18 February 2007

Beware The SCOTS flying fried chicken breast

For the first time in many years, I have to report that I have been injured 'in the line of duty' at a musical event. You'd think with my many years of following Southern Culture on the Skids (hereafter referred to as The SCOTS), I would understand how the basic dynamic of the shows can (and frequently does) carry on. Apparently not, for the right side of my temple is now harbouring a freakishly-earned burn and bruise from Thursday's show at The Front Street Music Hall in Wilmington.

Firstly, as several others and myself learned a bit too well, when the Front Street Music Hall says 'doors open at 9pm', that's more of a suggested time frame...it's more like 9:45pm. While Wilmington in the winter is never anything to complain about, with a gusty wind off the water (Front Street is located in the historical area of Wilmington and, as such, sets immediately adjacent to the Cape Fear River) and most of us wearing only light to medium weight jackets, we all came away with a new appreciation for bringing a parka and gloves next time...just in case. (I later overheard the delay was caused by the arrival of the opening act's van full of instruments.) Essentially, The Music Hall's a good venue (with two levels, a bar on each), painted black with that neon-glow paint that makes you think you're cruising a set on "CSI". As I found out quick enough, the bar was just that with no food options whatsoever, and after having a disastrous meal at Fat Tony's (which has now lost any and all support from me now or in the future), that news was disappointing. No nachos, no hot dogs, no potato chips/crisps...nada.

(While Fat Tony's takeaway tiramisu was wonderful, it could never make up for an inattentive wait staff...complete with their unknown urge to keep playing with the dining room light dimmer...nor could it for a very stale tasting pint of Smithwick's beer, nor for some of the most 'gluey' tasting angel hair pasta with Alfredo sauce I've ever had. As the final nail in the coffin, complaining about said pasta to the staff was pointless. I definitely left feeling angry and ripped off, and by the time I made it down to the Music Hall, I was really hungry. Thank God the bar at the Hall did have a tolerable beer to fill me up some, at least.)

The SCOTS' opening act, Da Howlies, was an interesting blend of music, although they were a bit hit and miss both with arrangements, song flow, and poor audio. They feature Hawaiian-style music, and front it on either side with a steel guitar and a standup bass, among a multitude of other instruments. They also seem to have a good founding in 1920s-1930s jazz and Carolina beach music, and have combined these sounds with the Hawaiian. It's not something I'd listen to everyday, mind you, but once a month or so could be quite pleasant. Contrary to what one would think with those genres, though, the drummer Paul Currier got quite the cardio workout...as he was standing and bending and circling his little space onstage in a setup I've actually never seen work successfully before. Chimes and bells up high, cymbals at normal height, all other drums below and more vertically situated than the standard horizontal. He also, somewhat amazingly, did background vocals on some songs. Given that the audio was poor and some lyrics were hard to make out, I invariably kept focusing on this fella, as he may be a contender for the Hardest Working Drummer in Hawaiian Jazz Beach music.

Da Howlies...the best in Hawaiian Jazz Beach music in Wilmington

I'm pretty sure I'd like to see them again with a better audio setup to make a fairer verdict, as the band seemed talented and pretty well honed...if for no other reason to actually hear the song the lead singer opened with: "Has anyone here ever had syphilis? This song celebrates that." Not something you hear every day as an opener, but unfortunately once the steel guitar kicked in, no one could hear anything other than that...let alone the song itself.

Thankfully, no such audio problems existed for The SCOTS. Lead guitarist and singer Rick Miller, drummer Dave Hartman and magnificent Mary Huff have rarely, if ever, had any audio or visual obstacles that they couldn't overcome. Partly this expertise comes from playing together for so long...and to a devoted core of a fan base that will truck hundreds of miles to see them...and so well as the tight threesome they are today. They have perfected the 'if ain't broke, don't fix it' routine of live performance. They understand their fan base and they remember where they've come from. They understand that tickets and merchandise should be affordable. They take their musicianship seriously, but they also know it's also all about having one's tongue planted firmly in cheek. The music should be good, but it should also be fun and audience-participatory. And The SCOTS have that down cold.

Now for those of you who have missed out on the Southern country retro/white trash/rockabilly/psychobilly/guitar-driven groups that make up the 'family tree' that The SCOTS and so many other great bands 'belong' to (such as The Reverend Horton Heat, The Legendary Shack Shakers, The Drive-By Truckers, etc), let's review:

  • the 'light show', 'dance routine', and/or other bullshit known with most major acts these days is generally non-existent because it's not needed, as the music does the work for them;
  • as much as the band works entertaining the crowd, the crowd works just as hard entertaining themselves...the fans are not a sedentary group, and generally can be found dancing or cheering from beginning to end;
  • alcohol consumption is not only done in fairly copious amounts everywhere, but it's also fairly well encouraged (read: since you're going to be dancing, it's best to know your limits before the show);
  • the shows are full of some of the most interesting characters you'll ever meet...some will scare you, some will make you laugh, some will make you fall in love, some will borrow your last $20 and then lose it on a stupid bet (and that may all be the same person)...and they're generally the people your Mama warned you about;
  • attire to these things can be pretty damn diverse, too, and tends to become optional as the night and the songs wear on...it's all about comfort, after all...and bras have been as easily kicked off as shoes in many a gig I've attended;
  • claustrophobes and 'social prudes' may have to be slowly indoctrinated, as these are the type of shows where low cut blouses with push-up bras and stilettos or slightly overstuffed cut and too-tight blue jeans can be in great quantity; and
  • dances like 'The Southern Pogo' (like the up-and-down pogo dance of the punks of the 1970s, but instead of vertically jumping up into another person, you jump out and in horizontally until someone jumps back at you in the same way...the guys love this especially with the girls)...and 'The (Carolina) Shag' reigns supreme. (Although even the most uncoordinated dancer is welcomed, and thus how my first experiences came about.)

    That said, all of the above underscore a desire by everyone, from band and venue all the way down, to just have a damn good time. To make new friends, maybe, but generally to just forget about the crap of daily life and let loose for a few hours with like-minded people. To enjoy life a bit more than usual.

    And that's just what I was doing when I met The Chicken Breast.

    Now The SCOTS are known for having some non-traditional songs in their repertoire. One look at their discography only highlights this. Love lost may be lamented over a number of things, but it may just as likely be a Southern trailer park tradition as it is a ravishing blonde somewhere. One of my SCOTS favourite albums (actually it was my introduction to them, a bootleg copy a long-lost friend gave me eons ago) is "Too Much Pork for Just One Fork". On it, there is a classic song, albeit not a fave of mine, called "Eight Piece Box" (ed: live concert audio link, medium to high quality, scroll down the playlist if necessary) which truly is a love song celebrating the fried Southern chicken classic. Something tells me I may have to reconsider my evaluation.

    So, here I was, dancing like a few dozen other fools at the Music Hall and having a great ole time, having been dancing well in excess of an hour by then. Then Rick called for volunteers to come on stage. Now I was in the back (being tall, I try not to block other peoples' views, as that's a pet peeve of mine) near the mixing board and the sound man. Rick announces it's time for "Eight Piece Box" and that the crowd looks hungry. The stage volunteers now have clamoured up there and outnumber the band something like 3 to 1. Cheers abound as the chicken boxes are opened and the band starts up the song. My newly-made friends and I immediately restarted our attempts to cut loose while simultaneously looking cool. I took a few pics, strapped the camera to my wrist, and then proceeded to dance, my back to the stage. Life was good.

    Moments before the chicken missiles rained down. The SCOTS with devoted fans onstage for "Eight Piece Box".

    Little did I know the sound man was waving for his meal like there was no tomorrow. And soon, as if some Monty Python-esque outtake from the Blitz, it was raining meat. Greasy, hot, fried chicken meat, to be exact. Hopelessly trying to get to the sound man, but falling many, many feet short and into the audience instead. The girls doing the throwing may have had the hearts of Florence Nightingale, but they had the 'chicken aim' of a drunken sailor.

    Well, as Rick was playing and singing (right), I feel certain one of these lovely lassies should *not* be taking up a career in professional baseball. My vote's on the gal holding the Hardee's box.

    Twhaaaack. And that sound, dear readers, was the last thing I heard by my right ear as my glasses went flying and my wig spun a bit around. And before all of my newly-made friends...who had looked nourished enough just seconds before...descended on my feet to grab said chicken missile. By the sounds they made, you'd think they had come to show semi-starving, too.

    But the chicken was the least of my problems at that moment. I am almost (it seems, anyway) blind 'as a bat' without my glasses, and it's a condition that's been increasing in strength since I was in my teens. Thanks to technology, the lenses are no longer as thick as they once were, but the prescription itself is very strong. I have a hard time telling males from females without my glasses, it's that bad. So after I had at least controlled my now grease-stained wig and brought it back to its semi-normal position, I was in desperate search for the glasses. And the glasses were...somewhere I could not find. A right hand got stomped in the search, a left shoe slipped on some discarded chicken skin. Eventually, when the song finally stopped, a Good Samaritan from New Bern, NC, found my glasses along a wall somehow and held them aloft, inspecting them with weird suspicion. I happened to see the glint from the lenses about the same time (as I was trying to make it to the sound man to see if he could make an announcement or something), and waved frantically from the floor. I can only imagine how sad I must have looked as he helped me from the floor...crawling around among the shredded chicken pieces, holding my now throbbing right up hand upwards in pain as I felt my way around the floor using my left. The first thing he did after helping me up was laugh, and laugh really, really hard. And then he helped me straighten my wig, which apparently I still had on sideways. And then helped me put on my glasses...and the right side was about a full inch higher than the left, but I could see.

    I was finally able to get him to stop laughing long enough for me to buy him a beer as thanks. I came back with ice wrapped on one hand and the beer in the other. The next couple of minutes I concentrated on 'eyeglass damage assessment' and with the help of a loaned lighter, was able to bend the frames back a bit (God bless plastic frames, once again). Just when I got them to a stable enough condition, I put them back on only to hear "Duck!" from Mr. New Bern...as a chicken leg grazed the top of my wig and bounced off the setup behind me. I still don't think the sound man ever got any food.

    I spent the rest of the show in relatively unharmed condition, near the back and near the intersection of two walls in case I had to 'feel' my way out. While I love The SCOTS, I was also pretty thankful when the show concluded just a little bit after the chicken assault. Already within about 30 minutes of my recovery, I had an additional throbbing headache coming on due to the new misalignment. I did get a chance, though, to get to talk to all three members and have them sign a poster from the show...although poor Mary looked a tad bit concerned as I kept pulling down on my glasses when I talked to her. But God Bless The SCOTS, too, nothing ever seems too outlandish for them, and I'm sure I was probably one of the more 'normal' ones who spoke with them that night.

    SCOTS autographed show poster from Front Street Music Hall. Drummer Dave (center) and Magnificent Mary (right) actually wore the same outfits as shown here.

    I could have made it a joke and it would have been funny, but I wasn't ready to laugh yet. Now I am and it shall make a good one for the next go-around at their show. Ahh, the sacrifices we fans make for the love of our music. You live for the music, you learn to duck to avoid flying grease.

    Now if I can just get this small, albeit a little painful, chicken breast grease mark on my right temple to heal so my glasses don't hurt so much...I'll be 'golden'.
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