The Berries got back into the rock and roll business last night, playing the opening set at the anniversary celebration for our Real City home at ArtBar. As the opener, we arrived at 7 p.m. for set-up with the venue’s sterling sound guy, Alan. I like Alan for a lot of reasons, and one of them is that he’s patient with the fact that I have a larger kit than a lot of people use these days, at least in the kind of music ArtBar tends to host. My set is a 7-piece, with 5 toms, which means we typically run out of mikes before we run out of drums. Add to that the fact that I have a vocal mike and monitor, and that I have to be able to play (and sing) in the middle of this forest of gear, and that we have to be able to set up and tear down quickly on a four-band bill, and you can see why a patient sound guy is a blessing. And he was, which meant we started on time.
At 8:15. This was unusually early for an ArtBar show, although I think they’re trying to move start times up in general. But while we had mentioned this in our social media announcements, not everyone got the message — flyers for the show, for example, listed a 9:00 start time, and I’ve played shows there in the past that started at 9:30. The way all this played out was that we did our 45-minute set for a small but enthusiastic group of friends and family, wrapping up just in time for a number of people to ask us later, “When do you go on?” We played well, though, demonstrating that the Berries will work just as hard for a crowd of seven as we will for a crowd of, well… eight or nine. (A personal high point, however, was when a member of another group came in and I heard him say, “God damn, that’s a gorgeous drum set!” Once again, I bask in having gear that’s better than I am.)
Next up was a band I had heard a lot about in recent weeks, Les Merry Chevaliers. Their brand of “Punque Roc” is augmented by a pre-Revolutionary aesthetic, powdered wigs, knee breeches, and all:
With songs like “Faster than the Speed of Sexy”, “Hot Moms”, and the closer “I Ruined Coitus for You”, LMC had the crowd thoroughly stoked. Despite the fact that they were breaking in new drummer “Louis LXIX”, they were tight, highly energetic, and a hell of a lot of fun. Also of note was the fact that they had a cameraman wielding an Arriflex rig to document the occasion. Our bass player (and Mondoville communications instructor) Justin told me, “That’s about a $40K camera there.” It’s good to have fans.
Next up were hometown rockabilly faves the Capital City Playboys, and they once again demonstrated why they’ve earned a reputation as one of the area’s best live acts. The trio mixed classic covers of Carl Perkins and Link Wray tunes with original numbers like “Hog Wild.” I’ve been going to or playing at club shows since for decades, and over that time, I’ve come to believe that rockabilly may be one of the best kinds of music to hear live. Even if it isn’t great, you’ll have a good time. Fortunately, the Playboys needn’t worry — they’re veteran players, and their set was ferocious, even overcoming the collapse of a bass drum spur in the opening number, which made the kit list like the Titanic for half the song. By the end of their set, the crowd was rocking and even the walls were sweating.
In a bonus for the crowd, which had bulked up quite a bit, the guitarist for the Playboys was joined on stage by some of the members of headliners Hot Lava Monster for a couple of Zeppelin numbers and a nice cover of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.” Then it was time for the Hot Lava Monster guys to close out the night.
The band is basically a power trio plus vocalist, which worked well for such purveyors of heaviosity as Zep and the Sabs, and they gave the audience the pummeling it sought. The band’s focal points are vocalist Patrick Baxley (who has a “classic rock” voice reminiscent of the late Chris Cornell) and guitar beast “Hot Lava” Mike. The guitar sound is thicker and more muscular than Zep’s, and the groove is sprightlier than Sabbath, despite riffage that worked in logarithmic time signatures like 13/8 and 21/8. After their set, I told Mike that you don’t hear a lot of 21/8 in the clubs, and he acknowledged that (like most odd-time experimentalists I know) he tends to think in terms of phrases, rather than counting through the passages. Full credit goes to the rhythm section as well, which knew how to rip through the complex passages without stepping on either Baxley or Mike’s work.
They made it through their set of originals and earned an encore from the crowd, so they came back with a song I really hadn’t expected. They covered one of the great “love to hate” songs of the last few decades, “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. Ordinarily the song is cheesier than a Chicago-style pizza, but the crowd went nuts and the HLM guys grounded the number in the same power and joy of hard rock that had marked the rest of the set. That transmutation was the capper of the evening.
As the rest of the Berries had responsibilities today, I was the last man standing to collect our pay packet, so I got back to Mondoville about 3 this morning. I had hoped to grab a very late dinner at the local 24-hour Sonic, but when I got there, I discovered that one of their systems or another was down for maintenance until 4:15, so I headed home, had some microwavable sausage biscuits, and went to bed about 3:30, waking up a couple of minutes before noon. The glamorous rock and roll life.
But I’m glad I have it.