The Berries played Greenville last night, but the story actually begins half a week ago.
Early this past week, as I drove from campus to the grocery, I noticed that the “Check Engine” light was continuing to burn. This has happened a few times in the past, and was diagnosed by my mechanics either as A) nothing or B) a bad sensor. And sure enough, the next morning, the light went out, and it was business as usual. Until that afternoon, the light came back on and I heard what seemed like a hybrid between a stutter and a backfire. Suddenly, the two hours of driving I planned (the Mondoville-Greenville round trip) for yesterday seemed like a Bad Idea.
The problem, however, is that I have a large drum kit, with large drums — like me, they’re somewhat oversized. The other guys in the band drive small to midsized sedans. Consequently, my drums (and often some other gear) ride in my van, occupying the rear and middle sections, and sometimes even the passenger seat.
Actually getting to the show was still doable — Mrs. M was gracious enough to let me use her car — but there wasn’t room for the gear. So I got in touch with Casey Taylor, guitarist for Italo and the Passions, the headliners for last night’s show, and asked if I might be able to use their kit, if I brought my own snare, cymbals, and bass pedal. But then Casey realized that their drummer had another gig before their set, and probably wouldn’t be able to get there by the time we needed to take the stage. “But we have a studio kit we can bring for you.” I thanked him profusely, and last night, we loaded the stuff I mentioned, plus my stick bag and a bass amp, into Mrs. M’s car and made it up to Greenville’s Radio Room. I’m proud to say that I managed to get there without any wrong turns — a rare occurrence when I’m driving.
The Berries were first on the scene, so we checked in and I put my stuff on the stage, where it looked a bit like the percussionistic version of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, while we waited for Casey to show up. In the meantime, we stood around and chatted as the house P.A. played one of the coolest mixes of any club where I’ve hung out. Last night had big doses of the Zombies, Hollies, and first-generation punk and new wave music. (By the way, this is not an aberration at Radio Room; it was a really cool mix the other time we were there as well.)
Casey got there about 9:30 — we were supposed to go on around 10 or 10:30. He had brought some cymbal stands, but as it turned out, the guys from the second band on the bill (Atlanta’s Mamma Bear) had agreed to supply the drums for our set (which made logistical sense, as it reduced teardown between sets.) Sure enough, Team Mamma Bear arrived a few minutes later, and shortly thereafter, I found myself parked behind a four-piece set of 1968 Ludwigs, a pleasure I hadn’t anticipated. (Thanks, Troy!)
We began our set about ten minutes later, and plowed through our usual 16 songs in about 45 minutes, during which time we seemed to have been well received. Playing someone else’s kit is always an interesting experience for me. I can’t speak to the cases of other musicians, but when I’m on someone else’s drums, I find myself forced out of some of my habitual movements and fills — some drums I normally use aren’t there, there are things in unusual places, and my usual movements yield different sounds. It’s an eye- (or ear-)opener, and I find myself thinking a little more about how to execute the effects I want to achieve in real time. It’s fun, but also a little scary.
But I made it through without any major entanglements, and got some very nice comments from some of the folks in attendance after we had cleared the stage to the strains of the P.A.’s “Clash City Rockers” and I had changed out of my performance shirt and into my Zappa T-shirt. (I left my jeans on throughout, a fact for which the Upstate, and perhaps the nation, is no doubt grateful.)
I hadn’t seen Mamma Bear before, but they delivered a strong set of Southern-inflected alt-rock. They reminded me a bit of Canada’s Rusty, and I was happy to trade a copy of our CD for one of their new release, Chocolate. They were really nice guys as well (even beyond letting me use their gear), and I’d really love to get them down to Real City for a show.
Finally, it was time for local heroes Italo and the Passions, and they were a blast. What the Berries are to 1966, these guys are to about 1972 or 73. Imagine a band like Brownsville Station (if they played it straight) or Grand Funk (in the Railroad days), with a fondness for Muscle Shoals music and a vocalist who sounds a lot like the late, great Phil Lynott. The performances were tight, but the set was loose and relaxed, and the band was charismatic. I did another CD trade, and they’re another group we need to bring down this way. (Are you listening, bookers?)
Things had finally come to a halt around 1:30, and it was closer to 2 when guitarist Larry Ellis and I set out for Mondoville. I finally got to bed around 3:30, and got up at 11:30 this morning. All told, it was another terrific experience, even with the necessary transportation and gear adjustments. Again, big thanks to Casey and to Troy, as well as to Mrs. M for letting me use her ride. Let’s do it again soon — and I’ll bring my drums.