Note: It should go without saying, but you'll see and hear and read some naughty things whenever The Mentors are involved. So umm "18+" and "trigger words" and all that.
There's an awful lot that can be said about The Mentors. Some of it is the classic story of shock rock; some is the heady examination of whether one can satirize victims from a position of power; some is the story of aging rockers; and then there's even a musical component to the band. Do you have time to read a 15,000-word think piece? No? Well, I don't have time to write one, so you're in luck.
The Record Bar was nearly empty at 8:00, and the few patrons present were definitely not there to see the headliner. But the real news isn't who was there, but rather who wasn't – the three members of The Mentors. As I paid my $10, I asked the door man what would happen if the band didn't make it. He quipped "Then you'll see two local bands." I suppose there's always that.
Opening the night was Lawrence, Kansas' Wayne Pain & the Shit Stains. While the band's name alone should have told me everything I needed to know, I still hunted the web for confirmation moments before the show. The results of my hunt – a live video of the band performing with soiled underwear on their heads and a SoundCloud-hosted demo that sounded like it was recorded on a cell phone – confirmed my suspicions. For this set, the audience was spared the adorned underwear, as frontman Wayne Pain instead opted to steal the headliner's thunder by wearing an identity-concealing ski mask (adorned with an inverted crucifix) and a vest opened to his bare chest – nearly the uniform of The Mentors in their prime. During the band's quick twenty-minute set, Pain led the four-piece band through a slurry of punk and metal with lyrics rife with scatological references. The vocals of the second guitarist provided some variation from Pain's gruff barks, while the rhythm section (which included gal-about-town Halliday Bertram on bass) remained hidden in the dark shadows both musically and literally. I was just starting to get my bearings when the band ended its set unceremoniously and left the stage.
After a tactical delay, All Blood took the stage at 9:00. A real buzz has started to form around this local quartet, so I was excited to witness its skewed art punk in person. A bit of pre-show research revealed that several members had done time in the psych rock band The Conquerors, yet I wasn't prepared for just how much '60s garage rock forms the skeleton of All Blood's sound. And while the band may be anchored by the nostalgic organ hits of Justin Baird, it's the furious '77-style punk rock power chords from guitarist Jonathan Brokaw that push the band's sound forward. But just when I thought I understood the binary of the band's art brut sensibilities, the rhythm section tossed in an odd Zappa-esque break. With only a 25-minute set I suppose I wasn't able to get my head around the entirety of the band's vision.
As All Blood neared the end of its ten-song set, the three scruffy members of the headlining band showed up carting in gear and stacking it in the corner. Someone on stage (possibly drummer Zach Campbell) announced, "Thanks to The Mentors for...", then he stopped for a deafening pause as if to think of a single thing that anyone should thank The Mentors for. Ultimately he continue with an unsure "let's say, showing up?" Punctuation can never do comedy justice, but the joke and its timing were brilliant.
After a quick sound check, The Mentors were ready to go. Some background is necessary, particularly since the band itself is keen to capitalize on its longevity. The band formed in the mid '70s in Seattle, though didn't gel until several years later when its three members moved to LA. Always an odd man out in the LA scene, the band were too punk for the metal scene, and too metal for the punk scene. This outsider status informed the band's cartoonishly misogynistic lyrics and stage persona. The band toiled in relative obscurity until Tipper Gore brought the band to prominence during the PMRC music labeling debacle, demanding that the band's rhyming lyrical couplets such as "I'm a peeping, I'm a peeping Tom/I'm peeping, peeping on your Mom" and "My woman from Sodom/She let's me fuck her bottom" were destroying the youth of America. Things were quiet again until the mid '90s when the band's original drummer and vocalist, El Duce, announced that Courtney Love had attempted to pay him to murder Kurt Cobain. When El Duce was found dead days later, suddenly everyone was talking about The Mentors again. The band quickly regrouped without El Duce (ultimately replacing him with reasonable facsimile Marc DeLeon, now christened Mad Dog Duce), and that is where we are today – nearly 40 years later, with two original members, and a chip on the band's collective shoulders.
The set began with "Sandwich of Love" from the band's debut album You Axed For It, then continued to highlight many of its early career gems including "Golden Showers," "Woman from Sodom," and "Free Fix," before wrapping up with "Four F Club." Songs were performed loose with lots of noise. Guitarist Sickie Wifebeater (Eric Carlson) soloed heavily throughout the set, bending strings, finger tapping, and playing solos in his signature style that involves his left fretting hand reaching over the neck from above. During these extended interludes bassist Dr. Heathen Scum (Steve Broy) had trouble keeping the songs together. Musically it was a bit of a fiasco, but no one goes to see The Mentors for a tight musical performance.
As one might expect, 40 years of hard living has taken its toll on the members of The Mentors. Sickie arrived at the venue drunk (or worse) and barely made it through the set. Frequently he'd step on his tuning pedal by mistake, and then be flummoxed by the muted audio. Or he would accidently unplug his guitar and not realize the root cause of the silence. After the set he pulled off his executioner's hood and collapsed in corner of the stage. A fan begged Sickie for an encore, even offering to buy him a beer if he'd get back up to play another song. Mad Dog retorted sharply that beer was actually the problem, and the fan was merely "offering water to a drowning man." Heathen hasn't faired much better. Before the set he disappeared, leaving Mad Dog and Sickie on stage awkwardly idle. When the soundman asked where the bassist was, his bandmates were noncommittal. Throughout the set Heathen was discombobulated. He had once quit the band to pursue his engineering degree, but on this night, he had trouble even stringing cohesive thoughts together. Odd, disjointed barbs directed at the rumored show protesters that never came, and other bands that haven't survived as long as The Mentors didn't land at all. His attempts at shocking the audience were pointlessly convoluted, earning him the audience's pity rather than scorn. Ironically it was only Mad Dog that was able to keep The Mentors spirit alive, telling the Sunday night audience that the band had just come from playing a benefit for a church – the (notoriously bigoted) Westboro Baptist Church. This elicited cheers and chuckles from the handful of Mentors fans present, and discomfited groans from the All Blood fan base that had stuck around to see the promised spectacle for themselves. Sadly (or not) the audience didn't see debauchery. El Duce is dead, Sickie is truly sick, and Heathen's mind is addled. There's little show left in The Mentors, but just as the doorman promised, at least I got to see two local bands.