on the well-deserved laurels of their shared history with The Exploding Hearts.


Redd Kross

I have a confession. Redd Kross was off my radar for a long time. It had something to do with when my friend introduced me to them years ago and told me about how they were initially “Red Cross” and then changed it to “Redd Kross” due to legal reasons. Then, after hearing their music and not knowing what they looked like, one day I spotted a copy of Third Eye in a record store and by the time I had gotten distracted by something else, I processed the cover as a group of a few young women who had fallen victim to the ‘90s fashion trends best exemplified by the characters on the sitcom, Blossom.

The incongruity between what I had heard and the one band photo I’d seen, with the addition of the initial introduction including the anecdote about legal threats regarding band names, I had somehow gotten confused and thought there were two Red Cross/Redd Kross bands out there. I’m fairly sure that several people had tried to set me straight over the years, but apparently I wasn’t listening too intently. I figured it out eventually.

Dale Crover has been a constant source of fascination and inspiration over the years, which is partially why I was looking forward to seeing him essentially play the part of the rear driver of the screaming fire truck that was Redd Kross on Saturday night. As much as I had enjoyed acquainting myself with Redd Kross, I hadn’t anticipated being so wrapped up in watching them perform that at some point I realized I had entirely forgotten Dale Crover was even there. This was most likely by design, seeing as he and his comparatively understated kit (no bass-drum-sized toms, 24-inch rides, or a Coady Willis as a mirrored counterpart for giant double drums), as well as the fact that he had sequestered himself in the furthest feasible recess of the stage. For his role in The Melvins as practically a lead instrument, with some variation of naked signature Crover stuttered thunder opening probably more albums than not, it makes sense that he felt his role with Redd Kross was to best serve the songs and support the band. (There’s no telling how much his distinctive drumming will influence the sound or structure of Redd Kross’ forthcoming album with Crover, Octavia.)

The rhythm section consisting of Crover and the younger McDonald brother, Steven, bore black T-shirts with their respective responsibilities (drums, bass) in bedazzled typeface reminiscent of the KISS logo. It was revealed onstage that, despite The Melvins’ tough and mighty reputation, Dale Crover was nicknamed “Sweet Tea” (or “Sweet T,” though either way it was pronounced more like “Sweetie,” with an extra trip of the tongue on the ‘T’), and brothers Steven and Jeff McDonald were respectively known as “Half Tab” and “Yo Hollywood,” while lead guitarist Jason Shapiro was dubbed “Arnold Palmer” (but was quickly renamed “Celebrity Skin” due to his T-shirt for the band of the same name (of which he was a member, and should not be confused with the 1998 album by Hole, or the nudie magazine containing celebrities in various stages of undress, and to varying degrees of their consent)).

A peek at the set list revealed the abbreviated titles, “Ann,” “Annie,” and “Annette,” the first being a cover of The Stooges, and the second and third being the originals, “Annie’s Gone,” and “Annette’s Got the Hits.” The Stooges cover was sandwiched in the middle of the last seven pre-encore songs that constituted the complete 1984 Teen Babes from Monsanto EP, in sequential order. The encore itself consisted of some of their earliest songs, one of which being the first that Steve McDonald ever wrote, noting that it was created “before [he] had a pube,” which might as well be the equivalent of B.C./A.D. for temporal milestones in any boy’s life.

Jeff and Steven McDonald seem in many ways to still be those little fourteen- and eleven-year-old dudes whose enthusiasm never really waned. Their voices might have dropped a register over the years, fingers having grown to better span the reach between frets, and maybe Steven added some inches to his bass-wielding vertical leap, but they still seem like kids who love doing the exact same thing they did roughly four decades ago. They clearly get a kick out of busting out nearly every stage move that any card-carrying member of the KISS Army knows all too well, except for maybe the smoking guitar pickups and waggling of aardvarkian-length tongues.

The McDonalds have said they consider themselves peers to The Osmonds. It can both seem like a joke and also read as a legitimate comparison. (And to anyone who scoffs at that, just check out “Crazy Horses” by The Osmonds.) I’ve been annoying every friend I have to go see them (with Dale Crover if possible, but either way, really) and I’m planning on catching them again at this summer’s Burger Boogaloo.

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Eric Peterson is a writer and photographer. His work can be found at ericcharlespeterson.com, vicio.us, and on Instagram: @ericcharlespeterson. Contact: ericcharlespeterson@gmail.com