Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Spending The Holidays With Fred

If you're reading this, then I would presume you, like the rest of us, have survived the Mayan Apocalypse, and something far worse - shopping for Christmas presents. I've been surviving as well, though as usual, it's never been easy. And I even have a Fred Phelps Award winner for you. But before we get to that poor soul, let's recap, shall we?

For me, today is the last day of a roughly five-and-a-half week run. Originally, there were to be four gigs on the run, but it got cut to three. Steppen Stonz started its run at the Atlantis, playing the Monday-through-Saturday shift. The bandhouse is a little better than it used to be, with the televisions in the house now receiving HDTV signals with the help of digital signal converters. It's not cable or DirecTV, but at least I can watch Zomboo.

From there, the plan was to take a week off, then play a weekend at Casino Fandango. And this is where things began to go off the rails. I set up the old pop-up trailer behind my stepdaughter's place in Sun Valley, fired up the propane heater, and did my best to stay warm, and keep from getting too bored. I didn't really have good Internet access while I was there, because for some weird reason I couldn't get this poor old laptop of mine to connect to their router - even with the password to it - though my 360 was able to connect to it. I actually have to take my computer in their house and physically connect it to their modem to get online, and since there weren't any empty outlets nearby, I was running on batteries only, which gave me about an hour to get things done before I had to shut down and take the laptop back to my trailer to plug in. This would be a minor problem compared to what came next.

I'm pretty sure that it was the Wednesday of that week off when I got a phone call from a very pissed-off Mike. Our keyboard player Miguel had chosen to quit. And he couldn't even be a man about it and tell Mike to his face - he sent him a text message with a link the the band's website that announced his resignation. from the group. And it turns out that he wasn't doing it of his own free will. But I'll explain later, when I announce the latest recipient of the Fred Phelps Award.

We had to scramble to find a replacement, and we were only able to secure one just a few days before we took the stage at the Fandango. The guy we'd brought on to sub for Miguel when he went on his honeymoon was unavailable due to prior commitments. And the permanent replacement wouldn't be available until after New Year's because he had to scramble to renew his health insurance before the end of the year, which involved several appointments that took him right up around Christmas to finish up.

The irony is that Miguel actually sent the temporary replacement in our direction. His name is Alex - don't have a last name for him yet - and he knew Miguel when they worked together at Maytan Music Center here in Reno. He's a multi-instrumentalist and a music student here at UNR who also has an original band somewhere here in town, but mostly what he does with us is run sound for us through his laptop. He'd lost his job just recently, and was more than happy to come in and cover for us without really any clue as to what we played. And thankfully, Merrell, the soundtech (and entertainment director) at the Fandango, was cool with the emergency sub we had to employ, and we got through that gig with few problems, other than having to explain Miguel's absence. A lot.

Things didn't get any better after the Fandango, as we learned that the next gig in line had been cancelled. According to our agent, the owner of the Carson Valley Inn had requested that a country band play this weekend, because a big food drive was scheduled to take place that weekend, and the people who were in charge of this drive wanted a country band to play that weekend. By the way, our agent runs a country band. Read into that whatever you want to, but the truth is that this turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise. Allow me to explain. Y'see, the CVI is a three-night gig. At first our agent offered us another three-nighter at the CVI in late January, then a few days later offered us the option to take a six-night run at the Atlantis that week instead. Add that to what we'd wind up getting offered to us by the folks at John Ascuaga's Nugget - playing an extra two days (Christmas night and tonight, the 26th) in addition to our winter-schedule three-nighter - and suddenly those three nights we lost turned into eight nights in total. So in the end, we'll actually make more money than we'd originally planned. I have no problem with that, and neither do any of the other guys. But the downside was that I'd miss Christmas with my family back home. I'd been looking forward to it, but Joy had warned me that I'd probably be working Christmas one way or another. Damn that woman's intuition. I'm used to spending Christmas alone, but it still sucks nevertheless.

Now I know that I've left you hanging on a couple of things. So here come the big announcements. First off, the new keyboard player. It's Calvin. As in Calvin Sims, my old boss in Powerlight. He hasn't been busy for quite a while, and was more than willing to come on board. And it actually makes perfect sense. He's known Mike and Arthur for nearly a quarter-century now, knows their material, and how to run sound. And he still has functioning mini-disc players and the equipment to equalize and level out the sequences. Not to mention that he still lives in Tacoma, and I can either pick him up on my way to Reno and he can help offset fuel costs for the trip, or I can park my truck in Tacoma and ride with him while helping pay for his gas for the trip. Either way, it's a win-win situation for all of us.

And now for the Fred Phelps Award recipient. Y'see, it turns out that Miguel didn't just quit the band. He quit pretty much everything that defined him as a person. At the same time he'd bailed on us, he also announced that he was quitting the two church bands he played in. And he quit teaching at Maytan. And he sold his car. And last but not least, he gave away - gave away! - his gear. What could possibly have gotten him to do such a reckless, ridiculously stupid thing?


His wife made him do all of that. I've joked with our friends that she basically grabbed him by his huevos and said "ay cabron, you're staying home with me from now on." And like a good little puppy, he did exactly what his wife told him to do. He just gave up. Walked away from pretty much everything that defined him as a person. Walked away from a lot of people who depended on him, because his wife 'didn't want him out at night.' Are you kidding? Miguel may be a naive little fucker, but he isn't stupid. He knows how to stay out of trouble far better than most people can at that age. But apparently his wife can't trust him, or anyone else for that matter. I'd joked with friends that I thought Miguel was a virgin, saving himself for marriage. Those friends thought I was being cruel - and in hindsight, perhaps I was - but I'd always said that I found it honorable in a quaint sort of way. His faith is his guide, and always has been, and I considered it to be an admirable quality.

But in my opinion it's also proven to be his undoing, because a stronger, more experienced man would've stood up to his wife and tried to hold his ground, or at least get her to accept that he had commitments to honor before he could walk away from us. Had he done that, there wouldn't have nearly been as much angst for the rest of us to endure, and we would've wished him well in his future endeavors and hoped that he'd remain friends with us. But Miguel has proven to be nothing more than a pussy-whipped little coward with his actions. And Mike, Arthur and myself all agree that Miguel's marriage isn't going to end well. We hope that he decides to take his brain, spine and balls back from her and either put her in her place or just dump her altogether. But I doubt that will happen. She wants him to make a mommy out of her, and fast, and eventually he'll wake up one day and realize just how much he threw away to make one person happy. I don't foresee a happy ending for him. In fact, if anything I see this relationship eventually coming to a violent end somewhere down the road, when he comes to the realization that she made him give up so much for her selfish wants and needs, and that mental stress breaks him - which it will eventually.

So with that, I give you the latest recipient of the Fred Phelps Award for The Dumbest Humanoid On The Planet - Veronica Arredondo. How many lives has her distrust affected? How many will it affect? And will it come back to bite her in the ass in the future? I'm sure that it will. So congratulations on your award, Veronica. And may your God have mercy on your soul.


UPDATE [Jan 31, 2013]: It turns out that Calvin is not going to be able to join Steppen Stonz at this time, perhaps not ever. As I write this, he's back home in Spartanburg, SC, taking care of some family buisness involving his daughter. He was two days away from joining us in Reno when his ex-wife called him and basically begged him to come to Spartanburg to help his daughter out of some situation, what it is I don't know, and don't really want to know. He had to cancel on Mike and Arthur on two days' notice, and they didn't take it all that well. I can't really blame them, but on the other hand they don't have families of their own, choosing the life of the eternal bachelor in order to avoid conflicts between family and business. Not a bad decision in and of itself, but it renders them pretty much incapable of understanding that players with wives and kids (such as yours truly) might have problems with those wives and children that supersede the needs of the group. I've asked Mike and Arthur to at least keep Calivin in their thoughts, but they consider him to be 'untrustworthy' now, and for the time being Alex will continue to play keys and twiddle knobs for us - not to mention collect fan mail from a collection of adoring women. Now if only those adoring women weren't uglier than sin and quite possibly mentally defective as well.....

UPDATE [March 28, 2013]: Alex Kaufman.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Days Of Future Past: Three Inches of Blood, Huntress, Hookers, Envirusment, Knightfall @ The Alley, Sparks, NV – Dec. 13, 2012

It's nine days until the latest end-of-the-world scenario is supposed to play itself out, but to me it's just another Thursday night. Had this been the Thursday, December 13th I'd originally planned, I wouldn't be writing this article. Instead, I'd be climbing into bed in my hotel room at the Carson Valley Inn after finishing my first night of a three-night run there with Steppen Stonz. But a last-minute cancellation gave me the weekend off, so I had some time to kill. I'd actually planned on seeing this show ten days earlier up at Whiskey Dick's in South Lake Tahoe, but a combination of weather and unforeseen expenses had kept me from that show, so now that I had the time and money available to me, I decided to get my rock on.

Walking in about an hour early, I hung out with the show's promoter, who also happens to be a friend of mine, and helped my homey Jeremy Orris (now drumming for Envirusment) load in his gear. The show got off to a late start – albeit by only a few minutes – and first on stage was Knightfall. I'd seen this band once before a few years ago while Joy and I still lived in Reno, and I knew their drummer as well from when he'd sold me a boatload of gear while working at the local Guitar Center. Their music is very nice – kinda symphonic, a wee bit of prog in their take on metal, and considering that this was the band's first show in nearly a year, and from what I'd heard, they'd only had three days of rehearsal prior to the show. Despite that, they sounded excellent, and had grown quite a bit since the last time I'd heard them.

Next up was Envirusment, the band Jeremy had joined over the summer. I'd met the guys since, even sat in on a rehearsal at the band's invitation to critique them. So I was familiar enough with their music, even if I didn't even really know the names of the song's themselves. I was just tickled that the band looked at me as an equal if not better, even though what I do with either of my cover bands is a million miles away from what they do as original artists.

But while he wasn't in a foul mood, Jeremy wasn't a happy camper tonight. He'd blown a tire on his SUV while at work – he's the Metal Mailman of South Lake Tahoe – and since his rig is an all-wheel-drive Subaru, that means all four tires have to be replaced. And then there was the split head on his kick drum. While fortunately he uses a double-layer head on his kick drum, it's only a matter of time before he breaks both layers, and there's another fifty to sixty bucks down the drain. On the whole, Envirusment's set was good, but the instrumental mix felt a little muddy to me, though the singer's air-raid vocals cut through everything like a hot knife through through butter.

With the local bands done, up came the bands of the “Long Live Heavy Metal West Coast Tour.” For the record, “Long Live Heavy Metal” is the title of Three Inches of Blood's latest album. We'll get to them in a minute. The first of these bands, third overall, was a bands I had never heard of before, Hookers. I believe that they're from Kentucky, but I shall have to confirm that later. Their set was a staccato blast of one short, concise song after the other, reminiscent of the 'crossover' bands of the 80's like early Suicidal Tendencies, Sacred Reich, and Dirty Rotten Imbeciles. The thing that got me about the band was their drummer's kit – very modern Mapex toms and snare, but an ancient Ludwig kick drum with no spurs on it. The only thing that drummer had to keep his kick drum in place was the gig-rug the house provided, which has a small reinforced lip on one side, the function of which is to keep kick drums from wandering away. And the way their drummer was playing, if that rug wouldn't have been there, that drum would've been watching the show at the cabaret in the nearby John Ascuaga's Nugget by the end of their set. Let's just say that their drummer was just as much of an animal on his equipment as his bandmates were on theirs.

The last of the support bands was also the band that had, in my opinion, something to prove to me. Highland Park, CA's Huntress have been heavily promoted since landing a record deal, and most of that promotion, and the controversy I'd been reading about on music forums around the internet, focused largely on lead singer Jill Janus. Endless harping about her vocal talents, promotional shots in revealing outfits have led a lot of people to brand Janus and her bandmates as knock-offs of another similar-looking band, In This Moment, whose singer's penchant for wearing clothes onstage that show off her not-inconsiderable assets has come at the cost of a lot of snickering from more traditional metal fans. I actually saw Ms. Janus wandering around in the alley behind the club shortly after I'd made my own entrance. Very hot she is, but also quite thin (by the way – if you're reading this, I totally dug the giant Immortal patch on your jacket, Jill – fuck yeah!). And she looked pretty stressed out, so I chose to not approach her and thank her for bringing her band to Reno.

Sometimes it's not a bad idea to buy into the press clippings. Janus is a fucking banshee of a singer. It's almost kinda hard to imagine such a powerful voice coming from her. But she had the crowd in the palm of her hand from the minute she took the stage, and front-and-center was Envirusment's singer Stephen, in full fanboy mode, singing along to all of her songs – she even handed him the mic at one point, let him take a line. Probably the highlight of the night for him. Huntress' music territory was an homage to the more occult-themed bands of the 80's, with the most obvious influences were Danish black-metal progenitors Mercyful Fate, and the subsequent solo career of that band's lead singer, King Diamond. And I also noticed the small pentacle-and-moons necklace Janus wore onstage – I'd assumed from the band's lyrical and visual themes that someone in the group was a Pagan. Now I'm all but absolutely sure that Janus is a Pagan of some sort. After the show I called Joy to tell her about the show, and mentioned that I thought she might like Huntress. And after I told her about Janus' necklace, and that I was pretty fucking sure that she was a Pagan, Joy told me she'd give them a listen.

A quick digression for a moment. I've always seemed to notice that female-fronted bands have more loyal and passionate followings at the shows I go to. This was something I noticed at the very first show I ever went to here in Reno, the “Revolver Magazine's Hottest Chicks In Metal Tour” in the summer of 2007. Four bands, all with female lead or co-lead singers – Stolen Babies (a band that I absolutely adore), Savannah, GA sludge-merchants Kylesa, and Dutch symphonic-metallers Within Temptation, with Italian goth-metallers Lacuna Coil headlining. That show was quite an experience for me, because it gave me a full understanding of Stolen Babies' completely unique style of music – what they themselves call 'cabaret-metal' – and showed me just how good a frontwoman Lacuna Coil's Cristina Scabbia is. That woman really knows how to work an audience, how to make a person feel like you're the only person in the room that she's singing to. But what struck me most was the reception for Within Temptation. Here's a band that I had never heard of before learning about the tour, and that as far as I knew was making their first (and to date only) appearance in Reno. And when the band came out, singer Sharon den Adel received flowers from several fanboys (and a few fangirls) before putting on an act that I could only describe as 'Stevie Nicks gone metal', although what I remember most is the band's keyboard player clearly faking it – pretending to play along to the band's sequences. I could clearly see the man's hands not moving in time with any particular line of music that I was hearing. To be quite honest, this guy shouldn't even have been on stage – hell, he shouldn't have even come into the country in the first place. Okay, that wasn't exactly 'quick'. On to the headliners!

The headliners were, of course, Vancouver, BC's Three Inches of Blood. Their supercharged take on traditional metal – imagine if Judas Priest were kids today, not forty years ago – has been something I've liked pretty much from the get-go, and their themes of glorious battle and love of all things Metal in nature almost remind me of the Viking Metal subgenre led by Swedish stalwarts Amon Amarth. And the band had recently received a substantial upgrade in the form of renowned bassist Byron Stroud joining the group after a stint with cyber-metal pioneers Fear Factory. Stroud's Vancouver roots run pretty deep, as he was also the bassist in Devin Townsend's Strapping Young Lad and the side-projects Zimmer's Hole and Tenet with SYL guitarist Jed Simon and drummer-for-everybody Gene Hoglan. 3IOB's roughly eighty-minute set was a total blast, and the band played their best known songs as well as deeper album cuts, and even threw in a couple of curveballs in the form of suddenly sliding into a section of “Heaven and Hell” from Dio-era Black Sabbath, and not one but two quick Rush tributes, paying homage to the latest inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by throwing snippets from “By-Tor And The Snow Dog” and “Tom Sawyer” into their songs. All in all, they played a thoroughly enjoyable set, and the show as a whole was a blast. Too bad that so few people came to see it.

I'm not entirely sure if a lot of people knew that this show was coming. Whenever I buy tickets for a show in Reno, I usually get them at my favorite record store there, Recycled Records. But when I went to get a ticket for this show, two problems presented themselves. The first was like this – where the fuck did they go? A few years back they'd consolidated their two stores into one, located in a strip mall at the intersection of Moana and Kietzke Lanes. But their business suffered as construction tore up the intersection – Moana Lane was widened from South Virginia Street to US-395/I-580, and a completely new freeway interchange put into place. So the store's owners threw up the white flag and moved once again just recently to a new location in Reno's MidTown district, on the 800 block of South Virginia Street. And apparently, not a lot of people knew about the move to these new digs, because local promoters suddenly weren't showing up with show ticket for them to sell. And apparently The Alley was among those who didn't know, for when I asked if they'd had tickets for this show, they just looked at me funny. They'd never even heard that this show was coming to town, so of course they didn't have any tickets for the show. I told them that it was no big deal, since I knew the promoter and I figured that he'd have a ticket stashed away for me. They asked me who the promoter was, and when I told them that it was my buddy Josh Lease's Borndead Productions that was promoting the show, they perked right up and told me that they liked him – in their words, he was one of the few promoters in town that really seemed to care about getting the word out about shows and getting tickets sold. I later found out that Josh was only kinda-sorta promoting the show, and that The Alley was doing most of the work themselves. Which suddenly explains a lot.

But I don't want to end this post on a down note. It was a great show, and I had a great time, and I discovered a few new bands that I will have to explore in greater depth in the days to come. And as always, you shoulda been there.