I last saw The Buddy Lush Phenomenon at the Grand Emporium twenty-odd years ago. Probably with Parlay. Time sure flies. Anyway, for some unknown reason Buddy Lush (aka Jon Paul) decided to ride again. At the 403 Club. At 5pm. On a Monday. Talk about an inauspicious return to the stage. There wasn’t even a stage! So rather than write up some grandiose 2500-word bullshit about the band’s first show in a decade, I’ll just make it quick.
When I walked in Lush was seated on a stool with an electric guitar in hand, a microphone located at his right ear that he had to turn to reach, and two small amps on chairs to his left – one for this guitar, the other for his vocals. A high-top bar table partially obscured him from the room. Soon he’d disappear almost entirely behind a wall of empty bottles and glasses. I was only there for an hour, but that was enough for six shots of whiskey and a shot of whatever the hell Slim bought him. I won’t count the beers. He was joined by regular drummer Chip Sage. Only Sage doesn’t play regular drums. Plastic bucket in a milk crate for a snare. Plastic bucket on a snare stand for a tom. Plastic wash tub for a kick drum. Tiny ride, cymbal, and hi-hat. Those were real. Just small. Bassist Brock Ginther was there too. He was also sitting down. Old guys. Sitting down. Playing a no-cover reunion show at 5pm in the afternoon at a dive bar in Kansas. And I was there. And so were twenty or so others. Mostly grizzled guys with either long hair or no hair. A lot of hand tattoos. Hard luck, rolling dice tattoos. Same crowd that that would have been at that show twenty-odd years ago.
I was only there for an hour. I heard a dozen songs that Lush and Sage worked to remember. I didn’t remember any of them. Were they all covers, all Buddy Lush originals, songs from his stints in other bands like Sin City Disciples? Hell, I don’t know. It was a bunch of songs that were in search of a roadhouse. Vintage rock and roll that leaned to the swampy side. A few kinda bluesy. A few really good ones that could have been released on Homestead or SST records in 1985. Maybe they were. Some songs were serious, some were just drunken tomfoolery. By request Lush and his merry men borrowed the final notes of “Aqualung” so he could croon “aquaduct” instead. Then he did it again for “Aquavelvet.” And for “Aqua Net.” When the band got tired of borrowing, they stole. Every song ended with the same metal riff. Maybe it was from “Master of Puppets,” but I’ll be damned if I’m going to go bother to look it up. Anyway, you know that law of comedy that says the more you do something the less funny it gets, until you do it an obscene number of times and then it gets funny all over again. Then this was funny as shit.
Comedy played a big part in the set. Lush doesn’t get to do banter when he’s sitting behind the kit with Hipshot Killer. Maybe they don’t give him a microphone on purpose. But here he was quipping left and right. The sort of old jokes that Dangerfield borrowed from older vaudevillians but delivered with a Letterman impishness. “Is this an audience or a firing squad?” “I didn’t come here to be insulted / I go home for that.” “Any requests? / Sorry, we’re going to keep playing.” Those and others each repeated throughout the set. If you don’t’ know those jokes, you’re too young. The audience knew them. And they tossed back their own. Sometimes playing the straight man to set up Lush and Sage, egging them on. Sometimes the peanut gallery was an actual twelve-year-old boy. Sometimes that was just what it seemed like. There were bad decisions being made with fun in mind and acceptable consequences.
At 6pm I had to go. Another show. One with considerably more pomp, and one that would be unquestionably less fun than watching Lush hang out with his friends, crack wise, and occasionally play a song with the revived The Buddy Lush Phenomenon.