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Another run for MotorFinger

by Jordan Green

The four of them crowd into a booth together at the Longhorn Steakhouse at 9 p.m. It will have to be a quick meal because they must be ready to play their first set in about an hour across the parking lot in the High Point strip mall that houses Finley’s.

The server is a young, lithe woman with brownish hair in her late teen years. She might have waited on the Greensboro hard rock band MotorFinger the last time they played here or perhaps just knows them by reputation. Bass player Rich Cutts, singer Kenny Kallam and drummer Jimi Bell have all ordered. Guitar player Stephen Harris is still puzzling over the menu when his turn comes.

“Come on, if you want to get out of here,” she says.

“I generally don’t let a woman talk to me that way,” Harris replies.

Without missing a beat the server rejoins him with, “You like it rough.”

Within five minutes the banter has already covered – by innuendo or direct reference – the areas of under-the-table blowjobs, Speedos and lobster tails as metaphor for the female lower erogenous zone.

Then before it goes too far, Kallam interjects: “Remember what Kip said: ‘Keep it positive.'”

The guys maintain great respect for Kip Williams, a Kernersville music industry figure who is both their producer and manager. With a reputation for superb business acumen, Williams is someone MotorFinger looks to as their best chance for mainstream exposure, financial viability and the rest of the perquisites a rock and roll band expects.

The quartet has reasons to feel lucky and also to take nothing for granted. The first version of MotorFinger made a strong start in 1999, and then tragically its first singer, Gary York, died in a car accident. A second incarnation didn’t click and some of the members left to form the Dickens. Harris, one of the original members followed “a certain singer” to Florida, and then ended up in Boston where he met his wife. When he returned to Greensboro he reunited with Cutter, a stucco and plaster guy. Jimi Bell signed on as the drummer in January 2006. By March they had a new singer. Kallam, originally from Rockingham County, had returned to North Carolina after pursuing a dream of acting in New York when his father died after chasing a dream of acting in New York. Instead of an acting career, Kallam had acquired the experience to become a superb hair stylist.

Later Kallam will explain the reason for his uplifting disposition.

“I’ve got so much negative in my life I’m not going to let that roll off in our music,” he says.

“Because we’re twenty-eight and mature,” Harris adds. (As a chronological measure it’s not actually true; though the band members decline as a policy to give their ages they appear to be somewhat older.)

Kallam: “We know there’s chemistry here.”

Harris: “We might have another chance at a bite at the apple.”

Kallam: “Egos are insecurities to us.”

Harris: “We all have such big egos they cancel each other out.”

Back at Finley’s the band starts later than expected; it’s a struggle to lure the crowd away from the pool tables apparently. The first set comes out more cover-heavy than the second, in which the band typically attempts to seal their audiences’ devotion with their original songs. Their turf is the heartland of hard rock, the epoch following classic rock and preceding metal, the warrior kingdom that spawned KISS, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Alice In Chains and Rage Against the Machine.

Their claim is reinforced by Kallam’s voice, a powerful vibrato that warbles with masculine emotionalism; the whole being of Cutts, whose long mane and fierce expression give him the look of a Viking as he hammers down thunderous bass runs; Harris’s densely layered guitar fretwork multiplied from the army of pedals at his feet; and Bell’s commanding, stick-splintering percussive assault.

By the second set the band finally locks the audience into its grasp and its professional chops are requited by the audience’s energy, which has built to a magic knife’s edge balance of chaotic, naughty and aggressive impulses.

Kallam, who is prone sometimes to speaking in a Donald Duck voice, asks if there are any “freaky girls” in the audience before charging into the Nickelback cover “Figure You Out,” a song that takes the audience on a thrilling and creepy ride through a disastrous relationship edged with the threat of violence. “I like the wine stains on your dress,” Kallam sings, and the three young women with flaxen hair standing in front of the stage scream with pleasure.

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com

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