The Underground is Alive and Well and Living in Ohio: Part 2 The Underground is Alive and Well and Living in Ohio: Part 2

The Underground is Alive and Well and Living in Ohio: Part 2

The Underground is Alive and Well and Living in Ohio: Part 2

Here’s the second installment of my awkward stumblings into these things called “music” and “being in a band.”

“I FEEL SO GOOD! I CAN HARDLY STAND IT! I FEEL LIKE I SHOULD SING OR WHISTLE OR SOMETHING!” I just walked into a decaying concrete basement filled with guitar amps, a few microphones, and a pack of hollering twenty-something dudes. The place is hilariously sandwiched in between five or six massive frats and sororities just outside the University of Cincinnati. Tetanus House. It’s my first time here, and I come to learn that it’s a frequent hangout/venue for an incestuous network of Cincinnati punk bands. We’re opening for two of these bands tonight, crust-punkers Unscum and positive hardcore band John Walsh (yes, named after the host of America’s Most Wanted). John Walsh basically borrows a member from every awesome punk band in Cincinnati to create, well, another awesome punk band, of which many of the members are currently yelling words sharpied onto computer paper into a couple of microphones; the gang vocals for an upcoming John Walsh release in the making. “YEAH FRIENDSHIP THAT’S THE STUFF!”

“It reminds me a lot of trying to direct a preschool class,” I say to Eric, the conductor and engineer of the “session” as well as the drummer for both of tonight’s bands, while they were taking a break.

“Yeah, except they know they’re adults, which just makes it sad,” he answers.

Seriously, if the opportunity to witness a pack of sweaty dudes yell in unison in a tiny concrete basement ever presents itself to you, please please please don’t pass it up. The howls bounce everywhere, surround you, and it’s friggin’ loud, totally unamplified, and POWERFUL, you know? Shit was like… stirring. It’s moments like these that lead me to suspect that a strictly internet-based marketing campaign for music that can be filed under “passionate” is probably the dumbest idea I’ve ever had.

Allow me to list all of the bands from which John Walsh barrows members: Dopamines, Seedy Seeds, Team Stray, Lost Hands Found Fingers, and probably a bunch more that I’m not aware of since the nature of these sorts of communities is to have as many bands as there are people. Likely, that list will mean little to anyone outside of Cincinnati (just take my word that they’re all the shit), but here’s the part that counts: Dopamines are like best friends or whatever with Dillinger Four and are planning on touring with them in the future. Let me tell you something about Dillinger Four. They’re my favorite goddamned band. So this was our debut as a band that is three degrees separated from Dillinger Four, a fact that, along with the seriously awesome people there, helped fuel a scary energetic set and probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing music

We were followed by Unscum, a two-piece crusty band that I mistakenly cast off as a very well done parody. They played in front of a banner that read “Death To All False Scum” and did that hilarious gurgle-growl in between songs to announce such nuggets as, “CAPITALISM DIES TONIGHT!” and “DEATH TO ALL FALSE POLITICIANS!” They pretend they’re from Belgium, and their demo artwork is rife with generic grainy black and white anarcho fare with the phrase “I think, therefore I smash capitalism” gracing the front. But here’s the thing. Dudes rock like they mean it. Ain’t nothing funny when they play, which isn’t playing so much as destroying. And the real kicker came in the form of an introduction:

“THIS SONG’S ABOUT GOING TO COLLEGE. IT’S CALLED ‘SHITTY AS FUCK.’ ”

Now let’s backtrack for a moment. As a senior in high school, my pop-punk band The Get-Down Louies (a pretty even split between The Strokes and Rancid) played at this now defunct all-ages space called the Harrison Avenue Theater located in “downtown” Cheviot, Ohio (which means it’s across the street from a Wendy’s), and this killer punk band comprised of guys that looked five years older than everyone else opened for us, and no one had any idea why in the hell they weren’t headlining. Their name was Team Stray and their singer straight up told me to buy the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime completely out of the blue after the show. I count this as the first moment of my “proper” musical education. Dude changed my life and I never saw him again, that is, not until this show at Tetanus House.

So I introduce myself, kiss his feet, etc. We get to talking and I find out that we’re both English majors and that he currently teaches English at Miami University. Now, without getting into it too much, I have no idea why I’m an English major and teaching is a horrible fate that I seriously want to avoid. At this point, it dawns on me that everyone here drinking beer from a keg, wearing a band t-shirt, hanging out in a decaying basement, and submersed heavily in a grimy, hardly recognized Cincinnati subculture is a college graduate. Now, given its context, it seemed like Unscum’s “Shitty as Fuck” was little more than a great joke, but oh my God it’s not, and it genuinely scared the hell out of me. While unintelligible during their set, their demo’s liners revealed the song’s words. “We got that degree/ We got that bullshit/ We got that paper/ We got that bullshit… We put in the time, where do we go from here? / We’ll join our friends at the bar for a whiskey and a beer.” I in no way feel like bumming around in punk bands well into my thirties is a depressing future, in fact that’s pretty much what I intend to do and I’m looking forward to it, but when those words get paired with monstrous distortion and a torrent of blast beats, Unscum make a pretty good argument for cutting college out of that equation.

John Walsh are some serious veterans. Of course they only look like they’re in their late twenties, but there isn’t a hint of silly earnestness or over-excitement in their set. Dudes just get the job done, and they are very very good at their job. Friggin tight hardcore punk, mildly poppy hooks, and some well-timed chanting. But what I notice while leaning against the back wall isn’t the music so much as the audience in front of me. Everyone here knows all the words, all the participation points (dudes are all about high fives, which were altered that night to crossing forearms in an effort to fight swine flu), and they’re generally losing their shit. It was, you know, a community. A group of friends based around music they love. My band totally doesn’t drink enough beer to hang with these guys, but it’s refreshing to know these things still exist. Sure, the internet is now capable of doing all the work for you, but why in the hell would you want that when the work is the best part?



2 Responses about “The Underground is Alive and Well and Living in Ohio: Part 2”

  • Eric says:

    Hey man, I was searching for cd reviews (ego-stroking, that is) and I came across this. What an excellent read! I had a ton of fun that night, and so did you apparently!!

  • Tom Stray says:

    My new band (Army Coach) and your band need to play shows, and asap: teamstray[at]gmail[dot]com