Chapter 8 hot and cold skulls in Spartanburg South Carolina
Oh I remember this gig. This was a classic. It was the last day of January, 2000. That means the Atlanta gig was around January 14 or so. This was the last night I saw of the “veterans of disorder” tour. I’m not gonna name the club but when I describe it you’ll know where I’m talking about. Like the Mary Celeste, Lenore the imaginary hooker of Baltimore and Judge Crater-this club still exists. I don’t want it to go away, I just wish that I didn’t have go there in the first place.
The club is a huge one story building shaped like an octagon on a parking lot filled with gravel that kick up when you accelerate. There’s plenty of different rooms for different size metal bands. It’s on an industrial stretch of back road far from the interstate. I had lost my bank card that day so I’m driving around this neighborhooded with like a half a yard on me. A cop followed me briefly and I pulled into a Piggly Wiggly. They knew where I was heading. Lost white people in that part of town could only be interested in either buying drugs or going to the metal club. And if you were buying drugs you wouldn’t need to ask for directions. I still wasn’t sure if I had the right place. The building looked very dark. As I was walking towards what I thought was the door three waterheads approached and asked if I had weed. My paranoia was not intact until I opened the door with a jerk and saw a bar.
Then I got to the bar and met a jerk. The promoter was surly. He told me that they haven’t called and this and that.
-Well they never show up before 10:30.
“Well the show starts at ten I hadda turn 20-30 people away cos I’m not gonna collect money from people if they’re not here yet.” I didn’t want to tell him that ten thirty is in the contract and yelling at me wasn’t gonna change anything. Where do they find these fucking people? He turned twenty to thirty people away on a cold Monday in Spartanburg, I didn’t know there were twenty to thirty people IN Spartanburg, South Carolina. South Carolina is where, as my friend Morgan likes to say, the earth starts to curve.
I asked for a beer and I talked to a history teacher drinking from a flask. A flask in a bar, jeezus, isn’t that a bad sign? The vibe there was helter stupid. I guess when you’re the only metal club for miles you can act like you’re doing me a favor by staying open. Gee thanks, thanks again. I saw the van with the Jughead balloon in a gravel storm. I greeted Jennifer and Dan at the door. When they saw my face they knew something was wrong and they debated playing the gig at all. Dan wanted to go back to the hotel.
-Well can I come? Jennifer laughed. Then I saw Neil with a long papyrus like scroll contract talking to the surly promoter. Jennifer dared me to carry my teddy bear to the bar to buy a drink. Of course I did. Neil leaned down to talk to my ear.
“I want you to count every single person in here.”
Once it was settled and they were gonna play things calmed down. Jennifer sat on a couch and we talked about the Primaries. Some cute chicks brought some Calvin Klein ads for Jennifer to sign. One of ‘em said that the model next to JJ looked like Jon Spenser. Neil was walking by at the same time and he chimed in perfectly.
“I won’t even go there.” I laughed outrageously. JJ motioned to me and in a sotto voice told me that in real life the model was an asshole.
I counted 36 people. The incense behind the drums kicked in and they played “shaker life”. “Waterpark” and then when it got to the slow song “stop” they skipped it. The vibe was too charged to slow things down. Neil said “it’s all rock” and they were going through the album in a hurry, it was rowdy. My notes suggest that Neil’s solo was mournful and Jennifer put her poncho hood up. “Where’s the heater?” It was cold in there. They did “witch’s tit” with a long intro and Chris playing the xylophone. “Hot on the side of the ocean.” A fucking ferocious “yo se!”. That is the song, the rhythms of that are so hypnotic. I heard “junkie nurse” which is a song I never cared for-they liked it so whatever. I think it’s like the first Royal Trux song anyone ever heard so they play it out of a sense of ‘at least they played junkie nurse’. I wish they woulda played “stevie”. You can blame that on the atmosphere.
There were two annoying photographers one with a flash in his left hand. Later someone sent me a full set of contact photos of this gig printed on small stickers. Why would someone print a show on tiny stamp sized stickers? Where do they find these people? Henry Owings says that Royal Trux fans are the most hoodwinked ever. I’m going through an eighteen inch Tupperware box, like the kind they count third world ballots in-this box is all the debris from the tour. Jeezus, there’s the new years card. I’m looking forward to those stupid stickers taken at this gig.
Jennifer says: “bradly will stay to the end.” But I don’t know what the fuck this note means. Chris was clanking on some stuff and it was a long drum intro to “deafer than blind” and Jennifer caught my eye and smiled. Neil was furious and if Neil is furious everyone else should at least be perturbed. They did the usual intense “morphic resident” with Neil kneeling during the drum soloing tuning-a kid in the audience yelled “air” and the crowd of 36 was enjoying it-they did one of my favorites: “hot & cold skulls”-later Ken Nasta had the beat while Pyle blew the flute and the final jam on “blue is the frequency” was fucking majestic. The drumming was so in time and Neil can really bend those notes when he wants to-not only that, somewhere he picked up a toy trombone and was blowing into THAT.
After the set everybody was spent and sprawling on these couches in the middle of the club. I told Neil that the show was harder and faster.
“That’s cos we’re cold and tired-another 100 miles!” and Neil mimed slamming his guitar to much laughter. A kid asked Neil if they were playing Columbia on Wednesday.
“Columbia? Columbia South Carolina? Do you think we’d ever play Columbia South Carolina? Nah we’re playing in Columbus Ohio on Wednesday.”
I made a confused face cos I had the itinerary and I saw ‘em in Columbus Ohio a few months past. I leaned over to Jennifer.
-I thought you were playing in Columbia on Wednesday?
“We are.” She leaned back in her red vinyl chair and continued in a hushed tone. “Neil doesn’t like people knowing where we are.” I let that sink in for months. A touring band that doesn’t want people to know where they are. Once Dan told me that Royal Trux was like lazy espionage. In the next breath he called Neil & Jennifer’s house “HQ”. My head was starting to spin after all the cigarettes and coffee.
I asked Neil if I could ask a favor. “Yeah if it doesn’t involve money I’m weird about that.” I told him I lost my visa card and I didn’t know if the squaliday inn would take cash this late. I asked if I could get on his tab if I gave him the cash immediate. Dan said they had LOTS of vacancies. He didn’t say yes or no. I followed the blue van to an all night take out place, a Miami subs and after they placed their orders Neil called out-doncha want any food?”
-Naah. I just need a nap, man.
When we got there the chick said it wasn’t necessary, they’d take my cash. It was really nice of Neil to do that. I was touched by his caring if I got any food. It seemed to me like the Spartanburg gig was some sort of slugfest and I was tired. Neil told me that he was real superstitious about gigs and he didn’t want any diversions from the norm. I respect that cos I’m superstitious myself.