©02 The Media Desk
[The following is FICTION, no actual group by said name exists, all other references are made without intent to defame or infringe on anybody or anything. It is based on the Desk's actual experience covering several bands in various configurations in its local area. Including one that was actually GOOD!!!]
That's the way I start my pieces every week. Hey there!
One of the ways I earn a couple of extra dollars a month is by keeping an eye, and an ear, on the local music scene for a local newspaper and talk radio station. Anything that claims to be live music, rock bands and country acts and folk singers on a stool with herbal tea, even karaoke and highbrow chamber music. If it is under the general heading of music, it's mine.
It's only a part time gig and I do it all for my weekly column and a Friday radio segment. I take the pictures, listen to the bands, tape interviews and sound bites, rate the food and drink at the club, even provide directions and prices for the websites.
Most of the people I talk to think I have about the third most glamorous job at the paper, right behind the restaurant critic and the social columnists that covers all the A-list parties. Some of the DJs say I get out more than they do. Truth be told, what I do is about an even split between being a lot of fun, and actually painful at times.
I am not complaining. Well, maybe I am a little bit.
I've been to a lot of seedy dives and listened to a lot of really bad bands and just plain horrible singers. I've gotten food poisoning and swilled enough flat beer and watered scotch to make me think about coving church socials instead. And then again, I've been to some great concerts by top flight groups. Last year I spent two days at a four star resort with one of those dance groups that make the teenagers scream, and later got to do a one on one interview over a fine dinner with a living country music legend. So in the balance, yeah, I like my part time job.
But this isn't about some aging cowboy singer. Or a pretty boy dance and sing group. Or about a lounge lizard that hadn't seen a sober sunrise in twenty years.
I'm writing about one group in particular that I've written up a few times in the last couple of years.
I'm not going to go into the four lesbians that do a Beatles tribute. I don't even want to talk about the rock band that was so stoned their drummer fell asleep during the first set and I was about the only one that noticed. There's no point in discussing a national touring act that got into a fistfight on stage because the singer forgot the words. I could tell about a great experience with a couple of groups that showed up at a field fire and did a concert on the back of a flatbed truck for the firefighters. Or the act that played a local college and told everybody that if they showed up at a blood drive the next day and brought their card back that night they'd be let in free for the concert. Then the next morning, the band was first in line at the blood bank.
The group I want to talk about is all that, and more.
Oh yes... lot's more.
The group is Rob's Falsies. That's right. Rob's Falsies. And no, Rob does not wear a padded bra (in fact, there is nobody in the band named Rob). And as far as I can tell the two female members do not wear them either.
It is a five member punk rock group. They do a mixture of covers of British punk and American grunge and some tribute/revival stuff, and some original stuff that's not bad. All in all, they cover enough range that if the audience tonight is into metal more than punk, they can get by. I've even heard them play some mainstream rock and roll from the eighties and do all right by it.
They all have stage names, and I will use them here to provide them some bit of anonymity since that's the way they want things. So their day jobs and homelife don't get confused with their night job.
Freize is the lead singer and plays rhythm and some lead guitar. On stage he usually wears the standard punk rock leather and metal stud outfit with an open vest that reveals his somewhat sunken chest. He is just over thirty years old, and has been playing music since high school.
Krok is Freize's brother. He plays, and grinds, the bass guitar and sings. He's a little older than his brother, but won't say by how much. He's shorter and heavier too. His costume is a mismatched collection of ill fitting punk wear he has collected on their travels. He has more of the musical talent genes of the family and does most of the arrangements and with his girlfriend, Starry, writes their original material.
Starry is the keyboardist and lead backup singer. Very pretty off stage, on stage she looks a bit scary in full regalia, some have even said that she is not a woman at all. I can attest to the fact that under all the paint, armor, lighting effects (her hair and costume light up) and snarl, she is a very nice looking woman.
Worm is the other guitar, singer, horn player, tambourine, and whatever else needs played. He is the only bona-fide music student in the bunch as well as the youngest and best-built member of the band. He loves groupies, literally, and plays to the crowd until they have to have extra security at some venues to keep his female, and some male, fans off stage.
Flame is the drummer. She is Freize's ex-wife, believe it or not, and on stage, they get along great. Although off stage, well, be glad they don't have any children to fight about. Her costume is well designed and you think you are seeing more of her than you actually are, with the added effect of being mostly hidden by the drums, some have said she's almost naked back there. Trust me, she's not.
For day jobs, one of them is a teacher in a private school, another works at bank, one does maintenance in a factory, another works part time, another stays home with kids.
As a band they have been together in basically this configuration for about five years so the group is mature, but they are not stale in any way. They rotate through a library of almost a hundred different songs of several genres that they know, and add a new song about every other month or so. They also update their costumes and over the last two or three years I have watched them slowly evolve from straight on Punk through about four other flavors to what they are today.
They play the majority of their gigs within a radius of a three or four hour drive. Most of the time they are home that night, sometimes they stay over for a night or even two. A couple of times a year they play in a three-day festival and another that goes for a four-day weekend.
So, all things considered, they are as close to the definition of the average local or regional band as I could come up with. Except, off stage, they are anything but average punk rockers.
There are only three real tattoos in the entire group, and two of them on one person, although in costume they all have a wide assortment of fish, stars, and names, although the nastiest thing any of them displays is the occasional grinning skull. On stage they all show off multiple peircings, of which less than a quarter are real, and ninety percent of those are in ears. The blue hair will be brown after a good washing, and even the colorful vocabulary which even includes a few of TV's dirty words is only heard on stage, "Or when I get cut off in traffic on the way home." Freize says with a smile.
I actually know three of them outside of the clubs. And I had known Starry for well over a year before I found out she was the armored keyboard player in Rob's Falsies. And it was her that broke her own cover.
"Great review." The pretty woman said.
I did a triple take. "Starry." She smiled. "Thanks. But all I did was tell the truth. You guys did a great show."
We talked shop for a few minutes, then she swore me to secrecy as far as her secret identity. But now that I had an inside into the group, I covered them a little more than maybe I should. But it paid off in other ways. She knew members of other bands, she even introduced me to a gospel singer and I did a review and extended interview with her over a late lunch after her performance.
Once word was out in the musical community Starry seemed to always have a new or rebuilt group I should check out. And if she said they 'showed a lot of promise' I learned that was her very nice way of saying they stunk, but needed some attention to keep the band together so they'd have a chance. Sometimes she's tell me about a group that was actually good. Other times it was a club that had been remodeled, or maybe it was the owner's one hundredth birthday with an oldies band fronted by his great grandson.
"That's me." The old man smiled from behind the bar.
"So how long have you owned this place?"
"Fifty two years. But I worked here since my daddy was the bartender back afore the War."
He had started cleaning the bathrooms when he was barely able to move the mop. And worked up from there. For my column though, I wasn't interested in how he had watched the drink menu change from whisky and smokestack beer to fancy designer mixed drinks and imported ales.
"Oh we used to have the bands back then. Swing and then they went to white boy jazz for awhile."
Listening to him was a history class in American live music. The place had seen Sinatra when he was touring during his blacklist days to a very shaky configuration of a group that, thirty years later, was still a major touring act that filled football stadiums.
"Oh we learned our lesson the hard way. We were a country music only place for years, and almost went broke." But he learned that lesson forty years ago. By having different types of acts in, and sometimes, no acts at all, he kept different people coming and had built a fairly large customer base. Now, after several decades, his club was known far and wide as almost always having an act in on the weekends that was worth coming to see. Friday night was Country Night, Saturday would be a rock band, Sunday was reserved for up and coming local talent of whatever stripe, and Tuesdays was surprise night. Somebody would be on stage, it might be a national caliber act in to polish their set, it might be a folk singer on a stool, it might be a Vaudeville revival with a magician and a dog act. But whatever it was, it was worth seeing. And where Tuesday was one of the slowest nights in other clubs, his was packed.
"Ya'll should come back Thursday, we're having the dancing girls in." He grinned with his store bought teeth.
OK. I had to check it out. For professional reasons.
They weren't exactly strippers, City Ordinance prevented that, but they did plenty of dancing, and a little strip-tease down to some very nice lingerie. I reviewed it as live entertainment, mainly to help cover the money I spent that night.
Rob's Falsies played the place about every other month, so I was back to listen to their new set. The first thing that struck me was how flexible the physical setting of the place was. When the other group was here, the stage was a small triangular area in the far corner. The dancing girls had another section built onto that stage with an angular runway coming out between the tables. Now, for the five member band and light show, the stage occupied a large semi-circle across the corner and there was a good sized dance floor in front of it. The sound system was different to. From an acoustic setup with the oldies group to canned music with DJ for the dancers to a full amped techno-spread for the punk rock group. And it all sounded good.
So I learned not to pass judgement on a place on first impressions alone. Some nice nightclubs had lousy sound systems and bathrooms that stank. Some seedy dives had great sound and stinking bathrooms too. Other places were good on the amenities but watered their drinks. And so on. When I reviewed a place, I did it on no less than three visits spread out over several weeks. And I made sure to hit it on a weekend 'standing room only' night at least once.
And sometimes I'd get a nice case of food poisoning for my efforts to boot.
As I got to know the members of Rob's Falsies I became more and more amazed at the seamlessness of their transformation from rather dull professionals in the real world to what they were on stage.
The teacher is as straight-laced as you could want. And the only thing they said the principal requires from them is that during the music class they not teach the kids 'that' kind of music.
The bank teller smiles knowingly when one of the waitresses or bartenders or other help from one of the clubs they play in come through their line and say the teller looks familiar. They just smile and say they have a cousin that plays in a band.
And the others walk the same tightrope.
Freize admits that there is the odd chance the band will hit it big. They had recorded several of their songs and even cut a CD at one time that still sells on their website. So they were like two steps from the big time. But the group as a whole didn't really want to make it big.
"If I wear that getup more than a couple of times a week I break out." Starry said of her costume. "To have to do appearances in it and be on TV and stuff. No way."
Worm makes no bones about it. He wants to do this for a living and has tried out with a couple of national acts as backup or sideman. He's had a few second auditions and everybody knows That Call is coming. Probably sooner than later. "If somebody whistles. I'm outa here." He said as they were setting up for an outdoor show under skies that were threatening rain much sooner than later. He was also the leading user, and abuser, of groupies. Something I found almost comical, but documented for professional reasons of course.
Krok has already quit once, when the schedule got too weird. But he came back. "All right. I'll admit it. I like having college girls throw their clothes at me." Even though he has a daughter about that age.
Flame is happy right where she's at. And has Worm's replacement on a short leash as well. He has played with the group from time to time and is still working on a stage name and a character. His last one, 'Kitt the misplaced Cowboy' just didn't work. This weekend he was trying out another one.
Tonight at the open air show at the airport, half benefit for some local charities half chamber of commerce expo, Flame's friend was lending assistance as 'Trex the Tech-Punk'.
I tried to decide what main idea he was expressing, but failed. He looked like something between a sci-fi cyborg and a test bed for a wearable computer. His special effects keyboard was part of his vest, so he would play it with his hands on his sides like he was doing a chicken dance. His guitar didn't have strings but was covered with small touch pads and a large contact area for strumming. And he was dragging wires around so he couldn't wander around or dance too much, his instruments and microphones were wireless, but they needed power, and the battery arrangement for all of it would have been too ungainly to wear. From the reaction of some serious punk types in the crowd as they performed, Trex was a bigger hit that Kitt had been, but still needed work.
And when it started raining. Trex was the first one off the stage. "I'm not getting electrocuted for my music... not yet anyway." He grinned as I helped him out of his vest.
Now a word about their fans.
They ranged in age from middle school kids through mid forties. And both sexes were well represented at most of their shows. But if I had to assign numbers, I'd say that teenaged girls and young women made up over half of their fan base. Something I didn't mind at all since they were the most likely to show their appreciation for a well done set by undressing and throwing their clothes at Freize or one of the others. Sometimes Starry or Flame would be the target as they tried to get them to join them their public nudity. Only Worm would get into it and loosen his costume up a little.
Next best represented were aging punkers, male and female. They were the ones that stood out. Bad blue and green hair dye jobs coving up both gray and whatever their color had been fifteen years ago. Leather and rubber outfits that still smelled of mothballs and in some cases still had dry cleaner tags on the back. Some of them would talk about legendary groups like Sid Vicous's outfit or Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols and then favorably compare Rob's Falsies to them. Which I thought was a little extreme, but hey, that's me. This group was also the most die hard of their fans and would travel some distance to see them at a decent venue.
And some of these fans had actually been right in the middle of the punk scene's Golden Age, if that's the right word for it. I spent an evening with one couple that had pictures and autographs and arrest records to prove it.
Misty had been one of those screaming bimbo fans that would flash the band as they played. Her second husband, Sling, as his tattoo said, had been a part time roadie for a couple of 'third string warm up bands for the warm up band' groups, which was how they met the first time around. There was a lot more to that story, including something to do with the professional bass fishing tour, but that doesn't need told here. But now they describe themselves as Rob's Falsies' biggest fans and had started a fan club. Which I joined. And now it has over twenty paid members.
The fan club web page had some decent pictures of the band, and I gave them a few more sound clips for it that I had made at different times. And, with a bit of persuasion, I got Freize to agree to sell the album on the site as well. Which made their web page the official fan page of the band, by default if for no other reason.
The other fans, especially the younger ones seemed to just be into it for the shock value. Once the new wore off the costumes and antics on stage they would fade away and get into whatever was next in line.
For the airport show they did a good set of covers, then a bit of their own material, and ended up with a blast of old favorites that brought the crowd to its feet. Then they finished with their 'hit' and mentioned the CD was for sale on a couple of websites.
But that description is too tame.
Way too tame.
Frieze broke a microphone screaming into it.
Flame's drum solo, where she demonstrates how she got her nickname, got a little out of hand, as it usually does. In this case, the burning lighter fluid that had been squirted onto a couple of her drums got splattered here and there and things got a little too exciting for a few seconds.
Starry had keyboard troubles and Worm's guitar kept generating feedback and so on. All the charming things that happen in a live concert in a place that puts on one concert a year and the facilities are made up and put together on the fly. But all in all. It was a good show.
Three weeks later I ran into them when I was at another club to cover another band. They were there to fill in for the warmup act that had broken up yesterday, while playing (by the end of their set all that was left on stage was the keyboard player and the drummer).
"Hey, we get paid almost double for dropping everything and running over here like this." Frieze said.
Except tonight they weren't Rob's Falsies. No makeup, no flaming drums, no rubber snakes or spinning hex signs. Oh, I forgot to mention those last couple. Nevermind. Tonight, as the emergency fill in they were 'Rented Ax' a straight rock and roll cover band. And they used their own names, and nicknames. Except I'm sticking with their stage names.
Starry was dressed very nicely in jeans and a blouse that flattered her figure nicely. Flame wore something that looked like a tennis outfit. Freize and Krok were in basic rocker gear of ratty bluejeans and T-shirts. Worm looked like a biker because he had rode out on his motorcycle. And they played half an hour of standard fare rock and roll.
And the only one in the place that knew Rented Ax from anything was me. Rob's Falsies had never even stopped in the place for a drink before, let alone played there.
Then I got another awakening. Krok and Starry played in another band that had been there before. The band was country, but only got together in the winter, when the other members, construction workers mostly, were laid off.
Once they mentioned the name of the group I remembered writing them up once or twice.
"Small world." I said.
"I was in Orca for awhile too." Freize said with a grin.
"Wasn't that Orca's Tooth?" I said trying to think too fast.
He nodded. "Just testing you."
As I got more inside the local music scene I began filling in backstage as whatever needed done. Up to being stage manager and yelling at lighting roadies. Then I had to drive another group, 'The Wench and Friends', to a gig because their driver was sick and none of them knew where they were going, and most weren't old enough to drive anyway.
It was me that had to drive a guitarist who had over-indulged in various things to the hospital. Another time I had to bail a drummer out of jail after a 'disagreement' with a venue manager.
I got T-shirts, and passes to other events, and at one point found myself backstage at a nightclub when a major touring group blew in to do an unannounced show and ended up making small talk before the set with a heavy hitter British star. That was cool.
And when Worm got That Call I was the first one they called.
And I did a special on his farewell concert with Rob's Falsies and watched Freize introduce his replacement, 'Zag the Irish Dropout'. Zag was Trex/Kitt in an outfit that at least made sense. He still had the tech look, but didn't have to worry about electrocution.
They played a hard driving set, Worm bowed out, and they played on.
Krok finally quit for keeps when he had to have surgery on his elbow. And they played on with his oldest son standing in as Krok 2.
Starry left for awhile to have a baby and Zag's ex-girlfriend played keyboards wearing the same costume and going by the same name.
And they played on. Benefits, charities, sold out paying gigs, teaching music class, and winning the talent show at the bank's Christmas Party (yes they were the ringer, but they made the night a success after some very bad karaoke and a guy that played carols on his nose).
And they played on....
-end Rob's Falsies-
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