"Yep, we're gonna get signed this year," the skinny-ass, long-haired rocker dude declares to his bandmate as they slash into comically oversized hunks of prime rib. "Even if I have to sleep with some monster lady."
The prime rib here at the Englander, a sports bar and event space in San Leandro, is quite excellent, but the sense of jovial brotherhood that pervades the creatively conceived but unimaginatively named Fourth Annual Bands4Bands Awards Program is every bit as sweet and succulent.
"You're getting awards from your peers -- they're callin' you the best at somethin'," explains medium-ass, long-haired Bands4Bands mastermind Pete Schaaphok, who also plays drums for the wildly ambitious but absurdly named East Bay metal band Mystic Rage.
And with that, as other guys dream of record deals and monster ladies nearby, Pete continues wolfing down his mashed potatoes and vegetable medley as he consoles his bandmate, singer and guitarist Angel, who just lost his ATM card here on a beautiful Saturday night, with a trip to London looming early Monday morning.
Angel is distraught, but Pete is consoling, though he advises Angel to call and cancel the card immediately. It's the sensible thing to do.
All sense and sensibility will soon bleed out of this evening, however, as this is Bands4Bands' big moment, its crowning achievement, the Jägermeister-soaked celebration of its own existence and perseverance. Pete, who started Mystic Rage in the late '80s and estimates he has churned through thirty bandmates since, started Bands4Bands six years ago as a sort of local band support group.
"I got tired of doing shows with all these bands, I didn't know who they were," he explains a few days later. "It just dawned on me one day at a show. I'm sitting there, and a friend of mine comes up and says, 'Hey, who are these next guys?' and I'm like, 'I don't know. I just met 'em today.' And I thought, 'You know what, they're probably sayin' the same thing about us.' We're not sharing any fan base. You go to clubs, and basically they run five, six bands in a glorified bar -- it's not really a club -- and each band plays, brings its audience, and leaves."
Pete wanted friends. A support group. A family. Now Bands4Bands is a forty-odd-band institution that promotes shows at least once a week in spots like the Englander and Rooster's Roadhouse in Alameda. The group meets once a month here, too, to talk strategy at taming this vicious, wily bitch we call the music industry.
Every March the Bands4Bands crew constructs a ballot and its members vote for Best Band, Best Guitarist, Best Backing Vocalist, and so on. Pete charges $25 a head for the prime rib treatment, and gets a buddy to frame award certificates that look like high school diplomas. Everyone piles into the Englander, gets soused, rocks out to a few nominated bands, and dishes the awards.
"If you loved the Grammys but thought it was too tame," the flier proclaims, "this show's for you."
For the evening's two hosts -- the ATM-cardless Angel and an ebullient, Jack Black-esque amateur rocker and even-more-amateur comedian named Dave Carbon -- this will involve saying "motherfucker" four thousand times.
As the festivities begin, Dave and Angel engage in a little topical humor ("Martha fuckin' Stewart ... what's up with that broad?") and accuse each other of wearing sports bras. The even more absurdly named band Numbfaced presents the Best New Band award to the Bad Penny Boys, a bit of an anomaly of a twangy rock band in a sea of largely metal-tinged acts. Pete realizes Bands4Bands has this stigma, but disagrees. "You look at the Bad Penny Boys. Or the HepCatz," he says, referring to the much older-skewing classic blues-rock/R&B outfit. "They don't even know what distortion is."
But 6:AM, the evening's first musical guest, certainly does, blaring with a flashy cock-rock shtick -- Bands4Bands seems to favor talented but over-the-top lead guitarists -- and a charming "What time is it?" "6:AM!!!!" call-and-response gimmick the band'll use about twelve times too many. The Bad Penny Boys, the alternative funk-rock outfit Color Black, and Mystic Rage itself will also take the stage in between profane comic monologues, awards, and speeches. As the evening progresses, the festivities devolve for those who aren't getting drunker, and pleasantly evolve for those who are. Dave Carbon's genius moment involves doing impressions of various celebrities -- Rocky, Ahhnuld, Connery -- sodomizing 6:AM's bass player.
You had to be there.
Mystic Rage, meanwhile, performs a Jägermeister toast from the stage. Jäger is one of the band's eight official sponsors, joining Vic Firth, Peavey, Yamaha Guitars, and others. This keeps the band flush in cheap equipment and promotional support -- hard-earned, though. "I bug the hell out of 'em," Pete explains. "Our first one was Jägermeister. Took me about a year and a half. These companies get tired of me, basically. I wear 'em down."
Pete's band wins several awards tonight, including Best Web Site and Best Bassist. To the average image-obsessed indie rocker, this might all seem a bit strange -- seeking out corporate endorsements before you're even signed, and orchestrating elaborate award shows with your friends wherein you win quite a few yourself. But among all the profane fat jokes, many presenters mention how cold and unforgiving local band-dom can be -- greedy club owners, unresponsive radio stations, jealous rival bands, bogus knights of "indie credibility" that sneer at any scent of ambition or effort. Pete imagines Bands4Bands as a safe haven from all that: Let's all get famous together, but, barring that, let's get drunk, listen to each other play, and bestow some profane compliments.
Such self-promotion in a local rocker is wildly uncool, but wildly necessary. Pete has learned this, and accepted it, though it differs dramatically from his rock star fantasies of yore. "I thought it'd be a lot easier: I thought you'd just arrive places," he will wistfully recall. "I roadied for a band and they used to show up everywhere in a limo."
No limo here, Pete. Better saddle up next to some monster lady. But in the meantime, the prime rib is excellent.
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