The Nice-N-Neat Get Action Special 2004 Fiesta:
May 28th & 29th @ The Triple Rock & Turf Club, Minneapolis, MN

Get Action Fest: The Big Picture from Steve Strange

Action is a scarce commodity in a place like the Twin Cities, so it was with particular excitement that I heard from Nice & Neat Records/Sweet J.A.P's Hideo that he was organizing a two-day fest full of first rate, mostly out of state bands. Hideo's long been the man as far as bringing good bands to the Twin Cities goes, but it had been a long time since Minnesota had seen a weekend with a lineup as promising as the one he assembled for Memorial Day weekend. The fact that it was in my own hometown and I didn't need to drive ten hours to get to it only made things all the better. Not even the news that Eric Lastname was going to come up (or over as it were) from Wisconsin was going to keep me away from this!

I was worried that I was gonna miss the beginning of Friday's show at Minneapolis' Triple Rock since I was late getting back from taking my girlfriend back to her place in St. Cloud (about an hour and a half outside of Minneapolis) but it turned out my fears were for naught as I only missed a couple songs of the Sweet Faces eight song set. Sweet Faces are Brian from the Fevers side band, and their sound is pretty similar to the Fevers in intent, but when I've seen them in the past they've always come up a bit short in the execution department. With two-thirds new members however, this lineup was basically an entirely different band, even if their set list was still similar. The old Sweet Faces' rhythm section was competent enough, but didn't really have the fire necessary to provide the spark necessary for the brand of power pop that I think Brian had in mind. So it was a great surprise to hear the Sweet Faces, powered by their new rhythm section's more muscular and energetic beat, sounding almost as vital and exiting as the Fever's superlative recorded output. Now they just need to write some more songs (three out of eight were covers) and put out a single. Until now I always just figured that the Sweet Faces were an outlet for the songs Brian didn't deem good enough for the Fevers, but with their new lineup it's possible to hear how good their songs actually are. All of you who flipped over the Fevers LP would be guaranteed a good time watching the Sweet Faces.

Following the Sweet Faces I went and got another two beers (there was a special going on two bottles of a decent beer whose name I forget for only five bucks) and decided to seek out Eric Lastname. Problem was, all he gave me for a description was that he had "faggy black hair," and there were two guys up front, both of whom I had never laid eyes on before, that fit that description to a T. One of them was indeed Lastname, and the other turned out to be none other than his fellow Milwaukeeite Paul Reject. From what I could tell they both seemed like cool guys. Paul in particular was a lot more laid back than one would expect based on his message board hi-jinks. While we were talking the Tears started setting up for what they claimed would be their last ever show (a claim they also made a couple days ago in Wisconsin according to a friend of mine). I probably should have paid more attention to them if it was in fact their final show, but I wasn't really feeling it on that particular night. They definitely weren't bad, but apart from a few songs that Nick G sang I was less than blown away. It was weird because they kind of seemed like two different bands depending upon who was handling the vocals.

After the Tears tore down their gear the Little Killers took the stage ready to further lubricate the crowd's collective brains with their brand of greasy rock n roll. I actually didn't care for their LP too much, mainly due to its antiseptic production (what was up with that anyway? Wasn't Crypt the label that rejected the version of "Get Action" Teengenerate recorded with Kurt Bloch for being too clean?), so I was looking forward to seeing how they pulled the same songs off live. As it would turn out, they sound much better live than on record, since their sound is way messier and looser. The only problem I had with them was that the drummer and bass player really didn't bring enough to the table in order to enable them to hold their own with Andy's killer, fuzzed out leads. Still, that gripe aside, they put on an entertaining set that left me far more a fan of theirs than I was going into it.

In my eyes, however, the above bands were merely an appetizer to the main course provided by the fourth group to take the stage, namely the incomparable Marked Men. I've been fortunate enough to see them on numerous occasions between their current incarnation and their earlier days in the Reds, and each time they've been great, but from the opening chords it was obvious that this night was going to be particularly memorable. As cheesy as it sounds, it was as though there was an electrical current flowing not only into their guitars, but also out of them and into the audience as well. Once I got hit by that charge, combined with their patented machine tight rhythms and spot-on melodies, it was all over for me: the current of energy the Marked Men where emitting kept building and building inside of me; shutting down my rational mind and prompting me to jump up and down in mercurial harmony with their sonic attack. I don't think there was a single song where I wasn't bouncing around like a kid with jumping beans in his pants and, on the songs I had heard before, singing along with all my remaining breath. This was the kind of moment that makes me go see live rock n roll: a feeling of total blissful abandon and surrender to both the moment and the beat that springs from the hearts of those who are tuned into the same unconscious frequency as myself. For the life of me I couldn't tell you what songs they played that night (though I do recall that, to my disappointment, they didn't play "Not Too Late"), but that's only an ephemeral concern compared to the transcendent rock experience of having the Marked Men plug into my soul and play my heartstrings as deftly as Jeff wields his Danelectro.

The Marked Men's onslaught left me drained of both energy and sweat, so I didn't have much left with which to appreciate the Riverboat Gamblers. From what I can remember they seemed really good, but they weren't up to the task of following the transcendental rock majesty of the Marked Men. They played all of the same songs as the last time they played the Triple Rock a couple months back, but their energy level seemed to be just a tad lower than before. Then again, that certainly could have just been my subjective experience due to how spent the Marked Men left me. Whatever the case, I still had a couple of their songs that I've never heard on record playing in my head for a few days after seeing them.

After the show I ran into Eric again in the Triple Rock bar (which sits adjacent to the venue) and shot the shit with him about things various and sundry. To say Eric was drunk would be a gross understatement. At some point he ended up hitting on some random ho whose face served as evidence to just how drunk he actually was. Not surprisingly she was glowing from the attention, but ever the intrepid rock journalist, Eric forsook the allure of easy poon in order to tend to business, in this case an interview with the Marked Men. While we were waiting around for everyone to pack their shit up this rather unassuming looking man of about forty came up to us and started going off about all sorts of goofy shit, the upshot of which being that he wanted to tag along on our Marked Men interview, despite the fact that he really didn't seem like he knew that much about them. According to Eric he made the following observation about me while I was busy hearing from Sweet J.A.P's Matthew about how I had just accidentally mixed up the Japanese words for "tomorrow" and "yesterday" (something you learn in the first week of Japanese. Keep in mind I'm going into the fourth year next fall.), "He's so SMART! That guy is just so SMART!" Maybe you gotta hear Eric say it to get the full effect. Anyway the Marked Men interview didn't end up going down after all, as we didn't make it back to Hideo's house until like 3:30 AM, and by that time everyone was just too beat to be answering thrilling questions like, "what are your three favorite Lithuanian punk records?" and "which do you prefer: tube steak or polish sausage?" I ended up heading out around 4 AM or so, but ended up getting lost in the wilds of a part of St. Paul I'd never been to before while the rain was coming down in torrents so thick I could barely see in front of me. At one point a car, doubtlessly being driven by a drunk, came barreling at me head on. Luckily there wasn't any traffic in the lane next to me, so I could easily swerve over to avoid him, but it was nevertheless a surreal way to cap off my night.

I woke up late the next day with a headache stemming from the previous night's revelry (I didn't intend to drink a lot, but who can turn down free beers?), tried to get a hold of Lastname in order to show him around Minneapolis but couldn't connect with his phone, so then just spent the afternoon pounding the water and Gatorade in an attempt to de-pickle my brain. This didn't prove too successful, so I was still a bit out of it when I went with my friend John to go see "The Phenomenal" AJ Styles take on "The Anarchist" Aric Cannon for the MPW Universal title in a fantastic bout that saw the international superstar Styles capture the gold from hometown boy Cannon. At the show my pal Bobby, who has had well over his fare share of hangovers, suggested I switch to Powerade in order to eliminate the sluggishness that comes after a night of drinking, and lo and behold the B vitamins in Powerade had me feeling tip top…which was good because I was about to head out for the second installment of the Get Action fest, this time at St. Paul's historic Turf Club.

Since I was coming straight from the wrestling card, which was way out in the suburban wilds of Maple Grove, I ended up missing Jane Doe and the Cop Haters, who went on first. According to Takashi from Sweet J.A.P, I would like them, so we'll just pretend I saw them and that they were pretty good, alright? I wasn't too worried about missing them, but on the way to the Turf I was kind of anxious as to whether or not I could get there in time to see the Functional Blackouts. Luckily, I got there just as they were setting up. What I've heard of their recorded output I really liked, but they were an entirely different beast live. Their brand of KBD-damaged primal punk left me standing in a trance with my jaw agape and a steady stream of drool pouring down my chin. The Functional Blackouts were raw, manic energy and nervous tension applied to two and a half minute bursts of outer space rock n roll. I should slap myself for saying something so cliche, but all I could think while watching Costello maniacally manhandle his kit was that he sounds like what one would imagine Keith Moon would have if he had heard hardcore. Their new songs were all great, so much so that I'm sure their next record will be a huge improvement over the last. No fights this time, but I still felt like I'd just gotten my ass kicked when it was over (but in a good way). Oh yeah, they also didn't play "Bombs Away" which was a total bummer. Next time I want an extended version of everyone's least favorite dirgy ditty.

Going on after a slash and burn set by the Functional Blackouts was an unenviable task, but I was really looking forward to seeing the Kill-A-Watts for the first time in ages, not to mention the first time as a three-piece, so I felt assured that I wasn't going to be let down. Of course, I wasn't. The Kill-A-Watts came out blasting, and not even equipment problems and uninvited "second vocalist" Tony Sagger could hold them back. Whatever momentum they've lost with Jennifer's departure, they've more than made up for in how much Mechadrum has improved. Maybe I just didn't notice it before, but the man was fucking on fire!!! He played with a speed and aggression that was nigh superhuman. There were only two songs I recognized out of their entire set (including my favorite "1977 Sunglasses" and surprisingly nothing from their LP), but I had no complaints as every song help my rapt attention thanks to an abundance of their patented snotty vocals, electrifying guitar, and most impressively, the 1000 mph drumming. Great stuff; now lets have another album.

Tyrades were up next and their hyper-charged angular attack was like live artillery going off on stage for the duration of their fifteen-minute set. They opened with what is being almost universally hailed as their best song, the stunning "I Am Homicide." Seriously, this is such a great song…with its unshakeable melody and jagged, abrasive edges it sounds like the sonic equivalent of bubblegum with shards of broken glass stuck in it. After that they likely played all of the hits that you'd expect, but to tell the truth all I remember for sure is that they played "Message From The Operator" (my pre- "I Am Homicide" favorite Tyrades song) since I was so too busy trying to keep my bearings amidst their whirlwind of naked, unbridled energy that I didn't have time to think. Kind of like how victims of violent crimes often have trouble recalling accurate details of their attackers, or for that matter, how you feel during great sex. The Tyrades left me as dazed as the former, and as euphoric as the latter. This was as close to Tricknee's "Perfect Tyrades" set as you're gonna get, and I must concur with his assessment…if they keep this up they're gonna be untouchable!!! Best band of the night for sure, and tied with the Marked Men for best overall.

Closing out the fest were Sweet J.A.P who always deliver the goods live. They played even more new songs than when I'd seen them last, including one atypically rhythmic number, composed by Sho, which was pretty great. The only complaint I've got about their set was that the guitars were just too noisy to hear everything properly. On a usual night Sweet J.A.P is loud, which is fine, but for some reason on this night they were fucking LOUD…so much so that the overall sound quality became muddled and I couldn't make things out well. Maybe it's because I forgot earplugs. Anyway, technical problems aside, they still were great.

After the show Eric was supposed to score us some whiskey, but ended up disappearing into thin air before we got the chance to formally part ways. I hung around the bar for a little bit, speaking Japanese (this time pretty fluently if I do say so myself) to some friends of Sho's and ended up bumping into a kid I went to school with in Japan. That was about it for me though, as I was spent from the past two days and just wanted to get some sleep. When it was all said and done I'd seen a lot of good bands, a few GREAT ones, drank a lot of beers, and got to hang out with Lastname for a bit (who seems like a pretty ace individual...now if he'd just give me his swank Modern Lovers pin he'd REALLY be a prince.). Big thanks to Hideo for setting up such a fun weekend. Here's to next year!

The 2004 Nice-N-Neat "Get Action" Fiesta in Two Paragraphs by Eric Lastname

First night: I got there late because of work. Missed the Sweet Faces, who feature one of the guys from the Fevers, and everyone present told me that they sounded just like the obvious. I dig the Fevers, so I was mildly upset. The Tears went on and did surprisingly well for not practicing since Christ-knows-when. A very drunk Nick G(enius) rambled muchly in between songs, entertaining some (me) and irritating others (gals beside me). It was their last show. Cheers. Little Killers came on and I watched a few tunes and retreated to the other non-stage side of the Triple Rock for some drinks. I'd already seen them a few nights prior. Good band, but not going to pull any new punches. Walked back into the showroom in time to catch the Marked Men. They are the tightest band I've ever witnessed, and they're good, great even, full of spark. The new tunes grabbed me. I sang along and liked them. Then the Riverboat Gamblers came on and I decided to go back to the other part of the bar for more consumption. Beer followed beer after beer and I sat at a booth staring at nothing. Steve Strange -- who I met earlier in the evening, and who kinda looks like Anthony Michael Hall, and who is a pretty swell fellow -- took a seat and we shot the breeze and drained more drink. He was a good guy. I hit on some girl who was (according to Steve and Nick) face-ugly with "nice tits and stuff, I guess." She almost sat on my lap but didn't. I said lots of dumb stuff. An erection would've been miraculous at that point anyway. I excused myself and Steve and I went back to the showroom and the Gamblers were almost done. Mike, the singer, is a helluva nice fella. I just didn't feel like watching them. They ended and packed their stuff and Steve asked me if I wanted to interview the Marked Men with him. Sure, that'd be fine. Then the girl who gave me a ride to Minneapolis freaked out because she thought I was stranding her, and a few other people from Milwaukee did what they do best, which is involve themselves in already overblown situations that don't require their involvement. I yelled and ranted and raved and apologized to Steve and then the girl and I got in a car and went to a hotel. Steve later told me that the interview never happened.

Second night: I got to the Turf Club a little early and had a beer. Then I went in a van with some friends and had some whiskey and probably smoked someone else's cigarette -- that's what big-shots like me do when they're drinking. We all went into the club and watched Jane Doe and the Cop Haters. They were OK, but completely underwhelming in the sense that I kept daydreaming about random shit (food, TV shows) while watching them. They sound like '70s punk w/pop as played by three inept girls and one skilled girl. A bunch of people will like them one day. Functional Blackouts came on and did their thing. Their thing is occasionally my thing and occasionally not. I was somewhat indifferent this time around. I remember drinking a little bit more. Kill-A-Watts were the Kill-A-Watts and I liked part of their set and didn't like the cover of "Heart of the City," but they played "Treat Me Like a Jerk," and I haven't heard that in a long time. Good song. I talked with Steve a little bit more and we got along alright. I stood closer to the stage and the Tyrades came on and were very good. They get better most times I see 'em. I'm fairly sure I went to the van again at this point and had more whiskey and talked about music and bullshit. Then I watched Sweet J.A.P. and thought, Damn, I remember them being a little crazier than this. Are they more pop-influenced now? Hmm. They finished and I told Steve he should have some whiskey with us in the van. A couple minutes later, I lost him. The girl and I went back to the hotel and everyone else from Milwaukee went to some guy's house to stay. I was tired.