Then-current album: Nurse
Opening act: Naked Soul…but not at the same show.
Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo, 50% off! If I had any random unexposed rolls of film around maybe I could send it to them as a lark…
As you might note, I’ve included the questionmark at the end of the band’s name in the title of this post where it’s not there on the ticket itself. A minor detail but it does make me wonder exactly how many ticket misprints are out there in general, and if any of them are particularly hilarious, which this misprint is not.
Meanwhile, a tale of two shows but one ticket.
Talking about Therapy? first, however — like so many bands they’d come to my initial attention via Melody Maker throughout late 1991 and most of 1992, as they’d been getting a fair amount of attention from writers I liked such as Cathi Unsworth for being loud, catchy and generally thought to be a cut above a lot of generic indie rock of the time, due in large part to frontman Andy Cairns being an open metal and techno freak. By the time they ended up over in the US Cairns had chopped his hair short but until just a few months beforehand he’d been rocking a full-on mane and then some, and not a mullet either, so I had to sympathize.
In retrospect the group didn’t make me a fan for life but they were a great listen for the time, a classic kind of niche rock in a way — if you were kinda sick and tired of what metal had seemed to become in a warped-through-the-LA-lens way then it wasn’t any surprise I had no problem ranking them up alongside, say, L7 in terms of regular listening. There was a sense of ‘oh okay, they’re not openly moronic, in fact they’re pissed off at morons, and they actually like cool stuff’ at play. I still remember one of my first professors at UC Irvine, Robert Newsom, laughing with delight at hearing about their song “Potato Junkie,” an aggravated rant against soppy Irish nationalism in general punctuated with the lyric “James Joyce is fucking my sister.” So I’m not at all surprised I got into them quite a bit, and I still think “Innocent X” might be the secret keeper of their earliest songs, one of the few times a guitarist got close to the impact of a “Mentasm”-style riff if not exactly there.
So when they finally came along to town I was up for the show and happily found a way up there — but I wasn’t going to go there first. In fact I was just a couple of blocks up at the Roxy rather than the Whisky because of one of the first stories I ever did as a writer for the New University at UC Irvine. They had received a mailout regarding the debut EP, Seed, by a band called Naked Soul, I’d given the disc an ear and either I’d come up with the idea of doing a profile or was assigned it, so I ended up meeting the band’s guitarist and bassist for an interview. Which is how I first met Mike Conley, at that time much more well-known for his work leading the punk group M.I.A. and now exploring something else.
My full story on Mike that I posted on this blog after his untimely passing goes into further detail about him and my memories so I won’t repeat it here; suffice to say that I did want to make sure I caught them as I could, and it turned out they were playing a show up in LA as a bit of a Scotti Bros. showcase. Weird Al wasn’t around (what might have been), but they were going to be opening for Mother’s Finest. At some point I put two and two together and thought, “Hey wait, I can go to the Naked Soul show first, see their set, then go down the street and catch Therapy? and it’ll all be good.” After that it was just a matter of getting tickets or making arrangements or whatever it was I did.
Pretty sure I went up to the show with my friend Jen V. and possibly a couple of other folks — I think (maybe) I was on the guest list for one or both of these shows. I don’t have a ticket from the Naked Soul one so I suspect I was just waved in after an ID check, while my friend Kris C. could have added me to the Therapy? list at any point. Then again it sure seems like I bought this ticket at a nicely cheap price so who knows — whatever the explanations or reasoning, I was wandering around the Roxy once more waiting to see what would happen.
I don’t know if this was the first time that I’d ever seen a band where I’d met the members beforehand, but it feels like it was — while I’d encountered a few folks here and there after a show or in another context entirely, most times bands just appeared on stage via separate entrances and the usual show business palaver and approach, it wasn’t like they were sitting around beforehand. Not very punk rock, I guess, but then again, I never claimed I was. So seeing Mike and Jeff, the band’s bassist, kicking it off onstage where not too many days beforehand I’d been casually chatting with them at a cafe across from UCI was a bit of a thrill, in its own way — a sense of how it all ‘really’ worked, in a way, that musicians are people you can be talking with, sensing their own personalities and quirks, even in a formal interview situation (and both of them had been very relaxed in that interview anyway), and then they’re up there making all that sound that’s been mostly intermediary in one’s experience, via recordings. Or can be intermediary, since others have different preferences; I always tended to go to the recordings first and foremost.
It wasn’t a crowded floor, but it wasn’t empty, and I was nearish the front without being crushed up close to it — I don’t know how many folks were there specifically for them or because they were M.I.A. fans or something else entirely, though it was a bit light overall. Label showcases have their own pitfalls sometimes, and if anything there were far more Mother’s Finest fans around. (I remember suddenly passing by their lead singer in the hallway to the restrooms — she was pretty hot, I remember that much!) It was a short set and I remember three songs in particular — “Lonely Me Lonely You,” which was more or less the single from Seed, and two covers. “So Sad About Us” had also turned up on Seed but the rip through the Replacements’ “Answering Machine” was otherwise unrecorded to my knowledge, and was something that has stuck with me more than the original in the end. Which sounds unfair to Paul Westerberg perhaps but then again, call it a gentle clinging on to a distant memory for someone not around anymore.
All I definitely can say is that after they had finished up I headed down to the Whisky to see Therapy? — pretty sure that Jen and others were waiting at the Roxy to hang out Naked Soul and chat a bit, could be wrong. In the days before widespread cell phones and all I suppose we just figured out that we’d meet up somewhere afterwards, I can’t say for sure. If there was an opening band for Therapy? that night I completely missed them, and in fact my only real memory of the set beginning was that it felt like I was almost immediately there, standing not too far from the front of the stage and watching Andy and bassist Michael standing close to stock still in black T-shirts and firing it up.
Sometimes the sound mix for a band can just throw things off for all involved and that might have been half the case with this show, yet another ‘get a UK act over here for a quick introductory tour with a performance at the Roxy or the Whisky so the label folks can see what they’ve got’ type of concert, I guess. There was another show like that in that fall at the Whisky I still regret missing — David J solo as the headliner with PJ Harvey as the opener, what a combination — and I’d been to a number already so this was in respect nothing new. But there were barely any excited folks at the show and I almost seem to sense frustration as being the main sense of atmosphere that evening, that something should be firing off but wasn’t quite, not immediately.
So the performance was good enough if not great, maybe a bit muffled, I just think of bright lights at points behind the drummer and feedback and riffs and the whole thing was…polite? That’s not quite the word, and it’s not meant to be an insult on the band, maybe it was a great performance that didn’t feel like a great performance in retrospect, something that avoided connecting properly as it should. As it turned out there was a chance for the band (and maybe their audience) to make up for that the following year and I’ll get to that.
But for now, I think I remember little more than leaving to meet up with the OC crew and getting ready for yet another long drive south.