I came into this show only knowing that my friends, the Corrigan Brothers, would be doing their “2 dudes with guitars” routine. I had no idea who else would be playing, or what I was in for. What I got was three acts of absurdity that all culminated in weariness and introspection.
So I arrived. Paid my 5 dollar “suggested donation” to the venue’s proprietor. Started getting drunk. Some bands played. They were weird. The first band seemed like they hadn’t played together before. They had a man with an acoustic guitar. A man with an electric guitar. A man with a bongos. And a man with a flute. I later learned that the flute playing man went by a nom de flute. B-flat, he called himself. B-flat could not get his microphone to work for the first three songs. So they were fluteless. At this point there were really two shows happening at once. The strange, atonal music that the band was playing, and the distorted, yet mellifluous performance art of a portly old man wrestling with audio equipment, giving up on the audio equipment, and then defiantly, unamplified, tooting his futile old flute into the noisy room. If you listened deeply you could hear the ghost of a flute behind the warbling guitar noises.
Eventually his microphone worked. I wondered what magic he did to make it work. By this point the band had already played three songs. The band was called The Cuckolds. The singer said there were at least 4 other bands called the cuckolds, so they were in competition. Then he sang a song about Jesus. He said that Jesus was a thermonuclear weapon. I saw middle eastern cities burning in CNN shaky cam recovered from the cellular phone of a corpse.
Sometimes the electric guitar man kicks his amplifier and the reverb spring quivers, causing a snappy cacophony to briefly overwhelm all other sounds. In these moments you can feel your brain rattle in sympathy. It hurts, but in a way that you can understand and appreciate. It’s an act of violence, perpetrated against you—the listener—that you enjoy. That you want.
For a moment, I believed that the second band to play just sort of happened accidentally—spontaneously congealing out of the atmosphere. The singer from the Cuckolds left the stage, but B-Flat and Electric Guitar Man remained. An unassuming man stepped up to the brilliant orange drum kit. A kid in a knit hat and graffiti-glasses was strapping on a bass. Everyone was tuning up. Everything seemed normal. Then there was a moment when the tuning, and the set-up and the bip bopping drum stings played just to keep hands moving all sort of began to orbit around some intuitively understood center of gravity. Melody coalesced. Rhythm congealed. Voices began to join to one.
Turns out this was the second band warming up. They were called B.B. and the Aesthetics, from Bloomington-Normal. That sounds like the sort of place that Wallace Stevens would write an inscrutable poem about. Their singer was old. Probably older than anyone else in the room. His band were all much younger. The singer man was wearing a suit and a fedora. He was short. He had facial hair that lay somewhere in-between human avatars of Satan and a musketeer. He gave off a sort of Elvis Costello vibe. I was surprised at the singer’s clear piercing tone, almost a falsetto. They sang a song about a citgo sign. A song where cats were used as a metaphor for a woman’s sex. Their show closed with a cover of Barret Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want)” which seemed to be at odds with their other material. It left a strange taste in my mouth.
By this point I’d been driven into an almost trance like state. Too contemplative for my own good. My friends, the Corrigan Brothers were up next. As they set up I kept sliding around on the rolling chair like a dumbass. I had a chat with B-flat. He was wearing a samba whistle around his neck. He showed me that it could generate three tones by default, but if you placed your fingers just right you could find a whole octave hiding underneath it.
As the Corrigans revved up their meaty guitars and I sat back to listen, and be washed away by their torrent of unstructured sound, I wondered if that Samba whistle couldn’t be forced into some sort of ham-fisted metaphor to draw down this rambling shit show of music journalism. Because what I took away from this night was that it really wasn’t a great show. The crowd dissipated very quickly. Their applause was largely ironic. The only one who seemed to care deeply was an older man with a harmonica who tooted it relentlessly through other people’s music. No breakthroughs were made, no mountains moved, no cultural landscaping shifting before your very eyes. But it is this kind of show that happens every night, everywhere. Hard working musicians getting together to do what they want to do how they want to do it. You have to appreciate that. But it takes work to appreciate. You have to spend hours finding the right place to put your fingers to find those hidden tones.