Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A night at the Packing House (A short history of Idiots Revenge pt. 1)

…be an idiot not a fool.
In memory of CR (Charles Robert) Smith


I’ve seen my fair share of new bands, catching their first shows when the talent was raw. The more interesting performances are the young kids just learning to play their instruments, sometimes struggling just to hold them in place. The idea that anyone can get up on a stage and run through a handful of songs has always been an appealing aspect about punk music. The emotions and clumsiness of kids rocking out their tunes are pure and honest. Standing in front of them on the dance floor, their friends cheer them on forgiving all the off-tempos, missed parts and not-so synchronized endings. In the early days of Idiots Revenge that’s exactly what we endured: standing in front of an audience essentially learning to play our instruments.  


One of the crucial components to starting a band is commitment from everyone involved, in addition to playable equipment, which was most likely second hand and/or partially broken. When Rob, CR, Jimmy and I started to play music we were totally focused on writing our own songs.  We were married to the idea that one day we’d be playing on stage opening up for touring groups like our friend's band, Immoral Attitude.    
For the time being, Idiots Revenge settled on my parent’s basement as our practice spot. I still didn’t own a real amp and had to rig my stereo so I could play a bass through it. My vintage Sear’s Silvertone bass had a loose bridge and one unlucky strum on the E string would cause it to fly off and whip you in the arm or worse, the face. It was a pathetic sight, but it mostly worked. CR had somewhat of a real drum set with cracked cymbals and duct taped drumheads. Jimmy used his allowance to buy himself a Radio Shack microphone. His makeshift PA was plugging the mic into one of Rob’s open inputs on his guitar amp. Rob had the best equipment out of the four of us. He managed to get a distorted sound out of jazz amp with tons of unwanted feedback. This was mostly due to him and Jimmy using it simultaneously. We made quite a racket writing songs.  It proved to be real work and a test of our collective patience. With the exception of Rob, I don’t think any of us had a clue how to play music.  
Since we were all under the driving age, our parents were the punk equivalent of soccer moms; we relied on them for transportation. CR’s dad would pack the drum set between the trunk and backseat and Rob’s mom would tow his guitar and amp in a similar fashion. After a summer of infrequent practices and less than successful attempts at writing music, CR eventually decided his new girlfriend was a bigger priority than spending time in a basement struggling to playing out-of-tune songs. He arrived an hour late one afternoon on a motorcycle.  We were in awe that he was driving around without a license, but it was overshadowed by the fact that he was busy getting laid. His excuse didn’t help matters. We were already bummed out from waiting and to throw in that he was having sex when the rest of us weren’t… When he stopped showing up altogether at the beginning of our freshman year, I was given the duty of telling him he was out of the band.
Jimmy started off his freshman year at a new high school and befriended a punk who went by the name of Arrow. Jimmy told him about our band and how we recently lost a drummer. Arrow mentioned that his classmate Spike (Ken Neubert) played drums and was looking for people to play with. We all met at a show and immediately clicked; he was in. Jimmy and I assumed Spike got his name from his spiked hair, leather jacket, and motorcycle boots.  He had a likeness to Mel Gibson’s character in Mad Max.
Before we played a show, we had stickers. Designed by Spike
Sure, I have this skull tattooed on the left side of my chest.
Idiots Revenge was back in action until Rob joined the high school wrestling team and found himself a preppy girlfriend. This left him little time or desire to continue playing music. He was hardly heartbroken when I told him that he was out of the band and followed that up with dropping out of the scene completely. Like CR, we still continued to be friends. Spike suggested that we should jam with his friend, a fellow senior he knew through Art Club and D&D. Mark Putt was like a mini-adult: he had his own car, equipment, knew how to play music, was responsible, and even dated a “normal” wholesome looking girl. At first I was a bit skeptical that he was into metal, prog rock and listened to bands like Yes and Rush. Mark definitely didn’t look like someone who would be into punk, much less play in a punk band. He dressed like someone you wanted your parents to meet. Jimmy and I both instantly liked him because aesthetically he would be that odd looking non-punk guy on stage along the lines of Spinal Tap's first drummer (the one who died in a gardening accident) and besides we really wanted to play in such a bad way. After the first practice, we were impressed that Mark sounded good, but more importantly he didn’t break any strings, which always seemed to plague Rob.
The addition of Mark was really what got Idiots Revenge off the ground. Not only did he have songwriting abilities, but he helped develop the band’s sound and quirkiness. We spent a little more than 8 months getting a set of songs together.
Our first performance almost happened in the form of a party on a snowy Friday evening when we were practicing in Mark’s parent’s garage. We stood in a room without a heater and one lonely light bulb that hung and flickered above us. We could hardly move our hands up and down the frets on our instruments. With our songs barely down, the thought of playing in a warm room full of partygoers sounded like the perfect remedy. Our dreams of a warmer setting were crushed when the guy throwing the party never called Mark back. I suppose most people wouldn't want a punk band playing in their living room. 

At the beginning of my sophomore year the band was ready to debut and we were finally asked to play a show at the Packing House in early November.
The Packing House was a tiny building converted into an art gallery/recording studio in the midst of Denver’s slaughterhouse district. All the touring bands played there: Suicidal Tendencies, The Freeze, Butthole Surfers, CH3, Samhain, The Necros, Ill Repute, Dr. Know, RKL, and countless others that defined punk/hardcore at the time. The space was unforgetable: lawless nights, skinheads, and especially the harsh smell of rotting flesh. The stink attached itself to your clothing and hair and in the morning you would have to dig out thick black snot from your nose.
The best part about the venue was that it was almost impossible to find. I remember the first time my dad drove Jimmy and me there. We spent close to 30 minutes looking for the place. Finally, a drunk near 7-11 pointed us in the right direction. Naturally, my dad was a bit hesitant about dropping us off. There were no signs of cops, authority figures, or other adults. I convinced my dad that everything would be fine once we went inside. After all, I was a 14 year-old freshman in high school so I thought I could take care of myself.  To tell you the truth, when my dad drove off I wondered if I would be alive at the end of the night. It wasn't like going to see Black Flag or GBH where the show was in a neighborhood with a pay phone around the corner in case shit went down. The atmosphere of the Packing House was like that of the Old West: every person fends for themselves. You didn't want to piss off the wrong person. The first experience going there was definitely a crash course on independence and self-preservation.
Try following this map. 
Hours before loading up the car and heading to the show we ran through our set in the garage to make sure we had our songs down. The line-up that night was a six-band local show. We were the openers, followed by The Lepers, The Druids, Bad Circus, Uberfall, and Immoral Attitude. When we hit the stage, about 30 people came in to watch us. We played our eight-song set of sloppy punk tunes overwhelmed by nervousness. By the end of our set, most of the crowd went back outside in the cold to drink. We were pretty forgettable. Our performance didn’t matter because it felt great to be on stage. It was like an initiation, a rite of passage into the Denver punk scene. We were just thankful our drum set didn’t fall over or we didn't break a string. When we were tearing down, Tommy from Immoral Attitude was the only person who came up to me up to say we sounded good. I always remembered and appreciated his encouraging words.

It was typical that each band would have their own flier.
The Lepers were a late addition to the bill and Uberfall was Denver’s newest street punk/oi band on the scene following the footsteps of the newly reformed and improved Immoral Attitude who traded in their skate punk roots and adopted a more English punk sound in the vein of GBH and Chron Gen. The Denver Skins were starting to develop a reputation. They were mainly a bunch of skater kids with shaved heads that danced harder than others in the pit. A couple of years later they would eventually grow into a monster and become a destructive element in the scene, but at this time it was mainly a small group of friends who would fuck with people by calling themselves skinheads.  
Unite, really? 
During the third or fourth band a drunken longhair dude jumped up on stage and said something to the effect of, "all you skinheads are a bunch of fucking assholes." A few seconds later, the guy came crashing out of the barn-like doors. One of the doors literally broke from its hinges and was on the ground with the guy lying on top of it. He staggered to stand up and the skins dragged him 100 or so yards in the direction of the Platt River. Minutes later, I saw the same longhair walk past me heading back into the club. I'm thinking, “that guy has some balls to show his face again.” His balls were much larger than I thought. Not only did he walk back into the space, he got on stage again to call the skins assholes. He was either determined to get his point across or suicidal or just plain stupid. Once again he came crashing through the doors chased by an even larger group of skins. They kicked his ass all the way down to the river and supposedly threw him in it. I kept watching and listening for the longhair's third appearance. He must have finally figured out that being at the Packing House wasn’t conducive to a long, healthy, and peaceful life.
Shortly after our debut show, Idiots Revenge would play one last time with Jimmy, a party in bum-fuck-Kansas (east Aurora towards the abandoned missile silos). The show was in the basement of Jeff’s house, a classmate of Jimmy’s. Most of the people attending all went to school together, including my newest crush, Jenny. The sound was terrible as it bounced off the unfinished cement walls and we played worse than at the Packing House. Maybe my jaundice view of that particular night was exaggerated by getting turned down by Jenny and waking up the following morning with a terrible hacking cough and a slight fever. I blame the clove cigarettes we all carelessly smoked. Being depressed from the night before and trying to get Jenny out of my head, I put on a Kraut album to lose myself in the music. My dad barged his way into my room yelling at me at the top of his lungs, “Turn that shit off!” He had a rare crazed look in his eyes like he was going to start breaking my records or possibly me. Maybe he had put up with my punk rock shit long enough. After yelling at me some more he eventually left, slamming the door behind him. I spent the rest of the day in bed hidden under my covers.
Ok, everyone call KAZY and ask for the Sex Pistols.
Maybe a month later, Jimmy’s dad caught us smoking kitchen spices in his house. True, we raided the spice cabinet because we were curious to see if smoking parsley, oregano, etc. through a soda pop can would get us high. He was convinced that we were smoking marijuana and claimed, “No one’s that stupid!” I readily responded, “We are.” One look at his face, I had a gut feeling that the wrong words said in the wrong tone had just escaped from my mouth. We naïvely hoped his dad would be understanding since he was a former hippy and all. Those hopes were immediately dashed when Jimmy’s father sat us down and told us we were prohibited from seeing or speaking to each other for an entire year! After the severe reprimand, his dad drove me home in silence. Our observance of the restriction lasted a little over 24-hours until Monday afternoon.  His dad wasn’t at the house when Jimmy got home from school, so we used that window of time to spend hours on the phone. Sadly, Jimmy’s parents got a divorce and his dad and the new girlfriend decided to move to Madison, Alabama taking Jimmy with them. It was a motherfucker of a winter, but Ken, Mark and I managed to continued on. 
Special thanks to Ana Medina and Monica Zarazua for editing

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