Could We Get at Least One Person to Write about Something that Doesn’t Involve G: J. Wang Goes Swimming in Beer in America’s Heartland

Photos by Todd Taylor.

On Thursday, October 11th, I was contemplating whether or not I should ask my boss for time off the next day. The reason I wanted to get off early was so that I could fly into Milwaukee for a weekend of Midwestern mayhem. About a month before, I had found out that a bunch of friends and great bands were all going to be in Milwaukee and Minneapolis on the same weekend, so I decided at that time that I was going to try my hardest to make it out there. I had already requested a whole bunch of time off of work in the month following to the Midwest mayhem weekend: three days off to play the Fest, one day off for a few shows in the Southwest, and three days off for a Drag the River show at the Casbah in San Diego and a bender (plus the following hangover), not to mention a sixteen-day tour through the Midwest in May and June. So I was hesitant to ask for the time off from work. I love my job and the people I work with, but I love my life and the people I live with even more than that. I have never had a problem with pushing the limits of fun versus work. Quite frankly, I usually don’t give a fuck. Life is too short. However, on this day I had something making me question it. I knew I had taken off a good deal lately, and I figured my boss would flip. And I was right. When I asked, he just looked at me and said, “Let’s go in the conference room.” This led into a forty-five minute lecture that ended with me asking, “So, can I go?” The answer was yes, so I went home and found me a cheap plane ticket on the interweb.

In May, my band went on tour through the Midwest and I fell in love with Milwaukee in all its glory, or more specifically, the River West area, which is a rundown part of town with cheap housing. There are a large number of punks living in a very close proximity of each other. It was my first time ever visiting the Midwest. The recent tour was booked around a show with Tiltwheel and Dillinger Four that fell through. Nonetheless, I was very glad we went on with the tour. We played with a band called Chinese Telephones. I have been a big fan ever since. So when I found out that Chinese Telephones, Modern Machines, Vena Cava, The Fuck Yeahs, The Tim Version, The Soviettes and Grabass Charlestons were all going to be playing the same weekend, it was just to good to be true.

My plane took off at noon on Friday and arrived in Milwaukee at 8:17 PM. I was so excited the night before that I stayed up figuring out how to get around Milwaukee. This was my first ever solo trip, so I wanted to be independent. I didn’t want anyone to have to worry about picking me up from the airport. When the plane landed, I immediately called a few friends to find out were I should go. Luckily for me, everything was running late. I hailed a cab and it was off to the Twitch House.

The Twitch House is a punk house with a basement in the River West area. The great thing about the Midwest is that all the houses have basements. I am very envious of this. I grew up in Tampa, Florida, and have spent the last four years of my life in San Diego. Needless to say, there were no basements in either of those places. Basements are the greatest thing ever created by man. People reading this will probably think that I’m an idiot, but I am being totally serious. Wouldn’t it be the ideal situation if every town you toured through had cool kids with basements? It would completely do away with bar shows or stupid all-ages venues. The Twitch House is on the same street that the notorious Barely Legal house was on. The Barely Legal house was run down so hard by punks that it finally got condemned. There is a picture of the Barely Legal house in the kitchen of the Twitch House. In the picture, the front porch of the house is completely ripped off. It’s a pretty funny picture.

Upon my arrival to the Twitch House, I was greeted by Patrick of Vena Cava. The first words out of his mouth were, “Let’s go get you a beer from the van.” I commenced drinking and headed towards the door. The next people I see were Russ, Sean and Mike from the Tim Version. They are kind of thrown off by me being there. Their first words were, “What the fuck are you doing here?” “Partying.” So we went inside, and I found out that the Chinese Telephones had just finished their set as I walked up to the house. I have already mentioned what I think of this band. I was highly upset, but I had to suck it up and move on. Vena Cava was playing next. I grabbed a couple of beers, said hello to a few people, then headed down into the basement. There were a good amount of people to see Vena Cava play. They sounded great, as always. Vena Cava is a hard-working, hard-touring band with some of the best ethics I have ever seen. I am really watching them grow in front of my eyes. I think the rest of the U.S. is starting to see all the great things I have seen in this band for the past four years. The best kept secret in San Diego is out of the bag.

After the Twitch House show, Justin from the Chinese Telephones and myself headed out for some pizza before the next show at River West Commons. The pizza was pretty kick ass and I apologize for forgetting the name of the place. We finished up the pizza in the car and headed inside the River West Commons. River West Commons is a total dive bar. I think most of the draft beers were $1.25. Justin and I each got a beer and headed towards the stage. The Tim Version were all set up and about to play. Russ from the Tim Version was already wasted and mumbling some random noises in the mic followed by, “Hey man, I’m on vacation.” They proceeded to play and rock none the less. I have such a great time every time the Tim Version plays. I always ask if they will play “No More Star Tattoos” because I think it is one of the greatest songs of all times. They probably don’t plan on playing it, but I’m sure I’m pretty annoying standing in their faces yelling “Play ‘No More Star Tattoos'” over and over again. They played it that night and I got the chills and sang along with its chorus of “Two-faced fucking liars!”

Next up was Grabass. Man, oh, man. Every time I see these guys, they get better and better. I have always loved this band, but they just seem to get more fun every time I see them. I think the first time they blew me away was when they were on tour with Against Me awhile back. I am used to seeing them in small places, but on the Against Me tour the show was at a very large venue. They sounded like heaven that night as well as this night at River West Commons. They started playing, and all the inebriations started to kick in. There was lots of dancing and swaying. Well, I guess you could call it out-of-balance staggering, but it all was in sync with the Grabass promise and the Grabass standard (a sarcastic statement from their t-shirt). By this point in the night I had told myself that everything was worth the trip thanks to the Grabass Charlestons.

After Grabass was done with their set, I did some wandering around the bar. I pretty much spent the rest of the time at the bar by myself, just drinking and observing everything going on. I started to notice all the cans of beer everyone was drinking. I went to the bar to order a Milwaukee’s Best in a can, but the bartender told me they didn’t sell it at the bar. I guess they didn’t really give a shit about outside beer coming in to the bar, so I did the smart thing and started drinking free can beer. I had a hard time understanding why the bar wouldn’t care, but I was pretty wasted by that point.

The last band of the night would be hometown favorites the Modern Machines. I have seen the Modern Machines a few times before, but they’ve usually had some pretty fucked up technical shit going wrong. I always liked them but I was never blown away, probably due to the fucked up equipment and strings breaking. All this changed one night in May when Travis from the Dukes of Hillsborough and I sat on a floor in Minneapolis while we were on tour and watched Nate from the Modern Machines play acoustic with a harmonica. We were completely mesmerized. It was one of the most thankful things I have ever seen. When we got home from tour, I made sure to purchase some Modern Machines. Ever since then I have been a big fan. This night would redeem all old visions in my head. I don’t think they ever stopped between songs one time. It was just feedback, with “1-2-3-4!” over and over. I stood up front at the corner of the stage in awe of what my night had turned into. The end of their set brought a dedication to the Tim Version. This show would end with everyone singing along to a Replacements cover. Good times.

The bar was in ruins. Countless (non bar) beer cans were swept up into huge piles on the floor. I was laughing so hard. I couldn’t believe it. I guess this is what happens in Beer City all the time. I walked over to the bar to drink the rest of my beer and shoot the shit with Patrick from Vena Cava, and noticed Russ from the Tim Version was passed out at the bar with his hoodie tied tight on his head. The young lad seemed to be tuckered out. Patrick proceeded to tell me a story of a few nights back when Russ had passed out with his shoes on and everyone wrote on his face. To those who don’t know, passing out with your shoes on in San Diego translates to “Fair Game.” I personally do not pass out with my shoes on or off around my friends. I think the whole passing out with your shoes on thing is just an excuse, but it’s pretty funny. It happens to the best of us. When it happens to you the next day you just laugh and hope someone took a good picture. I finished my beer with Pat, and headed outside. I got in a gorilla style wrestling match with Mike Paul who plays bass for the Tim Version (and very well, I might add). It was fun. I heard I got my ass kicked, but I thought it was pretty even. After the primal match with Mike, I ran to catch up with Justin, whom I planned on hitching a ride with. It seemed that him and Cory Cava were in their own primal death match. I guess Cory flung Justin off his shoulder and he cut his eye pretty good. This would be the first of many injuries caused by Cory this evening. We got Justin up and headed to Loose Stools. Loose Stools is in the basement of the house where Nate from the Modern Machines lives. He sells beers for fifty cents and it’s a speakeasy type of atmosphere. I guess it had been a long time since Loose Stools had been open. This was a special occasion indeed.

I was pretty tanked by the time we arrived at Loose Stools, but I continued drinking heavily anyway. I went down to the basement and ordered myself a beer. The bar tender says, “That will be fifty cents.” I replied, “Fifty cents? That’s highway robbery!” I took my beer, which was frozen, and continued drinking, then I took the half of the frozen beer I couldn’t drink because of ice back to the bar. They replaced it for free with a nice, cold bottle of PBR. I started talking to Sean and Scott from the Tim Version. We had some good conversations about growing up, buying houses, and other assorted things we shouldn’t have fun talking about, but we did anyway. Then Russ stumbled down the stairs to hang out. He wasn’t looking too good. I guess he had been sleeping in the van. Everyone woke him up due to the temperature outside. As I recall, it was like about thirty degrees outside, too cold to be sleeping in a van. This all aside, Russ seemed very cranky. I asked him about the other night when he got written on. He responded with, “Hey, fuck you, man. I didn’t sign some treaty that said if I fell asleep with my shoes on that people could write on me, I’m on vacation.” I was kind of taken aback. Sean told him if he was going to act like a jerk he needed to go back to the van. I guess the story went that he had a bunch of marks on his pants, and he was pretty bent out of shape about it. I had no idea about any of this. It was pretty funny. The next thing I remember was everyone running Replay Dave from Grabass up the stairs. It seemed that Cory had picked him up and slammed his head into the ceiling, splitting Dave’s eyebrow open. Cory 2, drunks 0. I don’t remember too much from Loose Stools. The last eventful thing happening that I can recall was watching this dude and a full-figured hooker groping each other outside. It was pretty cold, so everyone had made their way in, except for Dude and Hooker Chick. I had a gathering with me watching the two of them. It was very voyeuristic if I do say so myself. It was funny. The motion light on the porch would keep going on and off. It would stay off and then they would get hot and heavy and it would come back on. We were all laughing our asses off. After the porn, we all made our way to the Research Triangle.

The Research Triangle is the name I gave the three houses in River West that we were spending time at. The first house we arrived at was Justin’s. There were a bunch of people preparing to go to sleep. This, however, was not my intention. I was in search of beer. Replay suggested going back to the other house to see if people were still partying. I concurred and we were off. The dudes at the secondhouse were also preparing for bed, with the exception of hot totties as a night cap. Whiskey and tea was right up my alley at that point. Replay suggested that we go to a casino. I said, “Okay,” and he said, “No, I’m serious.” And I replied, “So am I.” I sarcastically took the line used by Russ earlier in the evening. “Hey man, I’m on vacation.” Replay and I counted our money. Someone called us a cab and we were off. Keep in mind it is around 5:30a.m. at this point. We took our whiskey and tea in the cab with us. We arrived at the casino and commenced playing blackjack. To make a long story short, I lost all the money I had on me for the trip. I think Replay ended up winning $150 dollars or something. Needless to say, we had a great time. We took a cab back to the Research Triangle. We went back to the house where Grabass and the Tim Version were sleeping. I am guessing it was around 8:00 a.m. Everyone in the house was asleep. I tried to lie down and possibly go to sleep, but that didn’t last long. I got up and told Replay I was making another whiskey and tea and asked if he would like one. He obliged. We took our drinks to the front porch and hung out. We decided we were going to find some people to party with. So we started walking back to the other houses. We woke up one of the girls that lived at Justin’s. She seemed pretty upset and tired. We apologized and moved inside the house. We tried to wake some people with no avail, so it was back to the Twitch House. When we arrived, there was no one stirring. Back to the first house. No one was moving. We filled up our whiskey and tea again and moved on. We decided we were going to celebrate Replay’s winnings by getting some breakfast. We went to a place called Fuel. I don’t remember if it was good or not, but the people were very nice. Replay and I had some good conversation over our whiskey and breakfast. I don’t remember what it was about, but I recall having some good talks. Replay thought it would be a good idea to buy one of their huge “to go” coffee mugs. Replay purchased the coffee and it was back to the first house. There was still no one moving. We filled our cups with coffee and whiskey and went back to the Twitch House, and finally found some people to party with. The dudes that live in the Twitch House offered us a beer. That was fine by us. I drank mine the normal way. Replay and one of the kids that lived there decided to have a shotgun contest. I wanted no part of this, due to the vomiting that would follow. I am usually always down for a shotgun, but this morning I was in no shape. The kid that was in the contest with Replay was nineteen years old. I will tell you honestly – it was the fastest that I have ever seen someone shotgun a beer. Replay and I were both just like, “Holy fuck, that was fast.” This morning would end with the kids from the Twitch House making burritos for everyone, Replay shotgunning two more beers, and myself smiling from ear to ear. I hitched a ride with Vena Cava to Minneapolis. I figured I would get about five hours of sleep in the van on the way there. I think it was around noon when Milwaukee and I parted. Goodbye, sweet Milwaukee, how I love you so.

The van ride turned out nothing like I expected. If there is one thing I can’t do is sleep in moving cars or planes. I tried to get some shut eye, seeing as I had not slept all night. I think I dozed in and out of sleep for like an hour. I sat up and told everyone that I felt great and I thought that I was well rested and ready to party. We stopped at a Flying J and I tried to walk. My attempt almost landed me on my drunk ass. I was in much worse shape than I thought. We grabbed some food from Taco John’s, which was probably the worst burrito I have ever had, then we made the rest of the trek to Minneapolis.

We arrived at The Triple Rock Social Club. The Triple Rock is a bar and venue owned by Erik from Dillinger Four. I had never been there and I was very excited. D4 has been one of my favorite bands for a long time now and it was just cool to see where it all went down. I think it was around 6:00 p.m. when we got there. From the moment we arrived, everyone from the bar was so nice, especially a dude named Kermit. Cory said I should get free drinks. I told him I was not cool with that because I hadn’t done anything to deserve it. I have never been one to go to the front of the line because I’ve known someone who’s worked somewhere or anything like that. Kermit from the bar walks up to us and Cory tells him who I am and what I’m doing there. Kermit insist on giving me a wristband for free drinks all night. He also fed me for free. The Triple Rock has great food, even if you are vegetarian, which I am. I started drinking again. My first drink was a whiskey and tea, which just sounded like a good idea. Then I went for the beer. I told the bartender that whatever he suggested would do. I think I drank like three or four of them. Man, they tasted so good. I walked into the venue side of the bar to check out what was going on. There was no one over there except for Vena Cava setting up merchandise and The Soviettes doing a sound check. I sat around while they did their sound check. That place has an amazing sound system. The Soviettes sounded great and I was looking forward to seeing them play. After awhile all the dudes from Grabass and the Tim Version showed up with Patrick from D4. He brought them all there to eat as well. Everyone went back to the bar side and ordered some food. I sat and had my meal over some good conversation with Sean from the Tim Version. He was telling me how their tour to Japan was the best time he’s ever had. He told me about one of the guys babysitting them and driving them around Japan. He said the dude told him that guys like the Tim Version made him not want to be in bands anymore. I asked why and Sean said it was because of how idiotic they acted. Sean told me of how they were at a karaoke bar and he got shit faced. He said he stood on a table and reached up to hang on a bar, but the bar ended up being a fluorescent light bulb and he ended up falling and busting his ass in broken light bulb glass. I enjoyed my conversation further with another one of those very nice tasting beers. We all finished up eating. Grabass and the Tim Version left to go to the Alamo House. I debated the whole time whether I wanted to go to the basement show or stay at the Triple Rock. I was starting to feel kind of rough, so I decided to stay at The Triple Rock since I knew we would all be meeting up later at the Alamo House. I walked back into the venue side and the opening band had started their set. I can’t remember the name of the band, but they were not my cup of tea (and whiskey) at all. I was having a hard time staying awake at this point. I finally broke down and asked Cory if I could borrow the keys to the van to lie down for a moment. He started laughing and said, “I was wondering when you were finally going to crash.” I went to the van, and it was about twenty-five degrees in there. I wrapped up in a blanket the best I could and lay down on one of the seats. The next thing I knew, April from Vena Cava was at the door. I asked her if they had already played. She said that it was 2:30 AM and the whole show was over. Basically, I slept through all the bands in Minneapolis. Vena Cava piled a bunch of stragglers that were too drunk to drive in the van, and we headed for the Alamo house.

At this point, the cold temperatures made me wide awake. I was ready to resume partying. As we walked in the house, The Fuck Yeahs had just finished playing. There was a keg of beer in the basement, so that’s where I headed. I got a beer and headed up stairs to find a tall, dreadlocked fellow being doctored by a bunch of people. I guess he and a buddy were wrestling, and he fell into something. He split his lip wide open and broke one of his teeth in half. Everyone was wasted so I told him to let me look. For some reason, I thought I was the voice of reason at that moment. He showed me his mouth and I suggested that he probably should get some stitches. I was looking around for Cory to see if he had any part in the injury, but he was no where to be found. I guess he was innocent this time. We hung out for awhile, then started rounding everyone up. We were heading to house where Sturgeon from the Soviettes. We made plans to have breakfast with everyone at Sturgeon’s in the morning.

As we arrived at Sturgeon’s, she started telling us about how she had seen the Aurora Borealis a few nights back. I guess she had only seen them one other time when she was very young. I was very interested because I have never seen the Northern Lights. I always thought they were some kind of urban legend or something. We started to make our way in the house. Sturgeon had two of the best dogs in the world. I love dogs. My favorite dog was Chomp. He was a yellow lab that was very loving. To my surprise, Billy from Dillinger Four was there. I guess Sturgeon and Billy had gotten married awhile back and bought a house. It was a very nice house at that. Billy insisted on showing us all the great “dude stuff” about the house. He walked us to the bathroom to show us the “Robot Toilet.” It was a very nice Japanese toilet with a bidet and seat warmer. I guess D4 had told Fat Mike about how great all these toilets were in Japan, so he bought one. He was so happy with the toilet that he bought everyone in D4 a toilet for Christmas. Next, it was down stairs to check out the bar and card table. We also listened to his plans for the whole basement. He offered us a drink, so again, I obliged. I think it was around 5:30 AM or so. My night cap was to be Jim Beam. I think the only people that were still up were Cory, Patrick Cava, Billy and myself. I don’t want to fool anyone. I was very star struck. Dillinger Four, whoa. As I put down a few Jim Beam and Cokes, I started to ask Billy some questions about D4. I have been a big fan for probably around six years. As crazy as it sounds, I still have not seen them play to this day. I think the closest I have ever come was when they were supposed to play San Diego about four years ago but then they cancelled the rest of their tour. They were playing one last show in the L.A. area and I missed my ride. So my questions were, “When are you touring and when are you coming to Southern California?” The answers didn’t sound promising. Nonetheless, I enjoyed our conversation and the Jim Beam. Cory and Billy hit the sack, and Patrick and I kept an eye on the Jim Beam. Patrick and I sat around talking about metal. I don’t remember why, but it seemed very important at the time. Patrick finally passed out in the chair. I finished my drink and then helped him up the stairs. It was daylight. When I laid down the clock read 7:12 AM.

The morning woke me around 11:00 AM with a fucking horrible hangover, then I realized I was coming down with some kind of illness. We sat around, while Sturgeon cooked breakfast for everyone. It was really good and saved my life. Vena Cava was driving to Kansas City, which was an eight-hour drive, so they got on their way. I hugged them goodbye, wished them good luck, and told them I would see them when they got home. I went back inside to relax, and more bands from the Triple Rock the night before showed up, so Sturgeon cooked breakfast again. Then Grabass and the Tim Version showed up and Sturgeon cooked breakfast yet again. My plane was supposed to leave Minneapolis at 5:30 PM. It was about 3:45 PM and Billy said he would give me a ride to the airport. I said long goodbyes to all the dudes, and headed out with Billy. The car ride brought some good conversations. I told Billy that I loved his city. He agreed. We arrived at the airport, and said our thank yous and goodbyes. I got some soup in the airport to nurse me over until I got home to my bed. I have always had a hard time with flying. Not so much flying, but taking off and landing. On this day, however, my fears subsided. Arriving in San Diego was overwhelming. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the nighttime skyline of the city looked. It was at that point that I relaxed, and realized how much I love San Diego. Sometimes I think the grass is greener, but I realize that I live in the best city it the United States. San Diego is my home and there is no place that I would rather live.