Then-current album: God Fodder
Opening act: Swervedriver
Back-of-ticket ad: 97.1 KLSX, “The Classic Rock Station.” An incredibly logical sponsor for a tour featuring two bands that weren’t more than a couple of years old each.
I like how the ticket promises an ‘open dance floor.’ It is the Roxy, so that it is true and all, and yet something about the idea doesn’t quite work.
So, the band that I had to hope would be good just because of their name.
I think I first heard about Ned’s Atomic Dustbin through one of the Melody Makers I irregularly purchased in 1990 — somewhere in one of them was an ad for a UK tour and, well, of course I would notice the name. I couldn’t NOT notice the name. I had no idea that the band had taken it from an old Goon Show episode — the first part’s here, and the rest is online as well — and for all I knew it was some joking reference to a friend, or there was a guy named Ned in the band or who knew what else. As up to then the only Ned I knew of at all beyond myself was Ned Beatty the novelty of the band being called that was more than enough.
Around March I read a review of God Fodder in another Melody Maker and completely missed the joke of the album name. Completely. COMPLETELY. In fact I think it took me years to realize what the joke was, which somehow makes sense with a lot of things in my life and how I completely zone out and miss them (and I’ll have the ultimate concert story about just that in a few entries from now — and trust me, that one will have you wondering if I’m just insane). But the review made the band sound good and gave me some sort of context to deal with, but beyond that, I either hadn’t seen their earlier singles or things around or if I had I didn’t recognize them for what they were. It took the American release of the album a little while later, along with the domestic release of the “Happy” single, for me to finally get around to them and listen and go “Hey, that’s not bad. Pretty fun, actually.”
Which it is, still. I haven’t listened to them in years upon years, but then again you could say that about a lot of the bands I’ve been talking about, memories all inculcated and burned into permanence, however fuzzy with time. What the band did seemed randomly fun and jumpy and all over the place with a weird lineup featuring two bassists that only sounded like one bass and a whole quick fuzz/pop/punk/whatever thing that was all kinda goofy. Jonn, the lead singer, might actually have been the secret weapon in plain sight the whole time — his low, almost flat but still engaging singing was the kind of thing you could call conversational and have it meant, it sounded like a guy talking about whatever in a fashion that wasn’t artless but wasn’t demonstrative either, an unlikely guy for anthems who sang them anyway (which is what “Grey Cell Green” sounded like then and now, so there).
So the point was that they seemed worthwhile to check out, and it also helped that Swervedriver were opening — by this time I was fairly conversational with the whole ‘Creation = shoegaze’ supposition, and even though Swervedriver were approaching it much more from a reworked Dinosaur Jr. context, drawling vocals mixed with a romanticized Americana, it made sense to hear them through that lens. I’m not sure if I had actually heard them yet, though — Raise was a little ways off from an American release still and I’m not sure I’d heard the early EPs yet.
Nonetheless, another show at the Roxy, a nice nighttime show instead of an all-day roast in the sun, two bands I was up for, the rest had to follow and so a few days after surviving Lollapalooza there I was in much more confined surroundings. Steve M. was with me again, as well as EJL and maybe Kris C. and a few other KLA folks, not sure. That and a bunch of people in extremely bright T-shirts, but more on that in a bit.
For Swervedriver I remember sitting back with some of the folks I was with at a table and just watching and getting the sense of them. Sure in retrospect I should have gone up front but hey, I was saving my energy, I figured. I remember being impressed by the general shagginess of them all — I don’t think they were the hairiest band I’d ever seen but they were up there, dreads and all. “Deep Seat” is the song I remember most from the performance, just the elegant way that everyone in the band seemed to tradeoff and cycle through their parts, each guitar bit, each time the bass came to the fore, a gentle cycle.
There’s somebody I remember more, though. Where we were sitting wasn’t at the edge of the open floor but further back, so there were a few tables in front of us. At one of them were these three people, two guys and one woman, pretty unremarkable and for all I know they were just out like us for about the same reasons, into music, into UK bands, whatever. But this one guy of the two, whoever he was — didn’t look out of place or remarkable or anything — had this bizarre, stupid habit. It seemed like every two minutes or so, more for himself than who he was sitting with — maybe — would break into this ‘yeah, smooth drums!’ air routine where he would close his eyes and drum along with Swervedriver, no matter the pace of the song. In fact, he wasn’t really drumming along with Swervedriver at all, but he was just doing his tasty drum lick in the air or whatever it was meant to be.
Now this wouldn’t have been remarkable at all if he only did it a couple of times, and god knows I must have my own unconscious habits at shows. But this guy wouldn’t seem to stop, he was addicted to this weird move. Maybe he was a real drummer and had to do that, maybe he was a frustrated drummer and could only do that and nothing else (and maybe not even that). Maybe his friends humored him. Maybe they weren’t his friends. I do remember pointing him out to my tablemates and none of us being able to figure out his deal. Whoever he is, I hope he is happy wherever he’s at now, drumming away to the heavens in those random competitions you see on YouTube.
That left the Ned’s show and the T-shirts. For all that pretty much every band had their own merchandising down by that point, whether on club level or arena, there was this subset of current British bands that were seen to be defined by a few things: T-shirts, strange haircuts and leaping around a lot (see also Jesus Jones as discussed earlier, and we’ll yet see them again). Ned’s pretty much had that down to a science, and if I had every T-shirt they put out my closet would probably be full. (I did order a lot of their T-shirts over time, though — again, the name. I HAD to, me being me.) I’m pretty sure I somebody wearing the shirt that read, in this format:
One of their best, “FREE PEE-WEE HERMAN,” didn’t come out until a certain arrest a few weeks later. I ended up picking up a fairly basic shirt that read “DID YOU MISS” at the top of the front, followed by the band logo on the rest of the front. If your answer was ‘yes,’ the back of the shirt provided the answer: “THEN YOU FUCKED UP.” True. Impudent admittedly.
So I went near the front of the stage for the show and they all bounded on stage and everyone in the audience started bounding about and pretty much it was nothing but flailing and legs and hair for the next hour. Perhaps strangely, perhaps not, the song I remember most of all was “Terminally Groovie” thanks to its frenetic stop-start pace and the way that Jonn would beckon the audience into screams and cheers at the end of each chorus — all worked nicely enough even as I was looking around to make sure I wasn’t clocked in the head by a random body or three.
At some during the show a woman who was out with her friend somehow glommed onto me as some sort of guard against all the chaos. Why she thought I was much of a guard I’m not entirely sure, given I’m not exactly built like a linebacker, but we ended up talking in bursts a few times during pauses in performance. Friendly person but that’s about all I can recall, except that her friend seemed a little frightening and surgically enhanced so I was glad I was talking with her instead.
And from there to the end of the show home, sweat-soaked and smoke in my hair from all the cigarettes, the usual feeling I would have coming back from shows for the next few years. It was about this time I definitely learned how much of a smoke trap long hair is — something nobody tells you before it happens to you for the first time.