Monday, January 28, 2008


Valient Thorr
The Soapbox
Wilmington, NC
November 18, 2007

Enough time has passed since the passing of James Brown that the moniker ‘The Hardest Working Man in Show Business’ can be passed down to, or rather, extrapolated to a band. Valient Thorr, given their performances and constant touring schedule, makes them a shoe-in for the title. Valient Thorr is a hard rock band that blends high energy rock and roll with funk, soul and old testament vocal power.
A recent stop at The Soapbox in Wilmington, NC illustrated once again their ability to rip a stage apart, unleashing relentless and meaningful hard rock. The show was nothing short of a musical bomb going off. Their grinding sound, interrupted by well timed, punctuated breaks and hard driving guitar runs, was laced with social commentary by a lead singer whose passion was akin to a fire and brimstone preacher.
Before the set band members ran into old friends and smiled profusely as they caught up by the doorway. Valient Thorr’s lead singer and bassist carried a keg bucket full of beers and ice across a worn hard wood floor to the stage. Within moments the band got started, introducing a new song – one of three new songs played during the evening. One was ‘Parallel Daedulus,’ the singer told the crowd was “about friends you haven’t seen in a while.” He called out his friend’s names and handed beers into the audience.
Two songs in and the singer stopped to talk, something he’s known to do between numbers. Like a preacher, he stalked the stage and testified to the crowd. He moved in short distances, panther like, ending thoughts with scorched syllables. The mood is playful, yet sincere. He’s eager to turn up the heat but its Sunday and the weekend affords a more laid back night of kicking out the jams.
“Thank you for coming out. I know you could be home on Sunday night watching cartoons,” the singer says, “but you can Tivo it.”
That said the band gets into ‘Heatseeker.’ Their guitarist plays feverishly at stage right, plying guitar notes seemingly without effort and gripping the guitar like a machine gun. The bassist stands tall and rocks back and forth, towering like Grendel with a mop of black curly hair at the lip of the stage.
Between songs there’s a technical glitch and the singer asks about a guy from the last show they played at the Soapbox who got the Valient Thorr logo tattooed on his ass.
“Where’s the guy with the ass tattoo?” he said. Someone from the audience said he’s in Wilmington just not at the show tonight. “We got to get his phone number. Catch up after the show.”
The remainder of the show continually built with tension, climbing and climbing without any foreseeable climax. They finish with material from Total Universe Man, songs whose funk metal bravado nearly shook the place apart, like holding tight as a car careens out of control. It began with ‘Hijackers’ and ‘We Believe in Science’ led into ‘Tough Customer’ for an exhausting finish. Afterwards, the band stood by the stage speakers and talked with fans, the singer still gripping a microphone.

- photo & story Brian Tucker


The Soapbox
Wilmington, NC
November 18, 2007

As a band, Thunderlip appeared to have more fun on stage since perhaps their first gig. Casually taking the stage just after eleven o’clock for a quick sound check lead singer Chuck Krueger joked into the microphone, “anyone want to play bass?” A few minutes later, Krueger went to the bar downstairs and returned with bassist Kenny Ells, beer in hand.
The band opened with ‘Backseat Bedlam,’ a roaring song complete with ascending vocals coupled with symphonic and, at times, pounding guitar riffs. The majority of the set was comprised of new material from their sophomore release The Prophecy.
Throughout the night guitarist James Yopp played fast and ferocious; his head thrashing up and down, jet black hair covering his face like an oil soaked mane. He played determined, as if trying to jam the music down people’s throats. Yopp led a relentless charge during the set, giving new songs ‘Denim Destiny’ and ‘Loose’ added fury.
The band played tighter than memory recalls, all cylinders firing, exploding with the new material and adding maturity to older songs ‘Skeletons Tonight’ and the Sabbath tinged ‘Evil on Two Legs.’ Guitarist John Manning sang smooth back-up vocals on ‘The Prophecy 1 and 2,’ specifically on the break, “Come on little mama let me take you home, I feel I’ll show you my love is strong.”
Krueger introduced ‘Pooler,” about Thunderlip’s van breaking down in Georgia. “This is a new song,” Krueger said, “We’ve never played it live before.” Its psychedelic feel and drawn out vocals made it swift number, like driving beyond a hundred mph. The new song displayed a different direction for a band known for the singer’s unpredictable stage antics and the band’s fresh take on seventies hard rock and early eighties metal.
Krueger performed like a man possessed by the music, consumed by what the band was churning out. He crashed against the wall, collapsed onstage, sampled from the crowd’s PBR’s and mixed drinks and playfully mock trembled at the musical energy of his band. During songs Krueger bounced off Ells as the bassist plowed from drummer Johnny Collins’ drum kit to the front of the stage where his bass guitar, like a huge sword, dipped into the audience. He and Krueger swirled around one another throughout the night. During ‘The Prophecy’ Krueger was in the crowd looking up at his band playing. Krueger’s singing and subtle theatrics made the show all the more enterprising. He engaged the audience, befriended them. Fans at the lap of the stage mouthed the lyrics and occasionally Krueger would hand over the microphone and let them sing a verse or chorus.
The set showed Thunderlip channeling raw rock and roll yet remaining a fan friendly band with Krueger leading the charge. As the band finished the set people in the crowd started to chant, “meet the snake, meet the snake,” asking for one more song, ‘Meet the Snake’ from the band’s debut. They disassembled equipment and politely declined so the next band could set up.

- photo & story Brian Tucker


The Soapbox
Wilmington, NC
December 8, 2007

Paleface stepped onstage casually as if only checking things out, wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt and a shiny, light blue tie. Within seconds, and without announcement, he slipped on his acoustic guitar and began playing.
A crowd waited below the stage sitting on chairs and sofas, bathed in red light. Conversations dissipated once people relaized Paleface was playing, albeit very softly. Their focus remained on Paleface and Monica Samalot (drums and vocals) for the remainder of the set.
Paleface’s performance was solid, easily winning over the crowd, even though the duo was feeling things out as a two piece versus as a band. Paleface was confident yet anxious, turning to a stool between songs to switch out harmonicas. He was lightheartedly nervous but played like an old soul.
“Words of wisdom,” someone yells from the floor as Paleface closes ‘Kick this Jam.’
“That’s what happens when you get kicked around a lot,” Paleface said. “You pick up a few nuggets.” He explained the song was an outtake that wound up on the new Paleface release A Different Story
‘Little by Little’ was a highlight of the night, a bouncing ditty that embraced the crowd, making the band seem half their age. Paleface’s performance escalated with each song, his energy level going up a notch. He bounced more, jumped more – oozed soul and kindness through the music. He looked like a young John Fogerty, sharing that high pitch on some songs and grounded in a graveled, soulful vocal delivery on others. Playing acoustic guitar and harmonica, the singer swung his head feverishly right to left, as if exorcising demons. At times songs were overly energetic, resembling folk played like punk rock.
Paleface’s deep and plaintive voice on ‘Brooklyn Girl’ was abrasive and moving, accompanied by finger picking on the guitar. He stood far from the microphone and his voice still rose high above the crowd. It seemed larger, echoing throughout the room with Mo’s soft, cooing, harmonies in the background. And the set still held a few surprises.
“This is the first song I ever wrote and it’s totally ridiculous,” Paleface explained. It was a spoken word rant, a string of words seemingly unrelated but entertaining. He gripped the microphone like a preacher/rapper, kneeling at the edge of the stage completely alive in the moment. The set closed with ‘Burn and Rob’ a dark humored song goofing on the Judas Priest controversy of the mid eighties.
“I wasn’t going to play it because I didn’t want to offend anyone,” Paleface said. “But this guy kept asking.”
He sang the third chorus with growling delivery, “Burn and rob, Burn and rob, Rock and roll made me not believe in god.”

- story & photo Brian Tucker


NOVEMBER 10, 2007

There’s no stage at Reggie’s in Wilmington, North Carolina, just a concrete floor. The local haunt is where bands and drinkers can get to know each other up close and quickly. Bands play crowd level, face to face where it may be rustic, but suitable if you like music played down and dirty. Reggie’s is three rooms - pool tables, a long bar and the back room where dart boards line walls surrounding an area where bands slide their equipment against a wall between set ups. It feels like a holding pin for bands and fans to work things out.
Virginia Beach’s Freedom Hawk took the floor around 11:30 bringing their stoner rock by-way-of nu-Sabbath back to Wilmington. But this trip was a little lighter, the band having lost guitarist Matt Cave, leaving drummer Lenny Hines, bassist Mark Cave (yes, brothers) and singer guitarist TR Morton lighter, but remaining a heavy trio of power groove metal musicians and high pitched rock vocals.
The band decided to finish their booked shows in lieu of cancelling but the loss of a guitarist made playing more work for TR. Having seen the band previously it still sounded heavy and entertaining. Something was missing, but the band soldiered on, playing a refined set of mostly new material. ‘Stand Back’ was an interesting stand out, bridging Sabbath inspired solos with crunching, breakdown riffs. The band played consistently, almost defiantly, like the east coast’s answer to Fu Manchu - keeping it simple and thick with harmonious metal groove. It wasn’t heavy riffs and growls, but power riffs and soulful rock delivery wrapped in metal packaging.
Freedom Hawk’s sound was large, like trying to force an elephant to fit in a closet. It was also melodic for such heavy handed playing - a wall of guitar riffs pushed out sludge heavy, soaring and moving like swells and waves at the same time. The band played tough and very loud; Hines’ drum sticks hammered the skins like tree trunks and Cave’s bass marched tightly alongside. The band pulled out standards ‘Universal’ and ‘10 Years’ along with newer songs ‘Palamino,’ ‘Land of Lost’ and ‘Sunlight.’ When they played thye did so with great concentration, Morton’s eyes closed tight much of the time and Hines played with his head down and eyes closed. Cave seemed to watch over, as if the band were huddled down for a fight.
As the band tried to end their set people yelled for more, twice actually, and they complied, closing with ‘Bad Man’ in which TR opened with a grinding guitar riff and sang “I’m a bad man, and you’re a bad girl,” the last word squeezed out for effect.
Afterwards, a kid invited the band and anyone else back to his place, a keg waited he assured. The kid was still grooving on the music he heard, singing out loud and throwing his head around. Morton smiled at the kid’s energy and eventually asked where the kid was form. The kid replied, Virginia Beach. Small world.

Story and photos - Brian Tucker


Once as a child I trapped a lightning bug in a jar and sat it upon my dresser. The trapping occurred around dusk and I brought the jar to my room and laid on my bed in wonderment. I feel ashamed now, that I did such a thing. I know it was done due to childhood innocence, but I still think it stupid.
Saying this now in the recesses of my mind is far worse than explaining it to the counselor here. In the mind it is much louder and far more brutal. This much I know because when I am busy berating myself about all the things done wrong someone comes by and I am so pleasant to him or her. An explosion in my mind and a flower blooming from my mouth.
There is only so much room in which to walk around and I fear that wear will become of the flooring I travel throughout the day. I putter and mutter and slide within the daylight hours feeling like a bird in a cage. Why do they clip the wings of a bird and then put that bird into a cage? How redundant. It is as though they are making a hard-earned point to the bird so that it knows exactly whom the master is. And they think it cute when the bird chews at the bars of the cage. They do not see the cunning of the trapped animal. They do not know the trapped bird is planning something entirely elusive.
My lips are raw from nervous agitation. I constantly chew at the torn edge inside my lip hoping to clear away the rough debris but I continually chew. It never seems to get smooth. There’s always a rough edge that cannot be smoothed over.
The medicine has become my other half. The ghosts float in and make sure I swallow and then I do nothing but dream. I float, but really just lying stiff like cardboard in a dumpster. I am awake but asleep and it is itself a nightmare. They bring short cups of water with tall straws that bend part of the way down the neck. I can drink lying down with these fancy straws but dribble water down my chin. It is another nightmare I cannot escape – the small drops of liquid travel slowly around the curve of my chin and I can feel every slight movement trickling its way down. When I haven’t shaved the drops move between the hairs and in my dreams I see the path the drops take – right then left then they stop to tease me. The drop of liquid stops behind a tiny facial hair as though it were playing hide and seek. Sometimes it dries there and sometimes it travels again towards the base of my neck. It is part of my routine; it is part of the basement I cannot get the light to shine in on.
They keep doling out the wrong medicine. All I really need is a glass of lemonade and better eyesight on the beach. And a plan.

Sometimes I turn my head sharply to one side to see if I can feel my brain move against the inner bone of my cranium. I do this until my eyesight is blinkingly critical. It does assist me to sleep but I am always curious whether there is something in my head at all. I can never feel my brain slosh around like one of those artificial sponges that looks like a brain the kids put in a pickle jar. Everyone has seen these at Halloween; the sponge absorbs water and grows in size until you have this creepy sponge brain floating in a jar or a bowl.
Perhaps the sponge in my head has absorbed too much water and that is why I cannot feel it slam against the interior of my parietal lobes. I sometimes sit cross-legged and lean forward and then backwards, viciously, to try and force my brain to hit the inside of my temporal lobe and then back to my occipital lobe. I never get results. I never get proof. I worry that my brain is swelling and that it will seep out of my ears or that it is growing because it is consuming my spinal cord and that, yes, it is draining of all my cerebral-spinal fluid.
That is why I drink lots of water. I am in a race against my brain. This is a challenge I must win. I will not succumb to a brain that seeks to dry me out, make me arid as the Arabian Desert. Notice that I did not mention, say, the Gobi Desert. If I did I would surely have been false. In Mongolia’s Gobi Desert well diggers hit water nine out of ten times and often within a few feet. One could draw such a conclusion that the whole desert is afloat.
I drink so much water that my urine barely looks yellow, except for first thing in the morning. Although I cannot drink while I am sleeping I do dream of it. I dream of the Pacific Ocean and that I am floating there with a colorful box of straws. The Pacific is the largest object on the planet Earth and I am floating there, drinking all the water possible so my brain doesn’t defeat me.
People that are close to you are supposed to be friendly. But most people prey on others. You are either predator or prey. You are either dead or alive. Someone close to me a long time ago said that the apple in my head must have grown rotten. I think back now and wonder how did they know, what signs did they see that I most certainly have missed. Well, they had to have been wrong and I was most certainly in the right.

I am not being allowed to drink water, at least not as much. I am fearful and no one here listens to me. I know that they most certainly do not. How could they even possibly hear me above the blaring white light of these walls? It is so incandescently bright white that I can hear the walls hum. Walls humming like Gregorian chants, chanting for the clouds to bring them oxygen. Of course, oxygen. Oxygen partly has water as its makeup.
It is so loud in here and no one else can hear it. Why? What is wrong with you people? Why can I see and hear and everyone else is so… preoccupied?

So let us move on. Out I went into the crisp cold air. Into to the night. From one freezer into another. The attendants will never know for sometime. They assume I am sleeping away the night without my water supply.
No more water they say.
I say, okay, no more water. But they don’t understand that is the lifeblood. I need my water. I need I need I need. They can’t hear above the hum of fluorescent light and the glow on the walls. They don’t know about the screaming that is never truly dealt with.
My speckled pajamas made of cotton traded for a gas station attendant’s uniform. I still have my pajamas. I could never part with such comfort and they warm me under the attendant’s uniform. I would not want my skin to make contact where his scales once worked.
The nametag says Hector. I left him sleeping, slumped against the cabinets below the register. He didn’t look right with that mustache, appearing so bedeviled to me. As he slowly went to sleep I asked, I begged him to tell me what the fluorescence was talking about. What was it muttering, I asked.
I could hear the drumming and the humming but I could not make it out. I threw a phone book at the fluorescent strips hanging above us two and they flickered and swung a little. Adjustments in color, light and dark, moved around us, dancing. The attendant lay there ignoring me. I asked again about the gibberish I was hearing. Nothing. Just the sound of cicadas in the distance.
The scenery here seemed too familiar. My own eyes flickered at the image before me. I kept hearing my name.
Layne? Layne? What have you done? Layne!
It was one of those instances when life affords you a grace of complete clarity. It was a random aunt of our family who came to us one particular holiday or another. I can't recall which one. My hands were stuck to my legs. I remember, I remember the hair had only begun to grow on my skinny legs recently.
I was young and he was older. My father. He was older and far more gruesome than I. He always stood, towered, over me like Mount Rushmore over the pebbles under its patriotic gaze. My neck would crane to try and stare at him but the pain afterwards persisted for what seemed like an eternity. Now I had not to strain upwards to eye him but only bury my chin in flesh of my chest to stare down at him.
I had always dreaded the old man coming home from work in the afternoon. A long dirt road led up to our house and I would watch him from my upstairs bedroom window. I could lie on the bed flat and I was sure no one could see me from any distance if I lay perfectly flat and still. The sun was setting behind him and everything appeared as shadow, dark and ominous.
Everyday I would wait and watch for him walk up that old dirt road. The orange sherbet skyline setting beneath the trees made my part of the world seem on fire, set ablaze and angry. Shadows fell from the trees long and stretched on the field toward the house, sleeking ever slowly like predatory snakes as the sun changed position in the afternoon.
My father walked without purpose, other than to come for me in the afternoon. His walking posture was always tilted forward, bent like an old highway road sign. The shoulders pouted and the arms reaching deep into pants pockets resembled lanky tombstones at the center of an ancient cemetery. I would stare so long that I began to see things. I believed I could see two hulking black birds on his shoulders, believing both to be offering ideas on what to do with me.
The temptation to set the house on fire was never closer during those afternoons when the sun melted into the dark evening sky. I planned to be out back watching our house burn once he slid a key in the front door. Somehow I was always too paralyzed in which to act on that impulse. And then one day, I was not. The gift of clarity came over me to seek out my freedom.
My aunt shook me but it was no use, for my hands were sticking to me. I had stood there frozen for too long. My only movement before becoming frozen was the attempts to put the skull fragment back I had removed from his head. There was a small trail from my father’s head to against the kitchen cabinet, maybe 22 inches or so, where the piece of skullcap traveled. It was almost graceful the way it careened away from father’s body, away from his head. He had fallen there from some collapse and I stood above him with his work tool. The sink was acting up again and he just slumped over while working. I came in and thought it time to retract the past from him he had whisked away so easily from me. The blow was quick and childlike, even though I was barely a child anymore and barely a man. One swipe and there it traveled across the floor like a hubcap escapes from an over sized car during a swift left turn. I tried returning it, but to no avail, I was incomplete and so was my father.
I would be pressed to remember when, but I suppose that was the time I received my speckled pajamas. They were yellow, light yellow, with green speckles. They were the most comforting things that I can remember. And, of course, glasses of water all day long.
But they tossed me in that refrigerator and asked me question after question after question. You’d have to see it to believe it, or rather, hear it. They proposed to me all these riddles and never seemed to realize the truth. The truth was about being fed up. I was full of it all and wanted to be exempt.
I had relatives come and look at me like I was a can of vegetables on the shelf in a grocery store. To make the visits tolerable I trained myself to just stare into their faces without one facial tick or expression. I was that good. They would leave frustrated, muttering words like…animal… not a surprise, and, my favorite, deranged.
Well, I thought on that one for a while and I came to the conclusion that I was not deranged. I was suddenly enlightened with clarity. I was enlightened by the knowledge I had that they were deranged. And that they were blind. So many visits, so many occasions, these people came to our home and they were blind to what was so apparent to any open eye.
I was ashamed for being submissive for so long and I realized I was guilty of the same thing again by staying here. I heard that in my head long after the humming became offensive. What right did anyone have keeping me there like a frozen piece of meat never thawed and eaten?
I wanted to get some time on the playground with the other kids. I know why the dog screams and rages at his own flesh day into night. I know why a brain boils in its own juices in the afternoon watching others walk free, always longing for decent food and a woman in a business suit and glasses. I am alive and want to breathe the air and dirty my lungs with the filth the world has polluted itself with. Passivity and gentleness are timid soldiers for the weakest of causes. I am that Sherman tank busting up cars on a Los Angeles freeway at three o’clock in the afternoon on your local television news station that you will not stop glaring at. Pride is a ruthless teacher and you’ll be curious about me. I can lease myself to the outside world for pennies a day because I am free now. I got freedom pumping through my veins at this late hour and I will be doing the same tomorrow afternoon.

I walk along the freeway with my speckled pajamas, incognito, and I am a loose peanut rolling along the floor looking for the easiest path. I am already gone, this much is certain. When Valentine’s Day arrives I will be ready. I will be normal by then. I will be somewhere and I will be a samurai. I will be something again.

Up ahead is a truck stop. Perhaps I can hitch a ride with someone warm.
Hello, I am Hector.
I am Hector America. I was born long ago and yesterday. I am, today, my gift to myself. I think to head west where it remains warm and the sun is the most prominent of neighbors.

I meet Lenny, portly and bearded; he offers me a ride to California. He tells me that it don’t get any hotter than Los Angeles except for close to the equator. He makes himself laugh and I am surprised at his likeability. I like Lenny. I imagine to myself only for a moment what his life must be like and what his friends must be like. He has to make a stop in Colby first to drop off some supplies for a fast food restaurant. His eighteen-wheeler is a frozen foods hauler. For once, the freezer will be behind me. Near, but not my cage.
Why Los Angeles, he asks me.
I tell him I want to live the exact opposite of what I am living now.
The opposite, he asks. I tell him that I want disappear into the wilds of nature that is the world. I ask him to name a better place than Los Angeles.
Lenny tells me that I should disappear just fine in Los Angeles. Leaving the country altogether would work too but I decline, so much here to see in America. If you cut me, I bleed red, white and blue. So California it is. I leave it at that.
California it is, Lenny says.

January 2004
Published in The Albion Review 2005

FICTION - Cigarettes, Alcohol, Flesh & Bone

By Brian Tucker

Janine must have left around six this morning. I woke up for some reason not long after she left and could still smell her in the room. It was a pleasant scent, like something freshly baked or clothes right out of the dryer. She's the type of girl that doesn't wear make up and brushes her hair without much effort. I love her simplicity, her plain elegance.
I'm in awe of her, really. We were out until the early hours of the morning stumbling bar to bar and still she gets up at the crack of dawn to clean up another useless homicide. Her pager sounds off with the sun rising and she's calling in to her boss. Me, I would have thrown the pager into the hallway and covered my head in bed sheets and pillows.
For the last few years, Janine has worked this job where, after the cops and the detectives and the medics are finished at a crime scene, she and two other workers clean blood out of the carpet and furniture and finally, off the walls.
They remove the flesh and brain matter from walls and ceilings. Janine usually gets to clean the ceilings because she's taller than the other two.
She says I wouldn't believe how much killing goes on in kitchens alone, but then again, it's easier to clean. Flesh and blood goes everywhere with a single blast and then the blood seeps through carpet, through carpet bedding, and finally through the cheap under-flooring in most homes. There's not much you can do about that, she says.
Janine has to have an iron stomach or one that is perpetually empty. She says you get desensitized to the work but surely it must be surreal wearing a bright yellow biological suit to work everyday. I suppose that's why we, she, likes to go out a lot. I get dragged along most times but I don't mind.
Janine sees all the terror people commit against one another. Last week she had to clean up after a domestic dispute where the boyfriend stabbed the girlfriend perfectly in the forehead with a bread knife, clean down the center of her brain. She didn't die right away but bled a lot. She talked as if the thing wasn't in her head at all. She was able to get to her gun and shoot the guy until he was dead.
Janine is reminded daily by her work that life is way too short. She embodies the motto; I'll sleep when I'm dead.
Last night, Janine wore these awful earrings to go out. She is definitely her own person. When I woke up I had this one on my right ear. With a black Sharpie, she wrote on my arm that she'd see me tonight. I guess I'll have to wear that for a while.
I have to admit her work is far more exciting than mine, far more exciting than the evening news is. I tend bar and all I see are the assholes before they commit these acts. She sifts through their lives, their residue. She cleans up the aftermath of rash decisions and passion gone awry.
It seems as though we swim through all this darkness without getting too hurt. Our souls get scratched along the way but we dilute the pain with alcohol and the pride to stay free.
Nighttime is our playground and when the sun comes up we appear like vampires on a day pass, smiling all the way.