8:30 was too early. My anticipation had grown as I ambled down State Street, closer and closer to Cafe Nine. It wasn’t necessarily anticipation for the show, nor surging excitement for the bands I had come to see – frankly, beyond a handful of tracks on Myspace, both acts were completely unknown to me. The cause of my anticipation was significantly shallower. I became more anxious, giddy maybe, with every step because when I reached the door of Cafe Nine, I would be able to say, “I’m on the list. Mike Bellmore.”
You see, I’d never been included in a list before, at least no list I could proudly declare I was on, one which granted me entrance to a night’s festivities free of charge. Certainly this is vain of me, but for my first ever concert review, perhaps my vanity could be forgiven. Perhaps.
Fortunately, luck saw fit to deflate my ego before it had the chance to burst. As I said before, 8:30 was far too early, especially for a show that opens doors at 9:00. No burly man in black or sullen woman with pink hair met me at the entrance to sell me a ticket. I walked through the door unchecked, all hopes of gratifying myself via declaration of my VIP status dashed. I sidestepped into the orange glow of the bar between two mustachioed men carrying on a conversation in Spanish and awkwardly arranged myself on a corner stool.
I arrived just in time to find no one doing anything important. Typical grizzled musician types leisurely emptied the stage of guitar cases and other musical detritus. Country western tunes spilled across and shimmered on the sheet metal bar top like the hot colors of the neon beer lights above. The bartender, leaning purposefully, turned towels inside of clean cups at the far end of the bar, and, if by some fault of my occasionally imaginative memory he actually wasn’t, every ounce of ambiance in the room insisted that that’s exactly what he should’ve been doing. It wasn’t until a particularly bluegrass-y rendition of Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ that the music was switched to something more appropriate for an impending punk show. I was only the eighth person in Cafe Nine, but spirit was beginning to build; voices were rising, a foot started to tap vibrations down the footrest pole thingy in front of my stool, tickling my soles. Soon the Ipod’s volume doubled, playing Pixies or some such. A young man with short cropped blonde hair and blunt face placed a long white amplifier with no distinguishable labeling in the center of the stage and left. Lights were adjusted. I sipped my beer.
As time wore past 9:30, I began to wonder if, somehow, I had come to the wrong place. Beyond the white amp and a single guitar, still wrapped in case, there were no signs of any musicians anywhere. More barstools stood empty than patrons stood in the entire place. If I were to survive the night (and the following morning, I had work at 5:30) I would have to pace my drinking. I sipped my beer. But it wasn’t long until more equipment showed up, accompanied by an increasingly steady stream of twenty/thirty somethings, their beards, plaid, hoodies and band t-shirts. Unkempt hair and continental sideburns were surprisingly outnumbered by respectable haircuts.
After a cigarette with Luke, I returned to my drink to find a stage miraculously assembled. What had seemed reasonably spacious minutes before had become choked by amplifiers and cluttered with cords, cramped even without the band among them. The 8 people chatting happily at 9:30 had become 40 hollering loudly and drunkenly at 10:30. The kickdrum awaited its drummer; the words Estrogen Highs stickered expertly askew on its head.
When they took the stage, playing ‘Logical Doctor’, the crowd’s clamor melted at the sound of the first drum hit. The clean, heavy thrumming of a simple melody progressively intensified into high speed thrashing; sandy, even vocals jogged behind. A surf-y number, ‘Move,’ followed. It was, if (soothingly) repetitive, sufficiently energetic to sustain the rush of the opening song. Lyrics were indistinguishable, play was impeccably imprecise and, I think, just right—desirable for a punk show at a place like Cafe Nine. The lead guitarist and bassist were not the only ones screaming the chorus.
The following song departed the beach and made its way inland, on horseback so it seemed. A surprisingly western sound galloped in the rhythm... clattered like an old train on dusty tracks. It was a pleasant surprise. The destination was purely punk, the next song featuring an effervescent tempo and power chord crescendos that were drawn out a bit to make sure you felt them. Those crowding the stage bobbed their heads unenthusiastically--coolly perhaps--depending on your point of view.
Then on to something a bit slower: an off key jaunt in which singing replaced the screaming. The singing, though, was most discernable only when watching the mouths of the singers. A shame really, but ‘Friends, Family, LSD’ returned the band to its comfort zone, thrashing and yelling. They did it well.
By the end of the set I was feeling good, belly and bladder full. I was digging the bobbing, full bodied, clean-harsh sound. When they fired up Marshal Tucker Band’s ‘Can’t you see,’ I was sold. It was thick, ecstatic, and it made me wish the venue was more forgiving the level of noise they produced. The vocals were tragically obscured. Friends of the band pumped fists, everyone else nodded heads as the cover boiled over into thumping coils of distortion and frantic drumming. This may be an odd description, but, by the end of it, it almost sounded like a helicopter trying to take off. I loved it.
After another cigarette with Luke and almost missing the beginning of their first song, I returned to the bar to see the Jacuzzi Boys revving up their instruments. Estrogen Highs was a good fit for opener. Jacuzzi Boys picked up right where EH left off with ‘Blow Out Your Light.’ Simple progressions, a high level of energy, substantial stringy rhythms, and a powerful beat quickly re-mesmerized the (unfortunately small) crowd. Fortunately for the unfortunately small crowd, the vocals were much clearer than during the previous set. The guitarist and lead vocalist, Gabriel, could sing, even through his feet of hair, which somehow managed not to look out of place next to the drummer’s, Diego’s, fitted cap and Danny, the bass player, who looked fresh off a soccer field.
‘No Seasons’ collected the eclectic nature of JB into a high proof something swallowed in a single drink. A quirky bass line lead a warbling, echoing melody across an almost drum-machine beat until a surf punk bum rush took over the song and carried it to its end, which came quickly enough to keep it from getting old.
Frankly. For the sort of crunchy, simple music they played, I was impressed by the band’s musicianship. They played their instruments with ease. Diego kept time without strain, Gabriel cut up quick solo’s unmuddled by showmanship or excitement, and Danny unfolded interesting lines without once losing his spacey-cool expression.
Our photographer passed out drunk during the show. This is a promo shot of the Jacuzzi Boys.
To be honest, I’m not exceptionally musically literate. I don’t have a huge pool of music floating around in my head to refer to, especially when it comes to punk, or punkish, bands. But every time I felt like I had a finger on who I thought the Jacuzzi Boys sounded like, the next song they played left me less certain. One thing I was certain about was that the crowd was not large enough to benefit from the energy that the Jacuzzi Boys brought to Cafe Nine, and I think a slight deficit in the return energy of the crowd resulted in a rushed set. I’m probably just imagining it, but I got the feeling that by the end of it, they just wanted to get out of there. Maybe it wasn’t rushed; maybe their short and sweet songs just left me wanting more.
Either way, as I sat outside behind the stanchions on Crown Street finishing my drink, enjoying a cigarette; admiring the rubble across the road beyond the chainlink, my ears buzzed like my body did, just as they’re supposed to after a loud concert in a small bar like Cafe Nine.