The Knees Have It

Friendly Fire rocks it as a four-piece.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. After months of onstage collaborations, the Friendly Fire and Pyrohypnotik camps have tied the knot — part of 'em, at least. Since Pyrohypnotik has been on hiatus, one-half of the group — drummer Rolls Royce and vocalist Jessi James — has all but officially teamed with Friendly Fire, the political glam-punk band from Pompano. Well, now it is official: They're in, joining FF's Stunner (guitar/vocals) and Kristal Van Hart (bass/vocals) after the unceremonious departure of drummer "Dirty" Dave Johns. Call it Friendly Pyro or Friendly Fire v.2, as it were. And all it took was a little knee surgery.

"We had a show at Ray's with Pyrohypnotik on Memorial Day weekend," Stunner explained to me over burritos at a Moe's Southwest Grill in Boca, where I met the new lineup a week ago. "We finished our set and were standing out front when Dave started up on me. He was really acting out and embarrassing us, so I blew my top and started really jawing at him. He flipped and grabbed me, and we tussled out in front of the bar, hockey style. My knee crumpled under me twice while this happened. We got pulled apart and went back in to pack up our gear. But we all had to ride home in my truck — that was weird. That night was actually the last time we've seen Dave; his drums are all still at my place."

A week after the Ray's show, Stunner had an MRI done of his knee, confirming that, indeed, that shit was screwed up (or, if you want to put it in medical terms, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament). After the MRI, Stunner said, it was clear that Johns was out of the picture. The problem was, where would they go from there?

"After the incident with Dave, it took a while to really get excited about doing band stuff again," Stunner said. "But since we'd become friends with Rolls and Jessi and were already collaborating with them, bringing them onboard was the obvious thing to do."

The two bands met in September 2005 while sharing a bill at the Orange Door in Lake Park. Even before the Ray's fiasco, it wasn't uncommon for Stunner to take the stage with the Pyro crew. Whether that contributed to Johns' final outburst, Stunner wasn't sure. But when the collaborations went behind the scenes — and started to involve songwriting — that's when things got serious.

"We were going to call ourselves the Sneakarounds because we were sort of cheating on our original bands," James said.

But first, they had to wait for Stunner's leg to heal after his surgery in early July. While the Stun Man's able to do all his old moves pain-free, it's not without a little orthopedic support — Stunner will wear a leg brace for the next several months, he told me. "It's got metal pieces at the top and bottom and Velcro straps," Stunner noted. "It's the kind football players wear." He was wearing jeans, so I had to take his word, if you know what I mean.

So that's what's on the outside — what about the inside?

"The ligament the doctor used to fix my knee came from a dead guy," Stunner said.

Creepy? Sort of. But that wasn't the worst part.

"My roommate in the hospital was pretty insane," Stunner added. "He had a TV on and would be yelling at it while I had to sit there and take it. At one point, a Chili's commercial came on, and he started singing, 'I want my baby back, baby back, baby back...' I couldn't push my morphine button fast enough."

Now, I've had my share of mishaps at gigs, but none was that bad — and I've injured myself plenty over the years. It's impossible to count how many times I've had my head slammed by a guitar, jumped off the stage and landed wrong, or banged up my knees doing the worm. I wish I could say that most of my accidents were alcohol-related, but it's not true. I'm just a klutz — or maybe it's because alcohol, in the large doses I once consumed, created a buffer zone that kept me out of harm's way.

Consider the 1997 Mute-Ants show at Happy Days, where I got into a wrestling match with Ryanus Rex, the other guitarist/vocalist. After he pushed me off the stage while I was trying to sing — not a tough task, considering how tipsy I was — I forgot about finishing the song and focused on making him pay. A minute later, I'd knocked his ass all over the drum set, which wasn't even ours — we borrowed the kit from the headlining, out-of-state band, John Cougar Concentration Camp. They didn't like that too much. But at least they had to sit through only four and a half songs. That's all we managed to squeeze out before our Royal Rumble-style explosion. It was a short set, no doubt. But at an impromptu Billy Boloby show at Dada this past May, it took me just 90 seconds to really screw myself up. It was the most physically damaging stage snafu I've experienced — and the most embarrassing to recount. Halfway through the first song, I realized my tambourine had been commandeered by a friend in the audience — a friend who's a tad larger than I. And when it came time for the tambourine part, I tried to commandeer it back. My friend was drunk; I wasn't. We wrestled over the instrument, and the next thing I knew, she (yes, she) had fallen on top of me, her knee firmly implanted in my rib cage. Three days later, an x-ray confirmed there was a fracture. It hurt like hell, but that wasn't the worst part — explaining all this to my doctor was as painful as the injury itself.

Still, my pain and medical expenses (and painkillers) were nothing compared to Stunner's. At least it wasn't another band member who landed on me. As Stunner said, "Nothing says creative differences like $40,000 worth of knee surgery."

 
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