Friday, May 25, 2012

Bloody Cock Stumps, Hangovers and the Revolution: 3 Days on the Road with Commie Hilfiger

The Nundini Food Store and Chef's Table is one of the best kept secrets in Houston. A tiny Italian deli now with a restaurant it sits just above the hill when you cross I-10 on Shepherd heading into the Heights. If you didn't know it was there, you might just think it's a row of warehouses with little activity going on. In the second warehouse there are scattered piles of old tables, chairs and a few racks of food products. The way the lighting is set up it looks like the place where a serial killer would take their victims to get their jollies off. Towards the back there is a narrow, rickety staircase that leads you to a platform that feels like it could fall through at any moment. This is where Commie Hilfiger practices and stores their gear so the tour starts here.

Bassist Chris (Nikita Krischev) is the son of the owner and Peter (drums/Dmitry Peterstroika) and his girlfriend, Trapper, work there also, but it's Jason (vox/Yuri Nation) and I who are the first to arrive.  He's in dire need of some caffeine for the drive to San Antonio so he heads in to get a latte while I dick around the store waiting for everyone else to show up. Eventually, the rest of the band arrives including new guitarists Cory (Ragged Hearts) and Josh (The Last Cigarette) and we continue to fuck around the parking lot smoking cigarettes and bullshitting for a little bit until Jason gets everyone to start loading the gear. The guitars and drums are easy to carry down that scary, ill lit staircase (I knocked Chris' bass into the wobbly railing and racked myself) but apparently no one has ever wanted to load the heavy amps down it. The solution is to load everything onto a pallet at the edge of the landing and to bring a forklift up and drive everything to warehouse loading dock. It's actually the most efficient system for a band to load out for a show that I've ever seen.

From there it's time to dole out the equipment in the four vehicles in our little caravan and once it's finally settled on who's riding solo (that would be Cory) we all head off for San Antonio. We're already 45 minutes behind schedule.

I'm riding with Jason and we spend our time talking about work, future plans, and The Wire. Jason's car has a dvd player in it and we end up watching the last episodes of season two. A nice way to kill the time as we roll through the beautiful Texas country side. Eventually, I remember I'm on this trip not just to hang out with my friends but to write something about the band and steer the conversation towards its future intentions.
"This is a warm up show," he says bluntly. "I mean, the people at Boneshakers really liked us and that's why they want us back but I don't expect much of a turnout. It's a bike bar and really cool but we didn't get the crowd we thought we would last time. Still, I'm excited." Jason also talks about plans to record a new album and gushes over the new songs the band has written (I'll write more about this later but the one they play during this excursion is really fucking good). "By the way, I think Boneshakers is a beer and wine only joint." Usually, this would cause me distress, being a liquor drinker, but I've come prepared. I have a flask of New Orleans rum in my backpack along with a bullet flask of Jameson attached to my wallet chain. Still, we plan ahead and decide to hit up a Buc-ees for some beer for after the show and to grab something to eat and I tweet Josh's fiancee, Carolynn to hit up a liquor store just to be on the safe side.

Peter and Trapper meet up with us there and we all wander around the supermarket sized truckstop searching for something to eat. I grab a case of Lone Star and a cheap cooler along with some crackers, everyone else snags cold cut sandwiches because they're fucking insane (I, frankly, don't fucking trust Buc-ees to keep me e coli free yet as this diary continues you'll see I'm a giant fucking hypocrite). This is the only meal I will have had since 10 a.m. today. The drive continues on and as we get closer to San Antonio, Jason and I start making jokes about going to visit the basement of the Alamo before getting fucked over by the navigation system on our phones. By some strange twist of fate the band arrives at Boneshakers pretty much at the same time.

So, they load in and everyone in the bar is obviously stoked to see them. Commie Hilfiger is a band that creates passionate converts everywhere they go. Sure, some people might not get the gag or think the guys are really hardcore members of the Communist Party, but the people that appreciate the spectacle and music really dig them. In fact, the bar staff are all sporting the hammer and sickle t-shirts from their previous visit. This is a good sign but upon seeing some dinosaur classic rock covers band outside the place getting ready to play everyone just retreats to behind the bar after the gear and merch is all brought inside. After all, it's not like the people lining up to hear Eagles covers from septuagenarians would dig a comedic punk band. I set up the merch table quickly, organize the t-shirts by size, grab my notebook and head outside to join everyone else.

Chris is in a mood. While we all pass around my flask of rum and burn cigarettes, he paces around in a state of, I guess, annoyance. I can't really tell if he's anxious about the show or just in a shit mood. Walking around  and spitting out bon mots like "I'm gonna go touch people's girlfriends" and "I'm gonna go drink beer and make fun of people" I'm furiously scribbling in my notebook to keep up with him. Peter notices this and says, "Hey, I don't think you should write that down." Chris, in total I-could-give-a-fuck mode immediately interjects, "[Debauchery], fuck that! You write it down as you see it." He casually wanders off to check out the dinosaur band playing outside the bar to minimal appeal.

Remembering my duties as band bitch, I go back inside to check on the merch table and score another free Lone Start from the bar. They're out of the National Beer of Texas and I'm forced to endure the piss that is Pabst Blue Ribbon but it's ok cause I got a flask to keep me content. And then the first band starts.

They all look like they could be doppelgangers for the @dadboner twitter handle. A bunch of paunchy dudes, in True Religion gear who open up their set by performing what could be best described as Aerosmith's take on Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty." This, I decry, is tantamount to treason considering these assholes claim to be Texans.  I quickly head outside and am reminded that the merch doesn't really need constant supervision and we all sip our tall boys and nip on the flask for a bit. Peter commandeers my flask before he has to set up his drums, a bit drunk.

They set up quick and immediately proceed to rock the fuck out of the crowd. The traditional march the band does from brings in everyone from outside and the crowd is very into it. After all, how often do you see a bunch of dudes in military fatigues beating drums and hoisting a communist flag stroll by you? By the time Chris begins playing the bar is buzzing with people trying to figure out just what the fuck is about to happen. Jason is an expert front man and knows how work the crowd even though there is nothing resembling a stage. Even before they play an actual song I've got a couple of people running up to buy CD's. and when they explode into the first song it's clear this new incarnation of the band is really clicking even though there are some MAJOR sound issues.

When it comes to music, Boneshakers is essentially an ice house with a PA system and the person running the board isn't helping things. From time to time, I can't even hear the guitars, (especially Cory's leads) the roaring buzz of Chris' bass occasionally drowns everything out, the backing vocals seem to be an afterthought and Jason's mic keeps getting dropped from the mix.  With no monitors, the band don't notice the sonic maladies and continue to put on a stellar show for the people sticking around. It's a sparse but enthusiastic crowd that appreciates the comedy and Jason's stage banter as much as the music. That's the great thing about Commie Hilifiger when they play to unfamiliar and unsuspecting crowds: they always come away with a group of new comrades.

The band finishes up and have to immediately load the gear outside so the next band can set up and you can see the intense exhaustion they've earned themselves. It's not just that the band is energetic and plays hard, but with those heavy fatigues and hats on it's akin to wearing a winter coat during a Texas summer. Cory wears an Ignatius J. Reilly style hat and seems to be feeling it the most. Everyone agrees their first show together is a success and despite the technical problems are really optimistic about the next two coming up. We stick around to watch the last band and then get everything loaded up before splintering into two groups.  Jason, myself, Chris and Cory will be staying in San Marcos and Peter, Josh and their ladies are heading up to Austin. We'll all meet up at Mr. Fest in San Marcos tomorrow afternoon.

Jason and I head off and I've got a pretty good buzz going on. We pass Peter on the freeway and he looks like he is about to pass the fuck out. I give him a call and it turns out he's fine just completely drained from the set and having to load his drums out in, like, five minutes. As I'm texting my wife, letting her know that I'm alive, Jason gets a call from his girlfriend and they begin what appears to me to be an intimate conversation. Not in a sexual way, mind you, but I just get the feeling I shouldn't be present for this. To break the (at least I feel) awkward tension, I tell Jason, "If you wanna have phone sex I'm totally cool with that." Without missing a beat, he replies, "Well, I got one hand on the phone and one hand on the wheel so you're gonna have to help me out."

Eventually, we arrive at the hotel and it's clear all parties just want to pound a beer or two and then pass the fuck out. Late start, long drive, exhausting show and I've been awake for almost 24 hours. I warn everyone that I'll probably be the first one to wake up since I get up at 3:45 in the morning for work and ask if they want me to roust them for breakfast. They do, even Chris, who is a hardcore night owl, and we head outside to enjoy one last cigarette before slumber. In celebration, we pass around the bullet flask of Jameson. It's been a pretty rad start to the weekend thus far and things can only get better.

Coming up in part two: Commie plays the best show of the tour, the band meets up with the awesome Neon Cobra, we all enjoy cheap shots of Jameson at the darkest bar in the universe and it all ends with my drunken ass falling into the hotel room wall head first. Stay tuned.