Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Ballroom Blitz

The following was posted on Facebook on April 19, 2009, the 20th anniversary of The Ballroom Blitz. It is the last in a series of posts that can be found at my buddy Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss' blog. Colicky Baby Records and Tapes I strongly suggest you read those posts for full effect. But I imagine you could just jump in hyah, if you so desire. On with the show.

Ready, Steve? Killer? Bouj? Alright, fellas. LET'S GO!

Twenty years on, it still took half a bottle of vodka to write this post. There we were. It was supposed to be the big homecoming show. But due to oppression beyond my control, it had been canceled. I was going back to Jersey on the 20th. The knuckleheads had less than a week to correct their mistake and book a make up show. To their credit, they did manage to get that together. Even suckered in Dale Tulk, soundman to the Dekalb/Sycamore stars. In hindsight, I wish they hadn't. He deserved better. But you play the Ball where it lies, so to speak. Or the Blitz, if you weel.

The big show was off. Apparently the Northern Illinois University campus was too delicate to withstand a promotion consisting of naked stick figures. They weren't even anatomically correct! But that post has been posted. Whether you're just joining us or you have been impatiently waiting for each new episode, I recommend you download the audio version of the backstory, the PAS 23 cassette.

I suspect Stronger Than Newspaper Tom Lung may have some additional comments on this zip. I prefer to comment videologically.

Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah. April 19, 1989. A Wednesday night. Somehow, one Matthew Boone's event hall had been procured. I was tempted to say "rented," but that would have involved a deposit. Too bad about their lax business practices. It was an interesting venue for a rock show. To the best of my knowledge, it had never been used for a rock show before and CERTAINLY not since. (At least some of those involved learned valuable lessons on this day, though not all.) In hindsight, I'm sure it was nothing more than a dining hall for rent. But to those of us used to church basements, university commons and old man drinking clubs, it looked like a venue better suited to proms or weddings. My god, it was practically a ballroom! Disco ball included! (Which is not to be confused with a disco Ball. That would take us back to the late 70's and remove us from the story at hand.)

Kissyfish was driving down from Madison, the Chains were in their various Chicago area locales and I woke up in Dekalb. With a grapefruit lump in my gut. I had a bad feeling about the evening show. Not only was it booked on a weeks notice, but given the circumstances, let's just say that there was not a whole lot of promotion. And it was a Wednesday night to boot. And I sensed another boot could well be imminent, if we didn't watch all our P's and Q's. And stick figures.

Enough beating around the bush. We knew it wasn't gonna be the best Otis Ball & The Chains show. Christ, we had a pretty good idea it wouldn't even be the best of the tour. And it wasn't. That would be the IMSA show, discussed in the previous post. But goddamn it! There was a job to be done! I spent the afternoon with the Public Address System crew, which is documented in the PAS 23 mp3s linked above. We were all understandably nervous for our own reasons. They needed a successful make up show to print the next edition. I coulda used some cash to get home and make up for taking two weeks off of work for a no budget homecoming tour. Thankfully the Cover Me With Roses cassette and T-shirt sales were doing fine. I was far more concerned about leaving my Dekalb reputation in tact. God knows why.

So we loaded in that afternoon. Kissyfish showed up, loaded in and we spent the afternoon pacing. Which changed not one thing of the impending show. Doors opened. $4 admission. Seemed overpriced to me, but I wasn't promoting the show. My concern was what happened on stage.

Good thing. Attendance was light early on. Not only did I know everybody, but between Kissyfish, OB&C and the PAS crew, we coulda handily defeated em in a fist fight. And that is not bragging about our collective pugilistic skills.

Kissyfish opened the show. I thought they were fine. But Ryan was not happy. More than once he apologized from the stage. I dunno why. They sounded just fine then and now. They opened with an excellent Hava Nagila. An arrangement I would blatantly steal over a decade later when asked to play at my cousin's wedding. They did a decent amount of their hits and a couple new songs, but ended after about a half hour. They were clearly feeling as nervous and unsure as I was feeling. The smell of curse was in the air.

Up next was No Eraser Head. One of the PAS crew. An old Dekalb pal. Soon to join me in Jersey and roadie for the OB&C midwest tour a year later. (I'm sick of saying "that's another story." Figure it out.)

NE was a unique performer. Like BB King, he couldn't play guitar and vocalize at the same time. Unlike BB King, he couldn't even play guitar. But that didn't stop him. Nor should it have. He did what he did and there was no one else doing anything similar. Before or since. He choose to use the first half of his set to both encapsulate the story of the show and do a greatest hits of his stand-up routine. All in about 5 minutes. For his second song, he performed a Stooges song backed by an old vaudeville routine. Rather than go into detail, I implore you to watch his entire set that night.

Under any other circumstances, I would have thought this No Eraser Head set was the greatest performance I had ever witnessed. But for the fact that the owner and/or manager of the venue had appeared with her two young children. She was looking for her money. Ironically from this anniversary vantage point, there could not have been more than 20 people in attendance. I knew she wasn't getting paid. The PAS crew knew she wasn't getting paid. Fuck, she probly knew she wasn't getting paid. Meanwhile, NE was playing a solo guitar version of I Wanna Be Yer Dog while two other gentlemen explained the definition of "To come" and smashed 78 rpm lacquer records over their heads. Me? I was curled up in a ball in a shadowed door jamb.

But now it was time. Might as well get this over with. I guess if ya gotta play a show, might as well throw in for the handful of friends who showed up. So Otis Ball & The Chains took to the stage one last time.

I guess we all knew this could be it. And it was. While Otis Ball & A Chains would play with A Kissyfish one year later, this collection of musicians and old friends would never gather again. Not all at once. Some attendees would disappear, never to be heard from again. (Steve Laux! Phone home!)

If this was a movie, (and someday it may be! All copyrights held by One O Ball and Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss!) the show would have been amazing, properly documented and hundreds would have been streaming in after the big football game let out. But that is not what happened. The attendees who were attending were already attending. We knew this was "a major loss for the band." (You are watching the accompanying videos, aren't you? I didn't upload em for my health!) And the video is very poor quality. But a rock show is a rock show. There are a lot of things I am lazy about. But when it comes to show time, well, it is show time.

And that is where our story does take a turn for the better. You see, while the audience was sparse, they were all hardcore. So they all acme prepared for The Request Bucket. TRB. An OB&C mainstay. (Along with acronyms.) At most shows, I would put out the bucket. Fans were invited to drop requests in the bucket. Not Otis Ball song requests. ANY song requests. And we aimed to please. The very first time The Request Bucket was employed, we got a request for a Metallica song. Leper Messiah. Well, we did not know Leper Messiah. So we made up a song on the spot. Called Leper Messiah. THAT is how The Request Bucket works.

This fucked up show was a financial disaster. It was not to be anything resembling an ego gratifying homecoming show. But thanks to the fifth member of the band, TRB, it was a success. My buddy Jody had been making notes for months. She came to the show armed with at least two dozen requests. The Associations' Windy! New York, New York! You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman! Green Acres! And someone requested Ballroom Blitz.

So the show happened. Which is more than we expected at the time, under the circumstances. And I do have to say, despite the doom hanging about two feet above the dance floor, despite the fact that NO ONE was making any money that night, despite the fact that we might never see each other again, we managed to end the night with the most triumphant rock moment Dekalb has ever seen. Or not seen in this case.

For the big finale, we called up Kissyfish to join us. We chose two very special covers and an anthem to end the night, the tour and the very special friendship all those in attendance were bonded by forever and always. As I did that night, I would like to dedicate these three songs, this rock and roll encore of all encores to all those on stage that night, all those in the audience and all of you who have joined us in this 20 year anniversary remembrance.

From Otis Ball and Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss, thank you, friends.

1 comment:

  1. April 17, 1989 Northern Star story here -