Sunday August 25th, 2002 at the Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS
Hot Snakes, Beehive & the Barracudas, & The Gadjits
I expected the place to be packed. Not because Hot Snakes are great (which they are) or because their reputation is hot (which it is), their pedigree varified (Rocket from the Crypt, Drive like Jehu, Tanner, Pitchfork, The Delta 72s) or even because they could be placed into the genre du jour (which they can). I expected this show to be packed just because this was the first weekend after the start of the fall semester. Oh the magical weekend when the bars are packed and alcohol consumption moves to emergency room levels. Surely an all-weekend party continues through Sunday night as well? Not the case. It appears students are studious this year and The Bottleneck couldnt have had but 200 merrymakers confined within its hot interior.
There are, of course, important metrics (which I would love to discuss and youd abhor to read) around audience turn out and what must be met for survival. However let me give the shorter version: "less people is good." Without a packed house I can move about to get pictures, and with less people Ryan and I can get in a few games of pool before the opening band.
Around 9:30 and just before my 2nd straight loss, The Gadjits began their set. With the usual amount of swagger and humility, the band ran through a set of rock and roll songs written by the bastard children (which ones?) of Mick Jagger. The band continues to push hard towards the right, leaving the transitional Costello-pop for memories, and seemingly poised to abandon the soul portion of their "Rock and Soul Revival". With nearly half of the evenings set consisting of new and unreleased recordings, the band gave the distinct impression they intend on pulling their audience through yet another sonic shift. With more guitar growl than ever, The Gadjits seem ready to sneak up on the coattails of the current garage rock fashion trend. And why shouldnt they? With catchy songs, insane amounts of energy, raw power to spare, and a stage show honed since the members were too young for PG films, The Gadjits are 100% of what they should be and dead on their target.
A trickle of fans made their way into the club while The Gadjits performed and by the time the music ended, all the pool tables were claimed. With nothing else to do, I camped out at the front of the already-crowding stage. The audience was particularly enamored with Tracy Haze and created quite a bulge around the area where she worked to set up her synthesizer. When set up was complete, the stage looked a lot like it did a half hour earlier with a keyboard stage left giving way to guitar, drums, bass, & additional guitar.
There are those which surely love Beehive and the Barracudas, and if youre one of them, please write me as Ive yet to hear from one. Despite a pedagre to rival Hot Snakes (and one member in common), this project band won over few fans in Kansas City. The post-rock (sometimes post-music) leanings of the fivesome were at times curiously painful, other times, just painful. There were no crashing sounds or harsh grating guitars, and short of frequent tuneless single-note annoyances (which I alone felt were somewhat edgy and under-appreciated) there wasnt much to complain about. The dual vocals (provided by guitarists 'Dirty' and 'D ner') worked well and even the two guitars seemed to serve their purposes amiably (even if the purpose was, on occasion only to provide buzzing or whirring background). So why did everyone I meet have such a violent reaction? Im not sure, but I think Id like to take a stab at it: Indie rock has become homogenized and were all quite defensive about whom we give credit to. When someone takes the formula and tweaks it a little (or simply isnt able to live up to the prescription) it sets off alarms. Are The Cudas (as they preferred to be called) just 2nd rate hacks that cant get it right, fools and fuck-ups playing with something they ought not, or a band that believes off-kilter indie rock was still spinning too smoothly. After all, this is a band that seemed to be firing on 2.742222 of its cylinders and that has to be interesting. Doesnt it?
When BatB finished their too long (by all accounts) set, the waiting game began. Another game of pool (this time a threesome) lost and then back towards the stage to stand on tired feet. While Converse All-Stars may be the required dress code in many circles, I think everyone can agree they fail miserably at all the things a shoe should strive to be and do. With the exception of thwarting the basic "no shirts, no shoes, no service", they are abysmal. Possibly more painful than the arches All-Stars create is the forced glaciered slide from your current position in front of the speakers, towards the desired position in front of the vocalist. How to do this without pissing off the grrl who has been standing there for ten minutes longer than you, or at the very least, without making her think youre some creepy guy just trying score a glancing touch? Patience, and keen observation. Luckily there was still some floor space for rent, and my victim was kind, which means I had a decent vantage point before the headliner even took the stage.
Hot Snakes began their set fired up and continued to progress towards frenzy for a solid hour. It wasnt until the third or fourth song that the band stopped for introductions and tunings. Similar breaks may have only happened two or three times more throughout the evening. Typically guitarist John "Speedo" Reis kept his instrument humming between tunes and spurred the other members in before the audience even knew it was time to clap for a completed song.
Of course there were fans in the audience who were keen enough to catch the subtle ending strains of one song and separate those from the waxing tones of the next. These freaks stood out. They jumped, they hollered, they knew all the words, and they knew exactly what they came to hear. Many of them drove from Nebraska, Iowa and parts desolate and far to catch Hot Snakes, and these fans created the environment that elevated a merely good show, into a great one.
While the band was certainly criminal in their fury, it took the few devoted enthusiasts to really get the uninitiated or terminally subdued to dance. With a packed lot of 150 or so moving bodies, pounds of flopping black hair, countless flailing tattooed arms, and gallons of airborne sweat, the show became an event. The band seemed to recognize this (it may be a point they reach at each of their shows) and began playing to the audience. It was as if the crowd had earned the right for a good show, the right to be let into the inner circle of muscled guitars, thumping bass, and simple pounding drums. There werent rehearsed movements, choreographed jumps, or hackneyed microphone tricks; it was straightforward and honest rock & roll. It really couldnt get any simpler to make or harder to reproduce.