Emotions high as rock house folds

by Jordan Green

A Greensboro rock community held a wake for itself on Sept. 29 before its preordained implosion. The ceremony was by turns emotional, heartfelt, violent and humorous.

After a little more than five years of existence as a residence for various Greensboro musicians, welcoming refuge for fledgling underground bands making their first national forays and incubator of a handful of seminal local bands, the Corndale House held its last basement show on a Friday night; the following day the last three tenants packed their belongings and vacated the premises.

So named for its location at the corner of Cornwallis and Lawndale drives, the three-level brick house had the advantage of being near a busy intersection where traffic and late-night business at a nearby convenient store created a sonic cover for the house’s innovative musicality. The nearest neighbor was a psychic service. One longtime visitor said the only time the police showed up was once when revelers spilled into the street.

The music started at around 8:30 p.m., a time unthinkably early by Greensboro house party standards but necessary to accommodate the seven bands on the lineup. Before the basement performance space began to fill with visitors, members of the Athens, Ga. band Pegasuses-XL helped themselves to bowls of curried vegetables and rice prepared by residents of the house. Adam Thorn, a singer and guitarist connected to the house through both former and current band members, hauled a keg of microbrew into the basement.

“I had one experience that totally flipped me,” said Lawrence Holdsworth, drummer for Tiger Bear Wolf and one of Corndale’s final residents. “We were in St. Louis. It was a [do-it-yourself] performance space. They cooked for us; they took us out for breakfast; they made us comfortable. When you’re on the road you can be stressed out, tired and hungry. We said, ‘How can we repay you?’ They were like, ‘Pass it along.’ That’s part of the purpose of making DIY music: to have a network that sustains people.”

Faith Jost located the house in August 2001. She and her partner were one of two couples that initially lived in the house. Another romantically committed house member was Charlie Estes who played in the punk group Disband. The lone bachelor at the time was Eric Mann, who performed with the legendary indie rock band Kudzu Wish, which itself called it quits last year.

“It was big and tall and brick and it reminded me of New York,” Jost said. “The old lady who rented it to us, she grew up in it. She was real meticulous. Then she sold it to an agency and it sort of got more and more loose. The new owners were fine as long as the house was still standing.”

Although the house is now identified with Tiger Bear Wolf, Marcus Villano said Disband was responsible for establishing the house’s reputation.

“Disband is the band that made Guilford students and UNCG students hang out,” Villano said. “They did a split album with Kudzu Wish. After that, Kudzu Wish started playing at Gate City Noise and College Hill. Before that, we thought Guilford students were crunchy. ‘What do private school students know about punk?’ This is the house that Disband built.”

(One former member of Disband, Mark Dale, now plays drums with Pegasuses-XL. The newer band channels hardcore intensity, but substitutes a synthesizer for lead guitar, creating a super-fast and technically proficient prog-rock catharsis.)

Having a residence that doubled as a rock club and house of hospitality could have its drawbacks.

“I usually never minded, but one morning I came down to the basement because I had to go to work,” said Cedric Blue, an early resident. “I wasn’t wearing shoes, which you never should do. I opened up the refrigerator door and I realized my heel was in something warm, and I realized it was a pile of dog doo.”

The band that had played the night before was asleep on the floor, and Blue recognized the dog’s owner.

“That’s the only time I ever got belligerent,” he said. “I woke them all up.”

The house also helped forge lasting friendships and new musical partnerships.

Mark Wingfield, a native West Virginian, visited the Corndale house from Pittsburgh one weekend in March 2003.

“The first show I ever saw here was Health,” he said. “It was really slow death folk, apartment rock. Jonathan and Tim were playing. Eric Mann was running the vacuum cleaner between their legs, but it wasn’t plugged in. At first I was like, ‘This guy is a dick.’ Then I was like, ‘No, this is hilarious.’ Two years later I ended up playing with Health.”

Wingfield, who lived in the house for a time, also plays with Tiny Meteors. Jonathan Moore and Tim LaFollette, who Wingfield encountered onstage in 2003 and who were both among Corndale’s last members, also pursue multiple music projects. To spin out the tangle of relationships is to understand the incestuous nature of Greensboro’s tightly knit rock scene.

Moore plays with Tiger Bear Wolf, and together with LaFollette the two back Adam Thorn as (at least for the moment) the Top Buttons, a raw-edged trio that channels ’60s mod rock and ’50s sock hop into a jagged funnel of punk fury. LaFollette and Thorn are former members of Kudzu Wish. Two of Moore’s Tiger Bear Wolf band mates, Noah Howard and Matt Bostick, play in the acoustic, self-mocking stoner rock outfit Marijuana Wolf.

All four bands, Tiny Meteors, Tiger Bear Wolf, Adam Thorn & the Top Buttons – excluding Health and the defunct Kudzu Wish – played at the final Corndale show.

Another band on the lineup, Embarrassing Fruits, also has residential connections to Corndale. Bass player Andi Baker moved out of the house in August. She returned for the last show wielding a Fender bass and dispatching lean, fluid progressions in complement to the deadpan vocals and throttling, melodic rhythm guitar playing of Joe Norkus.

The chaotic energy and fun reached an apex when the mesmerizing Thorn took the stage. His band’s music could also be described as aggro-twang or angular pop-funk thanks to LaFollette’s uncanny sense of rhythm and Moore’s explosive drumming style.

“We’re called the Top Buttons, featuring Drunken Asshole,” Thorn announced to the audience. At the end of his set he screamed into the microphone, “We can’t win.”

He spun around with his squawking Rickenbacker during the last number, torturing squeals of feedback from it as Moore sang from behind the drum set. Thorn nearly assaulted an audience member with his guitar, unplugged the instrument and dropped it on the floor like a poisonous snake. Then he charged through the audience and left the house, slamming the door behind him.

By the time the seventh and last band was prepared to play, a tired pall had fallen over the room. Mann stood next to Bostick at the bottom of a wooden stairwell as empty beer bottles clattered to the floor behind them. Mann, who now lives in Chapel Hill, surveyed the stage with a look of wistful quietude. Thorn stomped down the steps. When Bostick gently tried to grab his arm, the singer stalked off, and Bostick watched him go with a look of sad resignation.

At least half the members of Tiny Meteors confessed to being drunk; one of them said he was expected at work at 7 a.m. the following morning. It fell on them to close the Corndale era.

“I see you people doing beautiful things with their lives and with other people’s lives, and enrich each other,” singer and guitarist Kemp Stroble, who doubles as a promoter, slurred into the microphone. “That’s what life is about. How the fuck can people get away with doing something so beautiful for this long?”

Then he introduced a song called “Come Between Us.”

By the end, Moore and others in the audience were flinging pennies, nickels and even quarters at the band. Then in the midst of a cacophonous onslaught, Moore walked around the room and systematically turned out the lights. A halo of light occasionally appeared from above when the kitchen door opened and closed, and it seemed that a strobe light blinked from the back of the room for a period of time. Otherwise the room was almost completely dark except for a point of red light on the sound board.

As waves of feedback swept through the room in gradually abating electronic loops the members of Tiny Meteors set down their instruments and walked away. Then there was no more music.

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