Not Just the Ticket — #69, Straitjacket Fits, July 19, 1993

Straitjacket Fits, Roxy

Then current album: Blow

Opening acts: The Bats, The Jean Paul Sartre Experience

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo once more. Perhaps they held stock.

The quality of ticket printouts from this year was really all over the place. I can only ascribe it to experimentation with different kinds of stock or something similar – maybe they wanted to figure out just the right way to irritate people down the road. Or at least those people who would care about it at all, like myself. Then again I would think like this.

Meantime, all New Zealand, all the time! Or at least for this one shining moment.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen a band from New Zealand, as my entry in the series about the Verlaines demonstrates, and I’ve said much more about New Zealand and their music, or what I knew of it then, in that entry, so I’ll avoid repeating myself this time around. Suffice to say that by 1993 I was starting to get a better sense of what more there was to offer from the country, helped by the discovery of bands I never did see but fell hard for in 1992 and 1993. A classic example would be Bailter Space, whose Robot World might actually be my favorite release on Matador during that whole time period. Sure it was because of the whole ‘shoegaze sorta’ impact of it, but that definitely wasn’t all that was going on on that excellent album.

But what was happening on this show I went to was something else – and it was a total New Zealand fest for sure, in fact specifically a Flying Nun package deal of a kind, for all that all three bands were on different labels in the US. But they’d all started with Flying Nun or were still on it and when I heard about it I knew I just had to get there if I could. Happily there was a fairly big crossover of appreciation when it came to SoCal musical types and New Zealand – or more specifically Inland Empire musical types, people who either recorded for the Shrimper label or knew people who did or otherwise were hanging around and performing on a seemingly constant level. Franklin Bruno, Peter Hughes , John Darnielle, many more besides, and that included KUCI DJ Steve Cronk, who I’m pretty sure I went to see this show with, probably with some other folks as well.

It’s not totally clear to me, the circumstances around this show, simply because it was a bit of an unclear summer in the best way. I actually took the whole summer off, having crunched through a year’s worth of classes that had provided the strongest form of academic challenge I’d yet encountered – no surprise, after all, it was grad school, but throughout the whole year I sure felt better that I wasn’t paying for any of it thanks to that fellowship. So catching my breath and doing next to nothing all day was a hell of a relief and if it was pure selfish laziness…well, why not? It may not be the best defense of myself I’ve ever mustered but hey, the things you do when you’re twenty-two and carefree.

So this like the previous show and more to come were in this blissful time of letting the cross breeze come through the windows and fighting off the ants that seemed to constantly explore new ways of making their way into my apartment, meaning I could also laze around KUCI and explore more music, which is how I started to get a little more familiar with all three bands that played. I’d already heard them by name but the only one I’d actually heard much of was Straitjacket Fits after they’d signed to Arista for Melt back in 1991. It was an okay enough album and they gave some good interviews in 1992 but I can’t say I was a hyperfan for them, though I did like the story lead figure Shayne Carter told about some guy in the (very English) Mighty Lemon Drops mistaking him for an Australian and, upon being corrected, adding “Australia, New Zealand, it’s all the same thing.” Carter in immediate response: “Fuck off you Irish git.” Sounds about right.

In comparison I knew a little more about the Bats due to Robert Scott, though I didn’t fully know about their music aside from the Fear of God album the previous year. The Clean are now a band that deserve all the genuflections they get and they were already getting them pretty well back in 1993, but again in my case I was just still putting two and two together and thinking “Well ‘Tally Ho!’ sure sounds good.” The Jean Paul Sartre Experience were mostly a name but a great name and I hadn’t heard anything by them at all by the time of this show, though you’d’ve thought I’d have dug out some sort of EP in the KUCI holdings by then. Must have been too busy scrounging the world music section given my show at the time (true!).

So with all this under my unsure belt I went up to the Roxy with Steve C. and whoever else. A total blur at this point, I have no idea if we did anything beforehand or just went and hung out – whatever false jaded veteran feelings I was having at this point (having only started regularly going there for shows two years previously!) were as shallow as you might guess.

The Jean Paul Sartre Experience were good – and that’s about all I can say because that’s about all I can remember. I don’t even have a half clear visual in my head of their performance, not the slightest thing, just that they did perform. I have no idea if they played “Flex” or not – possibly my favorite song by them now, not something I even knew about back then. History seems to have done them poorly but then again having to shrink their name down to JPSE after various complaints from France couldn’t have helped. Definitely a set where I would have liked to have gone back in time and smacked myself a bit so I could remember more.

The Bats I do much more clearly remember, as I do Robert Scott. From where I was standing he was over towards the opposite side of the stage from me, that or I was just unable to get any closer to his location. It was hardly a mosh-addled crowd at this show, as one might guess; I suspect most everyone there was in fact like me, a college-radio friendly type who felt happy as heck not to deal with big drunk sweaty guys. Given that Robert himself looked like someone who would be equally happy in that situation, clearly much identification was at work.

I hate to talk about the Bats without reference to the rest of the band, seeing as it was hardly just Mr. Scott himself. The whole performance was a sharp, focused charm and if there was a feeling that the Bats’ albums could tend towards a series of soundalike songs at points there were always great individual moments – “North By North,” “Courage,” “Sighting the Sound,” all of which got played unless I’m totally wrong. “Afternoon in Bed,” perhaps my favorite song still by them, was a couple of years in the future, but no complaints at all about what we did get.

That left the Straitjacket Fits – and this was the era that those in the know still talk about as being when Carter started thinking of himself as a rock star and carried himself accordingly on stage. I didn’t quite see it myself but then again I hadn’t been following the group from the start, and neither had I been surprised by the general idea of that arc, I had already encountered it a number of times in the previous years. I do recall a bit of posing by Carter here and there but in a sort of self-consciously melodramatic and swoony way rather than lighting his tongue on fire or the like. Compared to, say, where Billy Corgan was rapidly headed, he was the very model of restraint.

Not much else remains with me from that show aside from a curious personal epilogue – around this time Melody Maker, which I was still reading assiduously, said something in response to a letter writer that they were always happy to hear from potential writers if they wanted to submit something. Taken with this, and not knowing if this was pro forma politeness or something serious, I gave it a shot and wrote up a review of the show. It wasn’t very good, at most enthusiastic fannishness, or so I figure – I never kept a copy of it for myself and I either sent it off via regular mail or, of all things, fax. While I had my first e-mail accounts by this time I don’t think Melody Maker did, so if I had to get their attention I’d have to go this route. I wasn’t expecting any sort of response, but I figured, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

So when a review did run some weeks later of the tour but from a New York date and from one of their regular writers, well, I wasn’t surprised. Doing more than campus newspaper record reviews was still some distance in my future.

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