THE ROCKENING - Oct. 29 - 31, 2004 @ The Circle Bar (and other locations), New Orleans, LA

My first New Orleans memories involve my walking around a strange neighborhood looking for a supermarket so I could buy some dinner. I was on tour with a friend’s band. We hadn’t eaten since Gainesville and had a tire blow out in between. It was a stressful day, and as we walked our bread and hummus back to the club we heard a few gunshots nearby. Then we had to sit through a dreadful set by Tweezer, a local Weezer cover band (mind you, I dig Weezer but these folks did not pull it off). When the show was over we split town as soon as possible and I vowed never to set foot in that city again.

My little lady, Sarah, did not share that experience. Instead she’ll show me her photo album from her New Orleans trip and get excited recounting tales of alligators, Clover Grill, Café du Monde, and cheap ceramic masks. When the lineup for New Orleans first and only punk festival, The Rockening, was announced, Sarah’s desire to return to the city beat out mine to stay away.

We got to town a bit later than planned and drove straight to our host’s apartment to sit around and catch up. The weekend would have five or more shows depending on how you count ‘em, so we figured we’d get a head start on relaxing and trying to save our hearing. When we finally got the energy, Sarah, Tom Hopkins (you may remember him from the Short Eyes tour diary), and I drove down to the French Quarter to get our rock on. By the time we made our way to One Eyes Jack’s, The Overnight Lows and Lids had already played. At some point in the evening a Lids member ended up apologizing to us for how bad they were. I guess it was for the best that we missed them. I was upset to find that The Overnight Lows had members of The Comas, who put out one of my favorite singles of the last few years. On that fact alone I’m excited about them. Hopefully they’ll be playing Austin soon.

I’d never fallen in love with the Black Lips as others have. The first time I heard them was at the tail end of a Back From the Grave obsession, and the ‘Lips left no impression. I wrote them off as an over hyped, generic 60’s garage band. Of course, I was wrong. Their set at The Rockening was exciting and proved that garage doesn’t have to be as stale as it usually is. It also reinforced my long held belief that punk rock and firecrackers are a perfect combo, and should be filed alongside lemonade and vodka or peanut butter and chocolate. It was a wild drunken night with BFTG as the soundtrack to broken bottles and explosives.

We retreated outside when the band was done and Hopkins bumped into an old friend. You see, his buddy had, some time ago, rescued his glasses from the ground outside a bar Tommy was being kicked out of. Let me, to the best of my recollection, repeat the story here. The drinking started at Hopkins’ sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner and continued at a bar they all liked to go out to. The bartender was slow with the service, so he took a sip from his neighbor’s, promising to buy him another when they were finally served. Before that could happen, though, his wife spotted a photo booth, and dragged him off to get something to help remember the night. Mid-photo, the bartender gave them the boot, and they ended up outside the bar to a hostile crowd. Always witty with a comeback, Tom put his hands on the ground, ass in the air, and announced, “You all can fuck me, but you’ve got to do it one at a time.” Needless to say, he ended up with a busted lip, but thanks to my new acquaintance, his glasses survived.

After hearing that story, we found our way inside to watch Knights of the New Crusade. People had written off their CD, describing them to me as a “live band.” I figured that would mean I’d really like them since I think some of the songs on the CD are really good. Sure enough, they came out in chain mail, swinging around a sword, but past the initial 30 second chuckle, their set was boring. Lucas had some entertaining speeches, and the few dudes in the crowd who really didn’t get the joke and did whatever they could to disrupt the set had some entertainment value. Heavy armor didn’t benefit the band’s stage presence, and they just stood still. The set suffered from following up The Black Lips show-stopping performance.

One Eyed Jack may have kicked us all out of his bar, but the resourceful punks continued the show a short drunken drive away at the Circle Bar. As the Royal Pendletons finished a short set, the crowd retreated outside to get some fresh air. A few local ladies had taken the Pendletons message of drink, fight, and fuck to heart and a pencilesque woman was standing atop a bagel van being called a whore by the crowd around her. The Tearjerkers had begun to play inside, background music for quarrels of the heart. After strutting down her van-top catwalk and screaming obscenities for a few minutes, the lovely lady came down to greet her fans, who, anxious to get a piece of their idol grabbed for her. The number one fan, the girl in the audience who had been yelling the loudest, walked off with a huge chunk of hair as a souvenir.

Sarah and I spent Saturday afternoon doing touristy New Orleans stuff. We walked from our host’s place over to Rocks Off Records, then up and down Magazine street, poking around for cool old postcards. As it got closer to show time we made our way downtown. We peeked inside Rock N Roll Collectibles, which is easily the most stupidly overpriced record store I’ve ever been inside (and I’ve been inside my fair share of overpriced stores). After going through all the punk 45s in hopes of finding something interesting we walked down to Clover Grill, where our grilled cheese was served by the most flamboyant waiter that has ever fed me fries. The techno blasting got on my nerves, so by the time we ended up at the club I needed a beer or three to relax.

By the time Vee Dee played I was already $20 down at the bar, but feeling alright. The band seemed out of place on such a big stage, too spread apart, but it didn’t hurt the performance. Though the band didn’t play their best song (“Midnight Sun”) the set was stellar. A few drinks later, Alex White continued the Chicago blitzkrieg. She was backed by Wes and Detroit Eddie of the Clone Defects. Alex had the set list scribbled on her arm and the band shot into a soulful, inspired set of rocknroll. She has an enchanting quality to her performance that demands your attention.

Stacy Hopkins was so moved by Alex’s set that she decided she had to buy the record. In the years since Stacy has last bought a record from a band at a show things have changed. She walked back to the bar cursing. “I think I like Alex White a lot less knowing that she’s charging $5 for a 7”. It should cost three dollars!” After chastising whoever it was that was working the merch table I think she ended up getting the record and a cigarette for $3. “And they tried to give me menthol!” Of course, she demanded non-menthol.

The Spits were at their best. They brought along Austin’s Boom Chica Boom go-go Dancers and their McDonalds character costumes. The show was a bit of a homecoming for Grimace, who was a punk rock mainstay in the New Orleans scene for years before relocating to the Pacific Northwest. Sadly, for the four folks who asked me to pick up a copy, their Halloween themed single was not out for the show.

After the Spits were done our host Stacy offered to buy me a beer if we’d hang around the club for the last band. It was all the convince I’d need, but after The Upper Crust had played for a minute, we all decided it would be best to finish our drinks on the walk back to the car. Costumes or not, The Upper Crust were intolerably boring, but they packed the house.

Sunday morning we all went down to Café Du Monde to play with puppies and treat ourselves to café au lait and beignets. I couldn’t spend Halloween day in New Orleans without a trip to the cemeteries, so we parted ways with our hosts who headed over to Boo at the Zoo to trick or treat with the monkeys. When we got to St. Louis Cemetery we thought maybe we had made the wrong decision. Since it was a Sunday, the cemetery had closed its gates early, and we missed the fun by about a half an hour. And to think we could be knocking on an elephant’s door and holding out our bags for some treats.

Luckily, the next cemetery on our trip made up for it. The Holt Cemetery at 635 City Park Ave was home to many poor folks who couldn’t afford a nicer above ground tomb. The graves were decorated with homemade tributes to the deceased made by their families. Chicken wire, paper mache, and house paint memorials, erected over the headstones. It was a magnificent sight.

The show that afternoon was at the Circle Bar and had a lineup of bands as long as the other shows combined. Of course, most of the scheduled bands didn’t play. As the hot dog party was getting started (and I must voice that I was quite upset at the absence of veggie dogs) the similarly meat themed Gyro Boys hit the stage. When they were starting I had no clue who was playing, but after the band opened with the Zero Boys “Stoned to Death” I figured things out pretty quickly. The Carbona’s Halloween alter-egos played a set of “Vicious Circle” era Zero Boys covers that was as good as I can ever imagine the Zero Boys themselves having been. The band was absolutely spot on—the vocals, backups, leads, everything. It was one of the few sets I’ve ever seen where I was able to sing along to every single word. It was absolutely flawless, and the highlight of the weekend for me.

The crowd outside the club started to grow. As Hopkins pointed out, any occupation can be made either dead or sexy for a Halloween costume. And so provocative nurses, deceased cheerleaders, and even a dead, sexy cowgirl walked around with hot dogs in hand. Kajun SS were the next band to get wild, and once Louie got someone to tune his guitar for him they did it in full style. It was a loud, raucous set full of beautiful songs played rough and rowdy.

Vee Dee wasn’t scheduled, but they were all there and had capes, so I guess someone suggested they jump aboard and play for the hell of it. I should mention here that the entire Circle Bar was about the same size as the stage at One Eyed Jack’s, so the bands had less room and no stage, and we had to tightly crowd around them to see anything. Punk rock always sounds better in these circumstances, and Vee Dee seemed at home. The band bettered their performance the night before with a staggering performance. Punk meets psych in a perfect blend.

The Carbonas played their second set of the night and were again fantastic. It would be impossible for anyone to go home from this fest and not realize how great the scene is in Atlanta. Georgian’s were everywhere you turned—on stage, grilling hot dogs, passed out on St. Charles ave.

I’m not sure who else played that night since I spent the rest of the evening standing around outside the club. Louie gave me an unprompted history of the Cajun population in Louisiana and their history of oppression. The oral journey started with him spitting on David Duke’s pizza, and ended with white Cajun resentment toward the blacks Cajuns, whose assimilation into American culture was much easier. Here’s the Cliff Notes: "Cajun used to be a culture, but all it is now is a fuckin' hot sauce." Dick Manitoba repeatedly asked me to “go back to Frisco” because I guess I insulted him somehow in another conversation. The rest of the evening was a blur.

None of the rumored secret sets happened, at least that I saw. No Reigning Sound, no Crime, no Beat, and if The Sluts played I didn’t notice. I was looking forward to (We Are the) Rats, who either didn’t play or slipped by me. I’ve been writing this report all day (and it was due yesterday) and I’m too brain-dead to figure out how to end it. I just read Rich’s report of the Bloodfeast from last issue and got an idea: It was three days of great music that rank right up there with any fest I've ever been too. You should've been there.

Article by Dave Hyde
Pics by Rev. Dan