Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Yucca Tap Room

I leave for Atlanta tomorrow to finish Songs from Memory, so I'm publishing this blog a day early. Enjoy!

As I finalize Ghost Notes and Songs from Memory over the next few months, I’m going to blog regularly on the Refreshments.

I seem to recall, during this early period of the band, roughly the spring of 1994, a lot of experimenting with different venues. We went out of our way to book less obvious places to play. I don’t remember if this was because we were trying to set ourselves apart from the Mill Avenue scene or because we genuinely were curious about these off-Mill venues. Probably a little of both. I remember playing a dance club called Phrogg’s on Apache, and the Improv comedy clubs in both Tempe and San Diego. The results of these experimentations were usually unsuccessful, sometimes worse than that.

The exception was the Yucca Tap Room.

Dusty was the instigator of getting the Refreshments in at the Yucca. He somehow became aware of this little club on Southern Avenue supposedly famous for serving bloody marys at eight in the morning. Dusty insisted we all go over there after practice one Sunday night to check it out.

We all liked the place. It had wood paneling on the inside, which is good for sound, and a comfortable, neighborhood vibe. There was a dart game, and a shuffleboard game along the back wall. There was no band playing while we were there, but I think the normal Sunday night act, a cover band, hadn’t started yet. No bands from the Mill Avenue scene played there.

I think what I most liked about the Yucca was that it was different. The Blossoms and Dead Hot could lay claim to Wong’s and the Sun Club and Chuy’s, but this club could be associated with the Refreshments in some way, maybe even becoming the official unofficial home-away-from-home for the band and its fans.

The deal was simple. The Refreshments would play every Sunday night at the Yucca. There would be no advertising. To help entice otherwise responsible people out to a smoky club on Sunday night, there would be no cover charge. It became a special intimate show for those who knew about it and were foolish enough to ruin their Mondays at work for a good time on Sunday night.

Sunday nights at the Yucca rocked. We played our asses off, and people came and drank and danced and sang along. (In 1994 there was still a culture of dancing in Tempe, which would quickly change as clubs got too crowded for anyone to dance.) The Yucca became another piece in this thing we were unknowingly building, this subculture of people who were finding fun and validation at these gigs featuring this new band, singing along, dancing their asses off.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

All You Can Eat

As I finalize Ghost Notes and Songs from Memory over the next few months, I’m going to blog regularly on the Refreshments.

Okay, All You Can Eat.

Before our first gig, we chose our band name, All You Can Eat. There were others in contention. Someone wanted to call the band Traveling Surrogate Fathers. Roger was particularly fond of Pop Enema. My wife recalls Vitamedavegimen being a serious possibility. In the typical corniness of this era of the band, we wanted anything that defied anyone who tried to take our band seriously. You could talk all you wanted about songwriting or musical talent or whatever, but our brand of rock ‘n’ roll would be at least half silliness, on some days a good deal more than half.

There was only one problem; there already was a band called All You Can Eat.

I discovered this little oversight at East Side Records on University Avenue, after a month or two of gigging as All You Can Eat. Lo and behold, right there facing out behind the counter, an album by All You Can Eat. They were four guys from San Diego, and they looked not unlike us. I never heard the record—I wish I’d bought it—but I remember getting the distinct impression they were a bit more punk than the Tempe version of All You Can Eat. Anyway, I reported my findings to the band, and we collectively cursed and went back to the drawing board.

We, of course, weren’t horribly disappointed to lose All You Can Eat, but it meant we had to go back into the emotional and political tug-of-war that is a band hunting for its name. It’s not so much that you want a name that’s perfect, but you don’t want a name that anyone in the band simply can’t live with—and you really don’t want a name you can’t live with.

One day a practice, during this nameless period, Roger said something into the mic, “[blah, blah, blah] and the Refreshments.”

I stopped him. “Did you just say ‘the Refreshments’?”

There are a few problems with calling your band the Refreshments, not the least of which is that it’s so close to the Replacements, which were heroes of mine while growing up in the Midwest. We were a pop rock band that didn’t take itself too seriously, and we drank a little, and we celebrated drink a little in our music, all things synonymous with the Replacements; it probably would’ve been smarter to go with something else. Still, the Refreshments resonated with me. “Fresh” was the thing that stood out in my mind, and that there was something fun and harmless about it, like a sixties pop band. Fresh, fun, harmless, what’s not to love?

When it became clear that nobody could think of anything better and we had a gig coming up, we went with the Refreshments. I think Blush was the last hold-out--and I bet he’d still say today that he was never crazy about the name--but even he eventually caved. From then on, we were the Refreshments, for better or worse.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Um, Waterwings?

Okay, I completely screwed up and forgot to write about All You Can Eat this week. Next week, I promise.

As I finalize Ghost Notes and Songs from Memory over the next few months, I’m going to blog regularly on the Refreshments.

So, this unnamed band was off and running, coming off a successful first gig and looking to broaden its horizons.

Blush had recently procured the job of booking bands at Gibson’s, the refurbished Chuy’s, on Mill, a medium-sized club that sported a ridiculously high stage and elongated floor, and we proceeded to exploit his new position. We started leading off for bands at Gibson’s, Wong’s and elsewhere, and we made a point to do something wacky every time. I remember going to Kmart and buying waterwings, which were worn by all of us onstage, and another time buying little girls’ Easter hats. (I think the Easter bonnet gig was at Edsel’s Attic, which was a club right above the Spaghetti Company on Mill.) I remember Dusty looking particularly fetching in his bonnet, and Blush wearing his on top of his trademark black hat. Once, at Wong’s, we bought a helium balloon machine and I sat onstage, drunk as a sailor, blowing up balloon after balloon for a half hour before our set. We swore on our seventeenth gig (why seventeen, I don’t know) we would all wear evening gowns. By the time we arrived at our seventeenth gig, everyone conveniently forgot about it. The gimmick had run its course.

This all sounds dorky in retrospect, but it was fun at the time.

Once the ice was broken, we just kept playing, three, four, five nights a week, doing our best not to take ourselves too seriously, hamming it up, having fun, and writing songs. This era brought tunes like “Mekong,” “Wanted,” “Dolly,” “Broken Record,” “Buy American,” “Los Angeles,” “Professor,” “Appreciate,” and I think we started working in “Una Soda.” (Again, an old Mortals song we co-oped.)

So, when did things start to change from our friends and girlfriends dancing and cheering us on to something else, something bigger, something more potentially scene-changing?

I’ll always remember a gig at Wong’s, rocking out “Suckerpunch,” when someone stepped on a cord and Roger’s microphone went out. We all looked at each other, like all bands do at these times, wondering what to do. That’s when we heard it.

The crowd had picked up the lyrics. “Baby I was never cool enough/To get a job at a record store.” They were singing, yelling the words to “Suckerpunch” right back at us while we played. There we were, a local band for all of a couple of months, leading off around town, no CD to sell, but people already knew the words to our songs. Goosebumps rose on the back of my neck. This was getting good.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

Refreshments' First Gig

As I finalize Ghost Notes and Songs from Memory over the next few months, I’m going to blog regularly on the Refreshments.

In January 1994, our new band was practicing in Dusty’s basement, writing songs like “Mexico,” having fun, drinking beer, and generally keeping one eye peeled for our first gig.

Brian came to practice one night with news: Flathead, a great Tempe band that played regularly around town, needed an opening act for an upcoming weeknight gig at Long Wong’s. Would we do it?

It would be easy to say we jumped at the chance, but I remember hesitating. Brian had only been in the band for a month or so, and there was some concern whether we had enough songs to fill a set. We only had a week or so to get ready.

Every band comes to this point. “Are we ready?” We decided to take the Flathead gig. Hell, going into these things half-cocked is half of the fun, right? It leaves a nice little space where magic can happen. We practiced, and drank, and practiced.

We all agreed to wear safety orange for our big night, “So that nothing would go wrong,” as Roger explained from the stage. I seem to remember Brian wearing a bright orange turtleneck, bought for him from the band fund since he had no orange in his wardrobe. We took the stage and played our set, which included “Mexico,” “Banditos,” “Psychosis,” “Carefree,” “Interstate,” “My Penis,” “Nada,” “Girly,” “Suckerpunch,” “European Swallow,” “Down Together,” and probably “Feeling.” (This list is mostly surmised from my sense of when we wrote these songs. “Don’t Wanna Know” was written well before our first gig, but I don’t think we’d worked it out yet. “Blue Collar Suicide” was written before this too, but we didn’t get it ready until just before we recorded Fizzy. “Mekong,” I’m fairly certain, came later.)

Our set was a bit rushed--as it would be for years--but otherwise it went off without a hitch. We rolled from one song to the next, Roger explaining the concept of our safety orange to the crowd, commenting on the heat under the stage lights. The place was full (this is Wongs; it didn’t take much), and everyone seemed to have at least as good a time as we did. The response to the gig confirmed our suspicions: people would like this thing we were conjuring up in Dusty’s basement. All we had to do was get in front of them, and they would like it. We couldn’t wait to do it again.

And that was the way All You Can Eat made its debut to the world.

“Wait a second,” you say. “Who's ‘All You Can Eat’?”

I could tell you, but then I'd blow my blog for next week.


Sunday, September 2, 2007

Uhavegonaway Round-up/Upcoming Events

The first ever Uhavegonaway to Oregonaway Show was a blast! I got to play songs with my good friend Jim Gerke, drink beer, eat pizza, talk trash, play tunes from my forthcoming solo record, and pass out Refreshments stickers. Big thanks go out to Joe and Erica for the use of their pad for rehearsal, and to Jimmi G for making the trip all the way from Mesa, AZ. Worth the trip, Jim? Any time, dude.

And the answer to last week’s trivia question? None other than Tommy Tutone. Yes, that’s right. Tommy Tutone jumped onstage with the Refreshments at what I’m now convinced was our 1996 La Luna show and played “867-5309/Jenny” with the boys from Tempe. I remember sitting in the back of the bus as Tommy and Roger rehearsed the song. My first thought upon hearing Tommy sing was, “Wow, he sounds just like him.”

Congrats to Robert’s party-of-three for guessing right, or for at least guessing. They walked away with three Refreshments stickers.

So, now what?

First of all, I’m still hoping to play one more gig before the end of the year. I’ll keep you posted here and at ye ol’web site as events unfold.

Secondly, I have the final, formatted version of Ghost Notes sitting next to me right now. Over the next three weeks I’ll be proofreading it and making final decisions on format, layout, etc. This thing has to read and look great, and it will read and look great. Get ready for Betty, everyone!

Thirdly, at the end of September, I leave for Atlanta to finish Songs from Memory with my good friend and partner in crime Bret Hartley. That bass guitar I dragged out of the closet for the Portland show will not be going back in anytime soon.

Fourthly, as I get my projects finalized over the next few months, I’m going to blog regularly on the Refreshments. Expect ten or twelve Refreshments-related blogs between now and the end of the year, skipping weeks here or there to keep you abreast of things like new gigs and events related to Ghost Notes and Songs from Memory. I look forward to getting back to the Refreshments story, and I know many of you like to read them, so we’ll pick up where we left off in May.

That’s it. Thanks again to the folks who came to the show last night. We’ll do it again in 2008.