Thursday, November 4, 2010

Road Stories: The Zeros in Baltimore 10/30/10

When I wrote up the NW4NW entry for The Zeros a couple weeks ago, I had no idea they were touring - much less that they were actually going to be here on the East Coast for the first time in almost thirty years!  A friend on Facebook sent me a message saying they were going to be in Philadelphia, and would I be interested in going to see them?  Unfortunately, that show turned out to be scheduled for Wednesday night (10/27), and while there was a time that I could do the three-hour round trip to see a band in Philly, get back home at 2:30 AM-ish and still be up and at 'em for work at 7:00 AM the next morning, well...let's just say that was a few years ago.

So I was very psyched to find out that The Zeros would be sticking around this part of the country through the weekend, playing in Baltimore on Saturday and Washington, DC on Sunday.  I found some friends who were up for the Baltimore run, and started putting plans together.

Normally, a show in Baltimore means a visit to The Ottobar on North Howard Street -  a fine place to see a band (I've seen The Vibrators, The Business, and Jello Biafra there among others), but, as my friends and I have long joked, it's in a neighborhood that looks like it came straight off the cover of The Exploited's Troops of Tomorrow LP. According to The Zeros' MySpace page, however, they weren't gong to be at The Ottobar, but rather at a place none of us had heard of, The Golden West Cafe.  Further, the show time was given as 11:00 PM - 11:30 PM.  OK, that was a head-scratcher...a half-hour show that late at night? WTF?

A little more research online uncovered that there would be an opening band, The Fishnet Stalkers, who we had seen before and thought were really good - another plus for the show.  Also, doors were to open at 10:00 PM - another head-scratcher.  What, were the doors gong to open as The Fishnet Stalkers began playing, they do a 15-minute set, then change over for The Zeros to play half an hour and everyone go home?  Things seemed more bizarre when we went to look up the venue - their website, as it turns out, is under construction.  But there was an email address, so I wrote to ask if this show was for real or not.  Hate to drive 1:45 down to Baltimore to find no show.

Neal at The Golden West  was quick to reply: "THIS SHOW IS A GO!" With his invitation extended to come on down and his confirmation that doors were at 10:00 and cover was $10.00, we were still left wondering a few things.  Why so late a start? And only half an hour? Again, WTF?  So I took a chance and wrote a quick note to Javier Escovedo of The Zeros through his Facebook page - and lo and behold he wrote back as well, saying they usually play for at least an hour, and come on down.

So we headed down to Baltimore on Saturday night, having no idea what we were going to find when we got there.  I can tell you this: we all agreed we were so glad we decided to go!

We got into Baltimore around 8:00-ish and found the place.  This was not a club in the midst of Troops-of-Tomorrow-Land, but rather a brightly lit cafe on West 36th Street in a fairly busy little two or three block strip of coffee houses, yoga studios, pizza places, artsy-crafty stores, etc.  In many ways, it reminded me of the neighborhood in which we found The Note in West Chester, PA,  when we saw Gorevette and The Donnas earlier in the year.  We knew we had time to kill, so we walked around looking for a place to eat. Ducked briefly into a little hole-in-the-wall record shop, the name of which escapes me now (didn't find anything to pick up there anyway), and finally found ourselves standing in front of The Golden West itself.  After briefly checking out the menu, we decided we may as well just eat there.

If you are in Baltimore for any reason, The Golden West is a must-visit.  There is a dining room in the front and a bar in the back, and both were pretty full when we walked in (always a good sign).  We were seated quickly, and I immediately knew I liked the place: the menus are housed in old record album covers, and the walls are covered with all sorts of old toys, tchotchkes, and - by our table anyway - paint-by-numbers-kit renderings of The Last Supper.  Everything on the menu is made fresh each day, and I mean EVERYTHING.  We were offered chips and guacamole to start, and out came a plate of homemade potato chips and freshly made guacamole. The choices are healthy and varied: wraps, burgers, burritos, salads, soups - and they offer vegetarian and vegan options if that's your thing as well.  The staff is friendly and welcoming, and take great pride in describing the whole Golden West experience.  I went with the bison burger and sweet-potato fries, which were wonderful.

At about 9:30, the change-over began.  Half of the front dining room would become the "stage" area, and that meant tables had to be broken down and moved and equipment had to be brought in and set up.  Soundproof blankets had to be hung in the store-front windows.  Bands coming in the front door had to be welcomed and attended to. All this had to be done with a full crowd still milling about, and it was all done by, as far as I could see, two people:  one red-headed guy and one brunette girl.  Red seemed to be in charge of the place, but Brunette was simply a whirlwind.  She had brought us our chips, she greeted the bands as they showed up, she was tending bar when we went up for beers later, she was busing tables throughout the night - she was non-stop motion, causing us to joke that she was the only person who actually worked there!

As it turned out, there were two opening bands and a DJ scheduled before The Zeros.  DJ El Suprimo began spinning the records as the changeover continued, and when an early choice was a full side of The Angry Samoans' Back From Samoa LP, I knew we were in for some fun.  Sick Weapons began their set close to 11:00-ish.  I've mentioned before that I tend not to pay close attention to first bands, as the past has taught me that they are often not that good.  Sick Weapons are probably a better band than this show hinted at - musically they were tight, but the sound was too loud and too trebly. As a result, the female lead vocals, which were of the screech-and-holler school anyway, were somewhat distorted and hard to listen to. Eh, maybe I'm just getting old.  They played with enthusiasm and had a supportive crowd, so what do I know?

This was our second time seeing The Fishnet Stalkers, as I mentioned before, and they sounded even crisper and more polished than they had the last time.  It seemed to us that there had been a line-up change (the bass player looked different to me), but I wouldn't bet the house on it.  Nonetheless, their set was fantastic.  Comparisons in style to The Chesterfield Kings or New York Dolls mixed with a dollop of Cheap Trick-ish mugging for the crowd would not be entirely out of place.  Definitely a band to search out and see - and look for bigger things from in the future.

It was almost 12:45 when The Zeros finally took the stage, ripping into a killer version of "Pipeline" to kick off their set.  Over the course of the next hour, they played just about everything you could wish to hear from The Zeros: "Don't Push Me Around," "Handgrenade Heart," "Wild Weekend," "Wimp," "Beat Your Heart Out" and more.  This was almost the full original band, too: Javier Escovedo, Hector Penalosa and Baba Chenelle.  Only Robert Lopez wasn't there - Javier's brother Mario filled in on guitar. ("El Vez is busy with El Vez," as Javier informed the crowd.)

The crowd was small, but very much into the band.  It being Halloween weekend, there were many there in costume, which added to the overall atmosphere of the night.  It was kind of neat to see clowns and zombies and werewolves and Snooki and The Situation bopping along with a crowd of younger kids and old fogies like me, and The Zeros played the kind of rock and roll that you just have to move to. In fact, the brunette who seemed to be doing every job in the place even stopped working long enough to grab a friend and dance along as The Zeros ran through a scorching cover of "Psychotic Reaction" - even on her break she was constant motion!

After an hour The Zeros said goodnight, but the crowd wasn't about to let them go.  So they came back out for a three-song encore of covers including "Little Latin Lupe Lu" and Johnny Thunders' "Chatterbox." Afterward, the band was very gracious in hanging out with the folks who stuck around, both to sign records and just talk.  They seemed pleased that everyone had had such a great time, and really seemed to have fun themselves.

All in all, what began looking like an iffy proposition at best turned out to be one of the best shows I've been to in some time. Who'd ever think that in 2010, I'd get a chance to see The Zeros? My only regret is that I have no pics of the show - so if you are reading this and you were at the Baltimore show Saturday night and have pics, please post 'em on our Facebook Fanpage!

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