Crash and Burn
The guy from Crash Test Dummies
OK, kids. Gather ’round. It’s story time.
Some of you may know that in a former life I played in a local alt-country band called The Middle Eight. Not to toot my own horn, but we were pretty good. We weren’t, like, blow-yer-mind, Uncle Tupelo good. But you would have paid to see us — and a few of you probably did.
Though we had designs on bigger and better stages outside of Burlington, as so many promising local bands do, we fizzled out before we could really make noise beyond the Queen City. However, also like many Burlington bands, we were afforded some cool opportunities thanks to being a relatively big fish in a small pond. It led to playing with some national bands along the way and, more importantly, made for some great stories. I’d like to share one with you now, which I’ve dubbed, “The Time the Guy From Crash Test Dummies Called Me a Fucking Asshole.” Clever title, no?
It was a brutally cold, stormy midwinter day in Burlington. That night, the Middle Eight were scheduled to play one of our biggest gigs ever, opening for Clem Snide at Club Metronome. But the night before, a monster nor’easter had walloped the region and pretty much shut down the Eastern Seaboard.
At the time (2004ish), Clem Snide were among my top five favorite bands. The others: Wilco, Old 97’s, the Jayhawks and Tom Waits (perennially). In fact, Clem Snide’s Your Favorite Music still ranks among my all-time favorite sad-bastard albums. In other words, I was more excited about this show than any other in the band’s then-brief history. Sadly, Mother Nature was not on our side.
The storm that had already buried the city under several feet of snow had not yet relented, despite projections to the contrary. And it was still causing major problems farther south. Clem Snide, traveling from Boston where they had played the night before, were stuck. Damn you, Tom Messner, er, Nature.
Back in Burlington, Crash Test Dummies had played Metronome the previous night and were also snowed in. That afternoon a call came in from the club saying the Dummies were considering throwing a charity show and wondered if we still wanted to play. Hoo, boy.
Now, nothing against CTD, but going from opening for personal idols to playing a free show with the guys who did “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” back when I was a sophomore in high school was, well, a less-than-inspiring consolation. Still, for a young band, a gig is a gig. We agreed.
The show actually went well, especially considering the blizzard. We played to a pretty full room and, in lieu of money, were given a healthy supply of booze in the “green room” — aka the supply-closet-size space behind the stage. Good times.
After our set, we dispersed into the crowd to talk to friends, attempt to pick up groupies, etc. That’s when I happened by the merch table.
Hidden among the stacks of T-shirts, posters and copies of God Shuffled His Feet, I found something so strange, so wondrously, blessedly awful that I wouldn’t have believed it existed if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes: Jingle All the Way… the Crash Test Dummies’ Christmas album. I was transfixed. I held it ever so lightly in my hands, awestruck, as if it were a newborn. Or a Christmas album by Crash Test Dummies.
Shaking my daze, I returned the CD to the table and wandered back into the crowd, just as the Dummies announced the remainder of the show would be all requests. Before the last syllable had left lead singer Brad Roberts’ lips, I found myself screaming, over and over, “‘Jingle Bells!’ I want ‘Jingle Bells’!”
Roberts looked up from his mic. In his unmistakable basso profundo he asked, “OK. Who’s the fucking asshole that wants to hear ‘Jingle Bells’?”
I remember feeling as though the entire room had stopped and turned their heads in my direction. A small child may have pointed at me in blank horror.
As I meekly raised my hand, my eyes met Roberts’ cold stare. He nodded grimly.
“Merry Christmas,” he said, before launching into the song — the CTD version of which is in a minor key and has Roberts singing the melody roughly two octaves below what anyone else would choose/be able to. It was glorious.
We hung out with the band for a bit after the show and found them to be thoroughly delightful in that impossibly wholesome way only western Canadians can be. I apologized for calling out “Jingle Bells.” He again called me an asshole, joking … I think. In either case, it was pretty cool.
I bring this up not to reminisce about rubbing elbows with minor mid-1990s alt-rock stars, but more as a cautionary tale. CTD will make two VT stops this week: Sunday at the Higher Ground Ballroom and Tuesday at the Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction. Should you go, think good and hard about clamoring for Christmas carols, lest you, too, be called an a-hole by a Canadian folk rocker. And then do it anyway, cuz it was great. Happy holidays!
The big news this week concerns none other than resident wranglers of thunder and lightning, psychedelic garage rockers The Vacant Lots. According to a recent missive from guitarist/lightningeer Jared Artaud, the duo has just signed on with Brooklyn-based indie label Mexican Summer. You may remember that particular hip-as-hell imprint for bringing you such thoroughly kickass bands as Dungen, Best Coast, the Black Ryder and, now, the Vacant Lots. Congrats, gents. And on a personal note, apologies to drummer Bryan MacFadyen for not recognizing him at the grocery store the other day. The new haircut looks good, man!
In other local-band-making-waves-outside-the-Burlington-bubble news, swingin’ garage-pop outfit Persian Claws recently showed up on not one, not two, but three international comps. The first is a limited-edition vinyl called Whiskey, Girls and Pasta — I like it already! — released by Mexico’s Mùsica Para Locos label, and features songs by female-fronted bands from all over the world, including the Claws’ “Ghostified.” The second comes to us by way of UK label Dead By Mono Records, called No Way Out! 20 of Finest Garage Gems From the Round the World, and features 20 of the finest gar … well, y’know. In other Claws news, vocalist Deborah Troiano and guitarist Bill Mullins are interviewed in the upcoming issue of Vancouver’s Mongrel Zine, which comes complete with yet another comp, this time featuring the Claws’ song “You’re Gonna Leave.”
Band Name of the Week: The Unbearable Light Cabaret. OK. I’m kinda cheating on BNOTW this week since I generally focus on nonlocal or newer bands in this segment. But the eclectic local collective is a lot of fun, and until furthur notice they’ll be taking over the Thursday-night jazz residency at Radio Bean recently vacated by Anthony Santor.
Wednesday, December 8, marks the 30-year anniversary of the night John Lennon was murdered. Obviously, there will be no shortage of tribute concerts to the late, great Beatle that night. And that includes in Burlington, where local songwriters Aaron Flinn, Joshua Glass and Scott Mangan host a star-studded local bash at Parima in the slain genius’ honor.
Kids love the indie rock. Believe it or not, nowhere is that more true than in Montpelier, where kids — literally, kids — love the indie rock, and their parents are making damn sure of it. Case in point, the Kris Gruen-led all-star outfit the Glory Montessori. The nine-piece indie-rock ensemble features parents of students from Mont-P’s Montessori School of Central Vermont playing tunes written by certified grown-ups Gruen and Elizabeth Mandell, but that are aimed, specifically, at kids. But trust me, these kids (songs) are alright. Catch ’em at the Montessori school benefit show at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Chapel this Sunday. And, yes, there is a bake sale.
And once again, this week’s totally self-indulgent column segment, in which I share a random sampling of what was on my iPod, turntable, CD player, 8-track player, etc., this week.