Many, many years ago, I was in the best live band in the country. I mean that most sincerely.
We toured incessantly, maybe more than any other band on the road except for four or five other notorious road dog bands like us- 200+ shows a year, which meant, with drive days factored in, we were able to sleep on our own beds in our own town for less than two and a half months a year, and those days were hardly ever in more than one week blocks of consecutive nights.
We played from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. We played Seattle (where I met the beautiful sister of Krist Novoselic, Diana… a story in and of itself), Spokane, San Diego and Starkville, Mississippi. We played Toronto and Saint Catherines, Saint Petersberg and Saint Simons.
We mostly kept our powder dry on the road- with all that touring, we had to watch that we didn’t compromise our health and well-being with too much excessive behavior, which made us kind of stir-crazy at times. All that tension and boredom and sublimated energy can make a bunch of guys a little nuts sometimes. Pensacola, for some reason, was the place where the dam frequently burst, and things got… weird.
We played Sluggo’s on Saturday night, then went out to Perdido Key to stay with our friend Sis Demi. This was some time in late July, I think, because Sis had a ton of leftover fireworks from the 4th, and we went down to the water at 4am and shot bottle rockets and Roman candles out into the dark ocean. Perdido Key, then, was mostly year-round residents and it was still fairly deserted. These days, it’s all condoed up, but then it was North Florida folks, and they were used to 4am insanity.
At some point, someone said “I heard a story once about a comedian who stuck one of those Roman candles in his ass and ran around the auditorium shooting balls of fire at the audience and yelping like Daffy Duck.” and someone else said “Bullshit.” Then Mike, the singer/guitarplayer/songwriter in the band, and primary lynchpin and/or catalyst of chaos, said “I’d do it. I’d do it for ten bucks…” and everyone else said “AHHHHH, BULLshit! The hell you would.”
“I would! I’d do it!! Ten bucks!” He protested.
“I’m in for ten,” I said, and there was some “Ah, whatever… you’re so full of shit….” from the rest of the band. Ray Fernandez, who was this insane Borinqeño from Brooklyn who used to travel with us, said “I got ten bucks.”
It was dark, and it was late, and I turned around and headed in at that point. Mike was always saying some shit like that, and the conversation wasn’t going to go anywhere good at 4:30 in the morning.
We played an all-ages show the next day- it was a matinee, and we played at Sluggo’s again. This was about 4 in the afternoon, I think, so I was kind of bleary, but they had good coffee at Sluggo’s in those days, and we were rocking. Towards the end of our set, we used to play the Velvet Underground song, “Can’t Stand It”, only as a big rave-up- with a long guitar solo and a bunch of mayhem, usually musical. Usually.
We got through the first two choruses of “Can’t Stand It,” and we were rounding the bend into the solo when Mike takes off his guitar and walks offstage. Sean (the rhythm guitar player) and I locked eyes, Sean shrugged, and he stepped up to take a lead. We sort of dug in and went for it as a three piece, since the crowd was right there with us and hanging on the lip of the stage.
I don’t know how long Mike was gone, but it couldn’t have been more than a minute and a half because Sean’s solo was still sounding pretty fresh, but when Mike reappeared, he wasn’t wearing anything but a t-shirt, his one-stars, and the strangest grin I’ve ever seen. Both hands where behind his back. One by one, the members of the band noticed he was back, and somehow we managed to keep playing, even though we were a little stunned that he was up there, at an all-ages show, with his dong hanging out… and his hands… behind his back….
And, he revealed what he had in his hands…. a 30″ Roman candle…. and a lighter.
Yes, I kept playing. We all did. But it didn’t look good for any of us, but most especially me. There was a sprinkler system to consider, and the fire codes, and it was an all-ages show… and the fucker had to sing the last verse, and the drums… were BEHIND him….
So he lights the thing, and as the fuse is burning down, he’s staring at the lit end, and then the other end, and I realize that he doesn’t know which end is the business end, and he starts to stick the wrong end in his butt…. he must have heard me shouting “NNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!” over the sound of the music, because he flipped it 180º, strapped on his guitar, turned his amp ALL THE WAY UP, cut loose with a blazing sheet of noise that would have made Lou Reed very, very proud…
and then fireballs started to shoot out of his ass.
He turned around, bent over just as the first ball of fire shot into the audience. They were milling around in a sort of mosh pit (this was the 1990s, after all) and as the first fireball arced towards them, they swayed like pampas grass in a strong wind. The fireball disappeared somewhere in the back of the club and no one was injured as it burned out under a chair. He played some more of his solo, then bent over again and “POOM!!” the second fireball sailed into the crowd. The crowd dodged in prefect unison. (Thank god it was an all-ages show and everyone was at least passing for sober.)
From where I sat, it was like watching some bizarre, demented honey bee shooting fire out of his stinger. No performer ever held an audience’s attention like that before, or since, I would wager.
Once all six fireballs had raced around the club and died out, Mike sauntered up to the mic, blackened and spent cardboard tube hanging out of his crack, and he sang the last verse.
We played a big ending- the big crescendo stinger BANG BANG BANG ending you’d expect on a song where a guy shot fire out of his ass, then “Thankyougoodnightwehavet-shirtsforsale,” etc. and off we went to the dressing room.
I’ll never forget it.
And yes, I paid up.