Friday, February 01, 2008

The Shackeltons in DC 01.28.08

Editor's Note: This is the first post from our new DC writer, Matt. From time to time, he will be offering his unique perspective on the world of music. Please welcome him to IA.

credit: Abbey from Sound on The Sound

Everything started off pretty slow on Monday evening. I was looking up at the red rotten ceiling of The Red and The Black, listening to the opening bands stomping around on my head. The bartender and I were watching Mario Van Peebles on the television set in some shiny bespoke number, playing a flamboyant defense attorney on Law and Order. I asked her if she'd ever seen New Jack City and she laughed under her whiskey. Both of us wondered why Mario was holding that baby on the beach and why Nino Brown was eating that banana in the middle of the crack board of director's scene in the penthouse of the Carter.

I was soaking up a few beers, quietly, and Mark Redding, frontman for the five-piece The Shackeltons, was at the other end, under a Greek fisherman's cap, talking to his producer. I figured I would pay him no mind, let things unravel how they were supposed to be. There was a marathon on TNT and I was in no hurry. The bartender and I talked about scars and anabolic steroids, taking shots of Powers whiskey. We also talked about people who have been hit by cars, some worse than others, and we made sympathetic faces, although we both knew nothing about it personally.

I rode my bike across town to see these fellas, but I knew it would be worth it. I was sent a copy of their CD in advance and I've been pedaling around the pretty marble and the squat decaying brick, listening.

The name, as it goes, comes from some craggy bastard named Earnest with gunmetal blue eyes. He took a ship called Endurance down to the polar ice shelves in 1914, where there weren't any dead archdukes named Franz Ferdinand or any buzzing shells or trench mortars to turn his hard mug into hamburger.

His ship was crunched up, in the ice, and he led all the little braves across the floes. After all that, with a weak ticker, he begged for service at the front, in France. He didn't get it. His knees started to quiver under a few heart attacks, so he sat under warm sunlight and recorded his thoughts.

These were all things I learned, in time. Right then, I was still sitting there, watching Mario lose his case to Sam Waterson, who had a cheaper suit on. The city of New York was happy, because a killer was behind bars. I was happy too, because I had more beers than I was charged for. Then the guitars upstairs sounded familiar, so I paid and sauntered up.

These bad daddies were green looking under the light, like Dead Boys. Redding had a red neckerchief around his neck, half Basque separatist, half Stiv Bators. The other dude had that tight-jawed strumming like Cheetah and I wondered where the hell I was.

Then the fuse blew and I knew where I was. I was seeing a rock and fucking roll show.

Redding started talking, to fill up the dark empty space whistling between spaced-out kids making limp poses on the peeling paint. He wasn't sure what to do about it, and besides, he couldn't find his hat. He scratched his head, looking for his hat. They, whoever they were, had the breakers flipped, easy, lickedy-split, and the band chopped into the next song. The lights blanched them with a metallic, pallbearer's complexion, making the sweat on their bodies look cold and unreal, dug up out of the earth, twitching and screeching like the starving undead. The sound that came out was hard and hot, like bullets. I stood in the back and kept my mouth shut. Or, rather, open. In fascination.

The snappy people bopped around fashionably on a Monday night, happy to be there, just to be there, but as the band continued playing, they started to pay attention. A girl in a long striped tunic knocked me out. She sat, perched like some exotic pet, and drank her drink in elegance that mocked a secret tragic joke. I laughed. Guitars cut us all to ribbons and drums punched the air out of our lungs. I knew she understood all of it, without getting too excited, and beside her, we watched the rest of the crowd claw and scramble to catch roses that Redding was tossing into the darkness. The kids fell upon them, caught them like they were running with a scissors. These roses had thorns along the stem.

The corner of Redding's mouth drooped. Not a sneer. It wasn't contempt. But imagine a killer that learns to sing first, capable, in violent fits, of extraordinary acts, that maybe he don't even know he's doing, until hours or days after. The Wild Boys behind him were like flames licking an altar that worshiped a god you had to meet face to face to understand.

They're some real young dudes, fish-flopping around under the dry light. You have to see them to know. I was leaning with my elbows on the bar wondering if they die like this every night. The drummer was shirtless, bashing his kit like he mainlined a nerve agent. The mic-stand was kicked into the crowd. Redding pulled his hair out, dragging himself up on his tip-toes. The sound around him lashed and twisted his body. One of the guitarists, wearing a Marine Corps Gunnery Seargent's parade jacket, stood with his thin legs spread far apart, shaking his guitar, like an angry kid shaking a piggy bank. He had us covered, like Cody Jarrett. After the lights went up, the kids and the girls went up, and the oily old dudes writing their stories went up, I went up.

The band members were busily tearing down the equipment, because they were driving back to PA for their CD release party the following day. I talked to Redding for a few minutes. I don't remember what about, really, but we talked for a while. After that, I peeled off and went downstairs to get my coat and hat. I took one more shot of whiskey with the bartender and I rode home, happy I hadn't spent the evening inside drinking a sour rosso, listening to my old records and wishing I had a place to go.

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