Cut and Run
It was 2:20 on a Saturday afternoon in downtown Miami. A bluish-gray blanket of clouds covered Bicentennial Park. It was only a matter of time before this year's Warped Tour became yet another run-for-cover rain dance. That's probably why the kid out front was so damned pushy about hawking his band's CDs.
"We're a band from western Massachusetts, and we're trying to find out if our band sucks or not," he told me, offering me a CD player with headphones for a sample listen. But Grouch Pompano declined. I wasn't even through the front gate, I'd already been offered a dozen Miami Heat T's, and I was sure this guy would eventually hit me up on MySpace anyway. So I mumbled something in grouch-speak and kept walking. But why was I in such a shitty mood? Was it the weather? Lack of sleep? Did they run out of green peppers at Pompano Pizza? Nah, this was more a simple case of pride pride and laziness. You see, I'd been spoiled in previous years, living so close to the Warped Tour's long-running venue, the Pompano Beach Amphitheatre. There, the walk from my car to the front gate takes longer than the drive back home. But no more. The tour has pulled out of Pompano and into Miami, where parking not only sucks but you gotta pay for it. The change in venues was a space issue, according to the tour's head honcho, Kevin Lyman. So Fats wanted to see if a little extra elbow room was worth the drive. But first, I had other matters to attend to, namely, finding where the action was.
Reading over the various bands and stages listed in the show schedule, it was obvious where I had to start the "Teddy Bear" stage, where the Casualties, a gritty street-punk band from New York City, were halfway into their set. Yes, the Teddy Bear stage. The irony was intended, I'm sure. And it got worse. Within five minutes, I spotted my first pit casualty, a raggedy-looking guy with a mohawk being helped onto a stretcher by a couple of paramedics. The dude was in pretty bad shape and the irony kept coming.
"If somebody falls down, pick him up," shouted the Casualties' Liberty-spiked vocalist, Jorge. "We're all the same here." Well, except for the guy who's on his way to the E.R.
Before I moved on to the next stage, I couldn't help indulging in a little nostalgia, remembering the first time I saw the Casualties. It was July 1996, at a basement show in Chatham, New Jersey, where my former band, the Mute-Ants, somehow ended up playing on our first tour. I mulled over that juxtaposition for a few moments, recalling the site of these four chaos punks playing at some posh home in the suburbs (until the cops came, of course). You could say the Casualties have paid some dues over the years. And so has the tour itself, for that matter, which brings me to this change-of-venue situation.
As much as it pains this Pompano boy to admit, Lyman was right to change locations. Bicentennial Park has loads more open space (and hills!), and it's set up like a giant traffic circle of sorts, which comes in handy once the rain starts (which it eventually did). Plus, the park is adjacent to the Intracoastal, allowing for a quiet time-out, chillin' by the waterfront. Well, if you're sitting in the right place, that is.
"You're going to have to move; you can't sit on the ledge," a security staffer repeated to the several small throngs relaxing along the seawall. Slowly and grudgingly, they got up and moved two feet onto the grass. But the guard was forgetting something: These kids are punk. Whatever you tell 'em to do, they'll do the exact opposite. Sure enough, the kids were back on the wall 15 seconds later a subtle middle finger to the man, even if he's just some working dude in a security uniform.
I almost felt bad for the security guys. I haven't seen anyone that horrified by loud music since... well, since the time the neighbors called the cops on us in New Jersey. Noise? Man, you don't know nothin' about noise. And you probably never heard Life in the So-Called Space Age.
I couldn't see exactly who said it, though it could have been anyone most people don't get noise bands, you know.
"It's a fuckin' joke! They can't even fucking play!" the voice shouted as LISCSA stumbled through its 20-minute set at Ray's Downtown (519 Clematis St., West Palm Beach). Sheesh, I thought, some people just can't appreciate art.
I was standing outside, talking to Jared Cole, who booked a mixed bag of performers for the show jam bands, metal bands, singer/songwriters, hip-hop artists, etc. My train of thought was suddenly derailed when I saw a guy whose beard could cover Dolphin Stadium. The beard was, of course, a fake, as were the mustaches on his polyester-clad bandmates. The noise was plenty real, though. The band's set was a karaoke-style assault on really bad wedding songs. Imagine Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" with Charlie Brown's teacher on vocals and the eerie sounds of a theremin shrieking over everything like an electric banshee. It was like a scrambled TV set toggling between The Twilight Zone and The Wedding Singer. Between the blinding light-bulb helmet worn by keyboardist/DJ Blacki Migliozzi and the cartoonish vocals of the (faux) bearded Chris Bell, I wasn't sure exactly what I was witnessing.
"We've gone through a few phases as a band," theremin player George Bechtel said. "[We've been a] purely noise unit, a slightly more polite jam band, and a wedding cover band."
And now, they'll be a new band Bearcow. Yep, this was the band's last show as Life in the So-Called Space Age. The name may have changed; the weirdness won't. Bearcow's already tested the waters with a live gig on 6/6/6.
"We had a satanic tri-tone jam, a jam in F-minor with tuned water glasses, and did an old-school-style rap with Daniel Johnston lyrics," Bechtel said. That's almost as weird as Life's tumultuous set at Mars Music's "Sounds of the Future" concert in 2002.
"We had two guys one in a luchador wrestler mask putting each other into headlocks and taking turns screaming into a microphone," Bechtel said. "There were some elderly people who complained about the racket. [Overall, though,] we've never really been met with any serious opposition. People just leave."
Bummer. But hey at least they weren't carried away on a stretcher.
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