I was lucky to be in a band, lucky to have recorded, and lucky to have played some iconic venues on tour. Sure, CBGB, Fenders, and Gilman St. were all milestones, but the venue I’m most happy to say I have played—more times than I remembered—was The Outhouse in Lawrence, Kan. It was a concrete block building in the middle of a corn field five miles outside of town on a gravel road. If you were a punk band on tour in the middle of America in the ‘80s, you most likely played The Outhouse. I used to love asking touring bands if they had just been there, or better, if they were on their way. I loved filling them in on the amazingly crazy and great place it could be to play.
I realized the other day that it was thirty years ago this year that Ultraman played their first show at the mighty Outhouse. I put together a collection of photos with the first official Ultraman song and posted it to YouTube. The song is “Mr. Yuk” and the photos used on the 7” contains that song were shot at our first show at the Outhouse.
Ultraman played a show with Life Sentence in St. Louis in early 1987. Joe gave me a list of promoters around the region to hit up for shows. One of those was Bill Rich in Lawrence, Kan. He booked shows at the Outhouse and owned a record label, Fresh Sounds. I had been to the Outhouse once on Labor Day weekend 1985. I think it may have been the first punk rock show at the space. It was before it even had a stage.
I only remember seeing the Guard Rails, but with thirty-two years between then and now, I can only guess if that’s correct. That is the thing about time and memory, it gets hazy and sometimes you remember things that didn’t happen while forgetting what actually did happen. I think because I was familiar with the space—and it wasn’t much farther than Kansas City from St. Louis—it was one of the first numbers I called. Bill Rich is soft spoken and has a sort of a western drawl, but not quite. He certainly didn’t come off as the sort of hyperactive promoter type. He may or may not have asked for a demo. If he did, I sent him our cassette of some songs we had recorded at the end of 1986, which later became our first 7” release.
He booked us with a NYC band on SST called Das Damen. It wasn’t exactly the same sort of raging hardcore punk we played, but it mattered less then. We didn’t have a van at the time so we had a friend drive us up in a van he used for paper delivery. It had no seats in back, just the un-insulated metal interior. We loaded our gear in the back half and we sort of made due with some foam cushions on the floor. On the ride up we started an Ultraman tradition—or bad habit depending on your outlook—of buying fireworks at one of the many stands along I-70. The show was June 27 so there were a lot of fireworks for sale with the fourth of July just around the corner. After purchasing them, I don’t think it was long before we were setting them off in the van, shooting bottle rockets toward the back where the gear was stacked. I think a plaster skull was exploded on the dashboard with several firecrackers.
We eventually made it to town and made the drive down Massachusetts St.—an almost movie set-looking downtown that you might see on an episode of Leave It to Beaver—to 15th, down the road until it turned to gravel, and then another two miles or so kicking up a plume of white dust with tall corn on either side of the road until we saw the clearing on the right with the little concrete block building. We were pretty early. I don’t even think Bill Rich was there yet, but the first person we met was Jeff Pendegraft. He had been drinking pretty much all day from what we could tell. He would later be the singer of Piston Grind and now The Big Iron. The latter has a great song called “Past the Pavement” about the Outhouse. I’m glad someone wrote it because I was never able to make it work myself.
The show wasn’t big by any stretch. I can’t remember there being more than fifty people or so—and that might even be a high number—but as the cliché goes, we played like it was five hundred people in the room. We were young and full of Jolt Cola, so it wasn’t like we had to plan that part. It just happened to be how we played, no matter the crowd. I don’t know if it was because of our set or something else, but we must have passed our test: we showed up, we played, and, other than the fireworks, we didn’t break anything.
The next show we played there was opening for Redd Kross in October. It was night and day difference with crowd size, that was for sure. It was packed to the rafters. I think it is safe to say that is a literal statement. After that, our next show was with Slapshot, which was a great time. We ended up becoming friends with them and played there again with them two years later.
After those first three shows there it is all a blur. Ultraman was there probably more often than we played at home, which was also obnoxiously frequent. Over the period of 1987 through 1991, we dealt with several promoters after Bill Rich. Tad Kepley booked us on the Slapshot show, then later he and Dave Budin worked together, followed by Jeff Fortier and Bob Cutler. I don’t really know what it was that had them always calling, but I’m grateful to this day that it happened as often as it did. I was told at one point by someone making a film about The Outhouse that we played there around thirty times, more than any other band. It wasn’t surprising but still kind of crazy to think about today.
Of all those shows, the ones that stand out were the big, crazy ones. We played with Fugazi, Gwar, 7 Seconds, Rollins Band, and a New Years Eve show with D.I. It was actually our second of three New Years Eves that we spent there. All three of those shows were amazingly fun. But of all the shows there is one that really stands out as a pinnacle because of something that happened on stage during our set.
It was December 1990 after we had been home from our first European tour for a couple of months. We had become so tight from that tour and the subsequent shows after getting home that on the night we opened for Agnostic Front, we hit a high that we had never hit before and really never hit again. It was within the first few moments of the first song that I felt it. I can’t fully describe it. It wasn’t a sudden flash or bolt of any kind; it was just a feeling and I remember thinking to myself that this was it, something was happening. I didn’t say anything about it until the drive home the next day. I was happy and sort of shocked that everyone else felt it too. I’m not saying it was down hill from there, but for that set Ultraman played the best set we had ever played. I’m so glad it was at the Outhouse for the crowd that inexplicably really seemed to love our band.
In short, the scene there is what made the Outhouse. It wasn’t perfect. There was the usual punk rock in-fighting and actual fights, but unlike a lot of places it had something more. It was the scene there that made it happen. It was a time and place, one I’m glad to have been a part of for a moment.