Part II of our adventure close to home.
"Why don't you dress punkish?" Paloma asked us wryly as we walked back to Jen's car. "That's the fun part!"
We gave her a ride back to the church, where the rest of Hi-Fi was already. She asked me about my zine, about what I do for a living and how I like New York. The church turned out to be a huge warehouse-looking building nestled away in a suburban neighborhood. The parking lot was already full; people were greeting each other and kids roamed about. In a corner of the lobby, one could buy tapes by various religious groups, and an entire display of Jack Chick pamphlets was set up near the door. The auditorium (which I assume doubles as the church sanctuary) was filled with little round tables. On stage, there was a glittering backdrop of four Biblical scenes, each one ringed with blue Christmas lights and illuminated in shades of green, orange and blue. About a dozen flags lined the top of the stage -- Rhode Island, Trinidad, Oregon, Czechoslovakia, Massachusetts, Arizona. Jen told me later that these were the regions where the church had established strongholds. Above the stage to the far right was a movie screen.
"Are you Paloma's friends?" one of the church members asked us. "She's reserved a table for you right near the front." We took our seats, and waitresses brought us free baskets of popcorn and pretzels -- there was a pervading smell of microwave popcorn throughout the room -- and served us soft drinks. We ordered Pepsis, and they served us the caffeine-free kind, subverting the whole notion of this being a "coffee house" in the first place.
The show began exactly at 8:00 pm with a brief sketch about a babysitter and the two bratty kids she was sitting. I honestly can't remember much in the way of specifics: I do remember that they locked her in a closet and made prank calls to the police, the fire department and the local pizza parlor; I also remember that the guy with the mustache was dressed in red, presumably symbolizing Satan and the consequences of befriending him. Meanwhile, Hi-Fi got ready to play. When the sketch was over, the show's MC came out to wild cheers, and the show truly began.
"We've got Hi-Fi to kick it off for us tonight! And we'd like you to know, at the same time, before things get kickin', Dave McLardy has a birthday today!"
Warm, tumultuous applause.
"You'd never know it, man. So let's hear some good tunes here!" Someone screamed out "Happy birthday, Dave!" and initiated an enthusiastically shouted round of "Happy Birthday."
"He's the WORLD'S OLDEST TEENAGER! Check him out!" said the MC.
Dave stepped up to the mic, quietly acknowledging his birthday greetings. "OK," he announced in his British accent. "This first number is about the defeat of the deceiver. The deceiver was defeated. If you've got deception and destruction all around you, if that's what you see, that's good news. The deciever has been defeated. And the one way to defeat him is to go with the one who defeated him." And with a hearty "ONE! TWO!" he began singing Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls Of Fire," with the lyrics changed to reflect Godly themes.
Then the whole band kicked in. Paloma's drumming sounded exactly like it did in the late 1970s! She hit her cymbals the same way; she was just slightly behind the rest of the band; she had the same look of determination as she did frantically banging out "New Town" in The Punk Rock Movie. The sax player had a slightly warbly X-Ray Spex/Essential Logic flavor, but maybe that's just me projecting. You could see the band play on the video screen; occasionally the camera operator would throw in cheesy public access-style video dissolve effects. I never take notes at shows usually, but I was jotting down scene descriptions and details feverishly in an attempt to remember this moment as clearly as possible.
The woman sitting in front of us asked Jen, "Do you know the McLardys?" "I know Paloma. And I've met Dave.
They continued along for a good four minutes or so, actually sounding like a decent oldies band with Biblical lyrics. The crowd (which must have been around 150-200 by this point) applauded appreciatively at the end.
"Can we have more monitors in the drums?," Paloma asked. "I can't hear the monitors...OK, we're gonna do a song. It's a punk rock song. I wrote this song a long time ago when I was into punk rock, and my statement then was a decription of a confusion in my life. The statement we're doing today is that there is an answer. Because Jesus is the answer. He is real, he's alive, and he wants to touch souls on this night!"
Dave kicked it off with his "ONE! TWO!" and "FM" began. "We live in a town with a hundred lights around, your head is like a radio set, I CAN'T HEAR THE GUITARS!" Paloma stopped singing, the band continued for about 30 seconds and then stopped. "WAIT A MINUTE, WAIT A MINUTE!" A bit of applause, a brief band discussion.
"We're gonna try again. Dave, if this is gonna happen, it's gonna have to be a miracle. We're waiting for a miracle right now!"
There was a closeup of her on the video screen as she played, a smile plastered to her face. Vocally, she had the inflections of Ari Up, European but not particularly English. She seemed extremely nervous and off-key when she started, loosening up surely and steadily as she progressed. I had wondered how a song whose title was an acronym for "Frequent Mutilation" would go over in this setting, how they would change it to suit their needs. In fact, they left the first verse and chorus alone, changing the tense from first person to second:
But they added a second portion to the chorus, sung by her and Dave together. And it went like this:
Or listen to the entire song (MP3 format)
So it turns out that the "frequent mutilation" and garbled mental transmission she wrote about was, in fact, keeping her from hearing the word of God. In this sense, she was both commenting on "FM"'s original intent and updating it to fit her current state of mind. The song ended very much like on the Peel Sessions EP, just her drumming and a vocal chant. Several in the crowd clapped along and sang along: "Jesus is the answer, why don't you let him in..." It was a wild way to hear "FM," always my favorite Slits song; I was slackjawed, to be honest. Dave resumed lead vocal chores for Hi-Fi's final song, a version of "Sweet Little Sixteen" that celebrated all the cities throughout America that were turning on to God's word.
We stayed for two more bands. The first was a In Focus, a Wilson Phillips-styled girl vocal group who performed to a backing tape. In fact, their first song was a cover of "You're In Love." They brought up a friend of theirs, a sixtyish woman, in between songs. She complimented the girls on their talent and confirmed that yes, she was saved and hoped some of us would be, too. The next band, Point Blank, was the inevitable Christian "grunge" group. Their jockish lead singer did an uncanny Eddie Vedder impression; during the two guitarists' solos, he would good-naturedly drag them out onto center stage. Point Blank's repertoire included very loud covers of Stone Temple Pilots' "Plush" and Otis Redding/the Black Crowes' "Hard To Handle." They didn't do very much extensive rewriting of either, though. In fact, everything about them seemed downright secular, like they'd really rather be playing something a little bit more rebellious, like if you cornered them they'd admit they're not completely averse to premarital sex or the occasional beer. They were quite a hit with the ladies, who sang along to the chorus of "Hard To Handle." When the blonde-haired lead guitarist confirmed that he needs neither drugs nor drink in order to rock, you could hear the screams reverberate throughout the room.
There were more skits in between the bands. One of them -- the one that sticks out in my mind, though I didn't completely catch it at the time -- had an uncomfortably homophobic theme, featuring a swishy gay caricature (makeup and all) who was forced to see the light, so to speak, and admit that he hated the way he was. Various church members kept coming up to Jen and Jeremy and told them how good it was to see them again, and Paloma chatted with me about the church and how comfortable she felt there. "Has anyone ever told you about the Gospel?" she asked me. I just kind of nodded my head politely, mumbling about how I was Jewish. I didn't want to be rude, you know?
We left after Point Blank, picking up a stack of Jack Chick pamphlets (they're always good for laughs or to send to pen pals). All in all, it was not completely unlike a night at CBGB's or one of Chickfactor magazine's marathon shows. The bands played short sets, they were all slightly sloppy and off-key, the audience talked while they played, they had monitor problems, and they appealed to a limited group of people who brought with them a shared understanding of the event. The whole notion of rewriting contemporary songs to fit your Christian beliefs, to hear everything through a God filter, is a little spooky to me, though at least Hi-Fi picked their own songs and oldies that are familiar enough to be practically public domain, and at least they had one of the world's best drummers.
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