Monday, May 24, 2010

MB Presents: The Newest Winner Of The Fred Phelps Award

It's been a pretty weird night for me. Shall I give it to you in timeline format? I think I shall.

Sunday, 23 May 2010: 4:00pm:

Sundays at the Carson Station are always weird for me, and especially so when that Sunday is the day after the last day of the gig. But I have plans for the day, and money to make. So right about now I'm wandering downstairs to the cabaret to partially tear down my kit. Only partially - I'm helping Dean host jam night tonight at the Twisted Spoke, so I don't really want to tear it all the way down, only to put it back together then tear it down again. So I'm just taking the drums and cymbals off my rack. I'll come back after dinner and load up the truck.


All-you-can-eat-pork-ribs night is a favorite night for me at the Station's restaurant. I invited my 'caretaker' Sara to join me, but she never showed. Oh well, her loss. Maybe she didn't read the message I left for her on Facebook. Either way, she missed out on some pretty good ribs.


Dinner's over, now load up the truck and get over to the Spoke! Did I ever mention to you that my truck looks like it's grown antlers when I'm driving around with my fully-assembled rack in the back? This will come into play later. Now go set up at the Spoke, dumbass!


Jam night starts, and look who shows up! Sara, along with Alexis, her girlfriend Crystal, and their pal Matt. I choose to be tactful and not bring up dinner. They leave after about half and hour, claiming hunger. They look like they don't have the heart to tell me they're leaving, and I tell them that it's okay, and while they say they'll come back afterwards, I say that it's okay if they don't, that I was glad that they came out for a little bit anyway. They never did come back, by the way.


Jam night has just concluded, and I have a conundrum on my hands. You see, my next gig doesn't start until Thursday night at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks. I probably won't even be able to check into the hotel until Wednesday night. Which leaves me with a few days' downtime. I've made arrangements to stay with my friend Jazmyn and her kids, but I have no clue as to the safety of the neighborhood in which she lives. So I decide to run down to Sparks and drop off my gear at the Nugget, just leaving it backstage until Wednesday when I can set it up.


I'm driving through the southern end of Reno when I see 'sex lights': a cop ahead of me has pulled some poor schmuck over. I drive on by, right on the posted speed limit of 45mph. A Washoe County Sheriff's vehicle is watching the incident as I'm driving through. I figure that he's curious about the strange metal contraption on the back of my truck, and he wants to check it out, as is his wont. I turn off Virginia on to South McCarran Boulevard, and within a few blocks he pulls up behind me and turns on his lights. Nothing new for me, because while I've never been popped for a moving violation in my life, I get pulled over a lot. Such is life when you work nights in bars. He comes around, and I greet him casually and ask what the problem is. His reply knocked me for a loop:

My license is suspended!

WHAT THE FUCK? I ask him if he knew why, and he says he doesn't have access to that information, just that my license was suspended. He asks if I was in the process of moving, and I explained that I was. My insurance was current, as were my driver's license and vehicle registration. But according to the officer, my license had been suspended in January for not having insurance. Seeing that this just wasn't the case, he advised me to go to the Nevada DMV and show proof of insurance, and that would clear things up. He noted that I was driving normally, acknowledged that I was stone-cold sober (when am I not?), and sent me on my way, advising me that if anyone else pulled me over to tell them that I had already been made aware of my situation. He even told me where the DMV office in Carson City was. Give that man an extra donut - with sprinkles on it.

I finally get to the Nugget to load in my gear, only to find that for the first time in about a year, Security has actually bothered to change the codes on the doors leading to backstage. I alert them to the situation, and they most helpfully take care of my problems.

Monday, 24 May 2010, 1:15am:

I make it back to Carson City, and boy am I pissed off. What the fuck is going on here? Sitting in the Station's parking lot, I go through my stack of insurance proofs, and there's a neat little history of mine there to be had - a new card every six months. There's my last card for Nevada - October 2009 to April 2010. There's the fill-in card I got when I (quite happily) switched our State Farm Insurance account to our old agent in Port Angeles - Jan 2010 to April 2010. And there's my current proof - April 2010 to October 2010. With smoke coming out of my ears like a fucking smokestack, I realize just what's happened, and who is to blame for this conundrum. Dear readers, I give to you the latest winner of the Fred Phelps Award For Dumbest Humanoid On The Planet: Christina Kantrud, State Farm Insurance Agent, and her staff.

We have a history with this idiot and the idiotlings that work under her. About ten or eleven months ago, as Joy and I moved into our tent-trailer, we received a rather severe penalty from DirecTV for not having returned their equipment to them in a timely fashion. This penalty was incurred all of two days after terminating service with them, which was also the same day that the FedEx box arrived, the FedEx box DirecTV sent us to return their equipment in. This unfortunate incident took several hundred dollars out of our bank account, money that wasn't there to begin with. So, while we fought DirecTV over it and told our bank that this was their fault and not ours, we informed the other people we do business with that automatic withdrawals from bank account wouldn't be possible right now, and that our bills would be paid on a strictly cash-only basis. Ms. Kantrud and her staff were made aware of the situation, and agreed to cancel automatic withdrawals from our bank account. A few days later, I went in to the office to make my payment, only to find that it was unnecessary to do so - the automatic withdrawal had already been made. I asked the little girl behind the counter a simple question, quoting Ellen Ripley from Aliens:

Did IQ's drop sharply while I was away?

This was the exact same person who smiled and said she'd cancel the automatic withdrawals just a few days before! Hello? Anyone home? I reminded her of the problem with my bank account with DirecTV, and she blanched, admitted her mistake and offered to fix it as soon as possible.

One month later, it happened again. And the next month. And the next month. And the next month. We started a new account with a different bank, gave them that information, and told them to make automatic withdrawals from that account.

What happened the next month? Same ol' same ol' - they pulled from our old bank account!

In January, we informed them that we were moving back to Washington due to Joy's health, and going back to our old agent due to gross incompetence. We even filed a formal complaint with State Farm Insurance about the sheer negligence of Kantrud and her staff, their utter ignorance of our requests. Well, I guess she got some payback on us. And she probably did what she was supposed to do in the process. Never mind that we would be continuing our SFI account (albeit with a better agent in a different state), her office sent a letter to the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles that we no longer had insurance. Therefore, my license was suspended.

Well, now it's our turn for payback. The DMV will more than likely revoke the suspension pending my showing them continuous proof of insurance. And Joy will be calling our SFI agent in the morning to let them know what a bunch of fuck-ups Ms. Kantrud and her underlings are. And following that phone call, State Farm's home office will be receiving another blistering complaint from us about shoddy service from an agent with a history of similar problems with us.

Well, here's to Ms. Kantrud and her staff of twatlings - the latest winners of the Fred Phelps Award For Dumbest Humanoids On The Planet. May God have mercy upon your souls. If you have any that is.

And one last piece of advice for the sad sorry lot of you: McDonald's is always hiring......

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CONCERT REVIEW: Fear Factory, Prong, Silent Civilian, Thy Will Be Done - Knitting Factory Reno, Monday 5/17

God help me, but I was jonesing for this show the minute I heard about it. Fear Factory is a band that I loved the minute I first heard their music, and the band's reactivation after years of acrimony and months of legal issues between current and former members was largely cheered by the metal community. My boy Jeremy from Idekay went way overboard for me - I asked him if he was going to the show, because I'd be in Carson City and had the day of the show off - and bought me a ticket without me even asking him to do so. So I offered to do the driving, and bought dinner for us at the Eldorado. Idekay's singer came with, but there was only room for two in my little truck, so we had to squeeze in close to get Josh to a restaurant on the other side of Carson City, where a friend of his would pick him up.

Jeremy and I got in to Reno, had our 'bro-feast' at the Eldorado's buffet, then made our way over to the Knitting Factory Concert House. The Knit, as it's called, is a welcome addition to the list of concert venues in the Reno area, having opened last New Year's Eve. It's clean, well-run, and has an excellent sound system, and is a great improvement over venues like the New Oasis and Club Underground. As Jeremy and I walked along Virginia Street, we found Fear Factory's singer (Burton C. Bell) and bassist (Byron Stroud) on their cellphones, probably letting people know that they'd made it into Reno okay - we found out later that their bus wouldn't start that morning when they tried to leave San Diego, and had only made it into town within the last hour, and Silent Civilian also had car trouble, and very nearly missed the show.

We went around back to get in line for the show, and within a minute Josh and his friend showed up. His friend was an attractive young blonde in an Aqua Teen Hunger Force Mooninites t-shirt ("Observe Our Digital Dongs" - I'm not the biggest ATHF fan, but that shirt was hilarious!). We were introduced, I didn't quite catch her name, and chose not to press the issue, because she looked familiar to me, but I couldn't quite put my finger on where I'd seen her before. Anyhoo, we got into the Knit only to find that the doors would open about and hour later than scheduled due to the bands that arrived late. The crowd was kinda late as well, with many not arriving until the first two bands had already played. And as it was, there were only about 300 or so in attendance. And they'd only managed to sell that many tickets because the Knit wound up selling many of them for half the price Jeremy had paid for ours. He wasn't terribly happy about it, but he eventually shrugged it off. We found our way up to the Knit's balcony (an excellent spot to watch drummers in action) and waited for the show.

First up was Rhode Island's Thy Will Be Done, which was good but pretty straightforward metalcore, though much more 'metal' than 'core', and that's just fine with me. I really didn't know these guys at all, but I liked what I heard. They brought lots of energy to the show, which is really what an opener should do. After them came Silent Civilian from LA. This band I could've done without. But since the band is the de facto solo project of former Spineshank singer Jonny Santos, and Santos has deep ties with Fear Factory (Spineshank got their record deal through their friendship with Fear Factory), that's probably how they got their slot on this tour. The music was passable, not terribly original, and while Jeremy and I liked their drummer's style of play, his snare drum sounded positively awful - Jeremy actually said "that snare sounds so bad it makes me want to punch babies." I'd have settled for going down to the stage and tuning it up a bit for him.

Next up was Prong. This was the second time we'd seen them in about seven months, having seen them previously in November at the New Oasis. Like Fear Factory, Prong's music has always been a little ahead of its time with its strong industrial-music overtones. Seven months ago, Prong..... well, Prong main-man Tommy Victor seemed to want to get the show over and done with ASAFP. He basically had a brand-new backing band at the time (Static-X bassist Tony Campos and Alexei Rodriguez on drums), and while that show was good, there was still a visible lack of ease onstage. Last night, there was a much more relaxed vibe amongst Tommy and his bandmates, and they blew through their set with with a vengeance. In years past, Tommy has been saddled with a reputation of being difficult to work with - understandable once you've seen how many people have worked with him in Prong over the years. And when Prong was inactive, Tommy has been a sideman, playing guitar with Danzig for several years and playing on Ministry's last few tours as well (where he met up with Bell, who sang on Ministry's C U LaTour). From what I saw, I think Tommy has, how shall I say it, aged gracefully? He just seems to be happy just playing. And had it been anyone other than Fear Factory headlining the show, I would've said that Prong stole the show. They were clearly having a great time onstage.

The rebirth of Fear Factory hasn't been without controversy. It actually started almost by accident. The band had torn itself apart when there had been a falling-out between guitarist Dino Cazares and the rest of the band. Fear Factory basically broke up, then reunited without Cazares (with bassist Christian Olde Wolbers switching to guitar and hiring Strapping Young Lad's Byron Stroud to take over on bass). The band recorded two more albums, but something was missing. The band members went on to other projects (Bell founded the band Ascension Of The Watchers and worked with Ministry, while Olde Wolbers and drummer Raymond Herrera started the band Arkaea) while Cazares stayed busy with his side projects, Asesino and Divine Heresy. One night Bell and Cazares met by accident at a show, and over time managed to reconcile their differences. They brought Stroud back into the fold, and recruited Stroud's Strapping Yound Lad bandmate, metal-drumming icon Gene Hoglan for the drums. Initial efforts at playing live were stymied by legal actions taken by Olde Wolbers and Herrera against their former band over the rights to the name Fear Factory. I'd presume that either the actions were settled or an injunction has been put in place, because the band has moved on, toured, and released their new album, Mechanize.

Their set was awesome. It was the first time Jeremy or I had ever seen Gene Hoglan play live, and that man is a 300-pound pile of drumming awesomeness. Their set was amazing, but Jeremy noted something kind of odd. Dino seemed to be having an off-night, his playing seemed a little sloppy. He just didn't seem to be quite as in-synch with Fear Factory as we'd seen him six months before with Divine Heresy. I figured it was just an off-night because of their travel issues. But to be honest, I just didn't care. This was an awesome show, and I was in full fanboy mode for their entire set. The songs that stood out for me were "Mechanize", "Edgecrusher", "Linchpin", and the set-closer, "Replica".

On our way, I noticed something odd - while the merch booth had Fear Factory's albums for sale, the two albums that didn't have Dino on them were not available. And Dino, along with Prong's bassist Tony Campos, were right alongside the merch booth, signing merch and taking pictures with the crowd. I think I know who really runs Fear Factory now, and I really don't have a problem with that.

And on the way home, Jeremy filled in a blank for me. Remember I told you that I'd thought I'd seen Josh's friend before? I was right. Y'see, his friend.... well, I won't tell you her real name. She's better known as Bunny Love, and works at the Moonlight Bunny Ranch. She's a huge metalhead, and a big fan of Idekay. She's even told them that she'll try to wear her Idekay hoodie a lot when HBO's cameras come to the Ranch to tape the next season of their show "Cathouse", which chronicles the goings-on at the brothel just outside of Carson City. It's kinda weird - I'm actually developing ties to the Bunny Ranch, without ever having been there. Y'see, one of Steppen Stonz' closest friends here in Carson City (who Joy actually appointed to be my 'caretaker' here in Reno and Carson when she couldn't be here herself), her mother works at the ranch in housekeeping, while her aunt is better known as "Air Force Amy", one of the top girls at the Ranch. And another friend of the Stonz got a housekeeping job at Dennis Hof's two brothels through my 'caretaker' Sara's connections.

Jeremy also told me that Idekay will be hitting the road in a few weeks, and will even come up to play a gig in Tacoma in a few weeks. I told Joy, and she nearly hit the roof! Needless to say, we'll be there for that. He also told me something pretty big, but I won't say what it is. Let's just say that this could be a big summer for him and Idekay.

Last night was a pretty awesome night for me. But there's always blowback, and mine is coming up quickly. I told Jeremy's wife Alison that I'd teach her the intricacies of driving a car with a manual transmission today, and I'd better get going. Jeremy tried to teach her once, and he claimed it nearly ended in divorce.....

Is that impending doom I see coming?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Me & My Hands

Get your minds out of the gutter, you perverts.

Now that I'm ensconced in my hotel room in Carson City, I have to slip back in to old patterns, old ways of doing things. I've had to deal with carpal-tunnel syndrome in both hands for years. The only saving grace is that neither wrist is really in that bad of a shape. The rest of me may not be that healthy looking, but having a pooch doesn't stop me from playing. Not being able to feel my fingers would, however.

Over the years, I've had flare-ups, sometimes so bad I've actually had to tape my sticks into my hands to be able to continue playing. I've developed methods of combating the swelling and strain. I take NSAID's like aspirin and acetominophen, B-complex vitamins (B6 helps reduce swelling of the nervous system), and most importantly, I stretch. Every finger is carefully bent back for a few seconds at a time. The wrists get stretched out for a few minutes at a time. Elbows, shoulders, neck and back, all my joints get a stretch before I go onstage. The sticks I use were designed reduce the shock of impact on my wrists. Using gloves and grip tape allow me to hold the stick with a looser grip, reducing the stress on my wrists even further. I even crack my knuckles, despite people telling me that it theoretically hurts my knuckles more than it helps. I've always read different, so there. This is something I've been doing since high school, so I think I know what the hell I'm doing.

All I know is that I have to take care of the machine, or else I'm not working any more.

On a side note, I'm pondering the idea of starting one or two more blogs, so I can rant about sports, politics, and anything else in the world that doesn't have to do with drums and drumming. I'll keep you posted as to what comes up. I've got the time to kill over the next few weeks, so you never know when I might get a wild hair up my ass and start writing.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cabin Fever

It's about two in the morning. I want to play. Badly. But there really isn't much I can do about this particular urge at the moment, so perhaps talking about it will help exorcise it from my mind. I've had a pretty long break between gigs, nearly six weeks. I was optimistic about finding a side gig to keep my bills at bay, but every lead went nowhere - at least for now. At least the prospects for Steppen Stonz are promising as far as this summer goes. Mikey (the bandleader) has thrown some interesting possibilities out, trips to play in the South and Midwest. Those would be pretty fun for me. I think the greatest buzz I get in playing in a band is playing someplace I've never played before. And best of all is getting completely out of the box and going somewhere totally new. I mean, we could play a new (for us) venue in Reno or Carson City, and while it'd be nice, we've all either played at or been to every venue in the area. And our fan base, as loyal as they may be, are still there. I love every last one of 'em for supporting us, but I like seeing completely new people, completely new places.

And this summer could be a banner season for that. One possible trip could be to the bank of casinos along the Mississippi River in Shreveport and Bossier City, Loiusiana. When the first mentions of this possible trip came up, I did a search on the net for the casinos in the area, and came to a minor surprise - there are links back to Reno in these casinos. There's an Eldorado in the area, and a Boomtown as well. I believe that there's a Harrah's there as well. This isn't anything particularly new, really. As casino gambling is legalized in more and more parts of the country, the casino owners in Nevada see opportunity. In most of the country it meant casinos owned by Native Americans initially backed by Nevada and Atlantic City interests, though most of the tribal casinos eventually either shook off their partners or went solo when the backers left of their own volition. But in Louisiana, they're apparently privately owned. The only difference between Nevada and anywhere else is the lack of sports-betting.

I also fired up Google Earth to look at the area in its entirety, and found something intriguing and slightly revolting at the same time - a Hustler Club. If you know your history of that naughtiest of naughty magazines, you'd know that the Hustler Clubs actually came first, as Larry Flynt's vision of a Playboy Club for average businessmen - hustlers - rather than the well-to-do. The magazine came along later. Well, a few blocks west of the Big Muddy is a Google Earth thumbtack with the tag 'Larry Flynt's Hustler Club'. This is almost scary for me, but almost too tempting to avoid. Y'see, I have a bad history with strip clubs. No, nothing scary, evil, or criminal, just embarrassing. Like getting my nose bloodied by a dancer in Reno nearly twenty years before I moved there, the first time I'd ever been in a strip club. To make a long story short, a dancer tried to stick her boobs in my face, but she didn't have enough to do the job and smacked me in the nose with her sternum. Didn't go near another strip club for almost a decade, when my sister-in-law took me to a club in Bend, Oregon. Where the dancers all knew her. She told me that it was the only place in Bend that she could get a drink in after midnight on a weeknight at that time. Well, I guess it'll do for and excuse.

Then there's the possibility of playing in the Detroit area. The city is really the cradle of American pop music as much as it is the Motor City. It's so much more than Motown, baby. George Clinton, Ted Nugent, Madonna, The MC5, Kid Rock, Eminem, ICP, and Iggy and The Stooges. Then again, the city is crumbling to dust as we speak, as the industries that supported it have all but died away. I'd still like to see the area, but to be totally honest, I'll go play just about anywhere as long as there's a paycheck involved.

And that's all I really want. So here's hoping for a very busy summer. Joy won't like me being gone, but she always appreciates the money I bring home.