In the summer of 1980, we heard about a club in Tucson hiring punk rock bands. I fired off a demo to them right away and got us a booking for the middle of July. The night before the show, we were so excited we drove down to Tucson just to hang around town. We cooled our heels for a while in the University of Arizona student union, then we found a grate blowing cool air and took a cat nap. We spent the next day trying to fob our handmade flyers off on disinterested local merchants.
I'll never understand how we managed to stay up all night and day in the middle of summer and still find the energy to play a gig at midnight. We must have been out of our minds. But we were barely out of our teens and possessed of ridiculous energy. I still remember sitting at the drum the kit that night, in front of a real paying audience for the very first time. The feeling was incredible; the situation seemed impossible. I had energy to burn.
I wasted no time counting us down. For three quarters of an hour, I played just as hard and fast as I possibly could. The Kirkwoods danced manically in front of me. At some point, I bit down hard on the tip of my tongue and sprayed blood all over the drums. Someone threw a beer bottle through my bass drum, but we kept going. When we ran out of material, we lit out with ten minutes of pure, stratospheric noise. The crowd went ape shit.
The tape of the gig is badly distorted, but it accurately captures the excessive, hallucinatory energy in the room. Compared to this recording, our first album sounds like "Tales From Topographic Oceans." At the end, you can hear me respond to a direct compliment with an offhand dismissal: "nah, we'll be slower next time."
Our Phoenix debut took place a couple weeks later. The Human Hands were in town for a gig at the Star System, and though he couldn't get us on the bill, singer David Wiley did throw together a private after-party for us. He even talked his bandmates into loaning us their amplifiers.
The party started so late that we had to wake Curt from a dead sleep to get him to go on. Cris and I wedged him into the back seat of my mom's Volkswagen Rabbit among various pieces of my drum kit. He bobbed his head back and forth during the drive downtown, barely award of what was happening. We propped him up on stage and he mustered a dull muddy tone out of the borrowed amp.
After a quick introduction from Human Hands bassist Rick Potts ("direct from their Las Vegas debut last week"), we kicked off a confident if subdued set in front of a small supportive crowd hand picked from the cream of Phoenix's cool kids. Our pacing and focus were much improved from the Tucson show. The lack of manic energy served us well, allowing space for greater invention. Cris turned in an impromptu bass solo on "Children In Heat," while Curt whipped out a great atonal hail-Mary lead on "Dolphin Field."
After those two shows, our names started to get around. Our shows were one-of-a-kind events. We were alarmingly clean-cut, so innocent and suburban looking, yet so feral when we got on stage -- especially when Curt stepped up to the microphone. We had a beautiful offhand (and off-key) approach that allowed us to shine like angels from hell, even on a shitty night. The Phoenix scene quickly took us under its wing, and for a few brief months we got to be the new kids on the block.
(Thanks to Bob Judd for posting this flyer, drawn by Yours Truly.)