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Instant Jones finds pleasure in pain

by Jordan Green

The two guitarists lean against the pool table at the Blind Tiger in a kind of weary, satisfied lull of easygoing comfort, sharing the mutual esteem and common interest of musicians backed out of the limelight but deep into the pleasures of their art.

One of them, Reggie O’Farrell of Houston, sports a skater’s bowl cut and a beard of light stubble. His band, the Western Civilization, is in the first throes of a tour up the East Coast, mildly under the weather and filling a Tuesday-night slot at an obscure outpost in the North Carolina hinterland. The other man, Nathan Arizona, has looks to match his name. With a thick mane of blond hair pulled back into a ponytail, a scraggly beard and a skinny frame, the music engineering student and film projectionist could just as easily be mistaken for a biker or a desert shaman.

While not as far from home as their Houston brethren, the Burlington quartet Instant Jones is making its first foray into Greensboro. It’s a stubborn and audacious gambit this band is making – playing all original songs that display cerebral intensity and jagged punk fury in this scene dominated by elastic boogie, Led Zep covers and extended jams. Though you can probably count on one hand the listeners who are not a) employed by the venue, b) in the opening band or c) part of the entourage from Burlington, the band members seem quietly confident that the campaign will win new converts, one by one.

“It’s all about the beauty of the music,” Arizona says. “It’s our heart. We take it very seriously, but we have fun playing together.”

The band’s singer and lead guitarist, Seth Church, has been tucked away in a booth, from which he emerges. With dark, curly hair and brooding good looks, he has a tendency to be unpredictably overtaken by sudden amusement. He brings the lyrics and much of the music to his bandmates in songs that are for the most part complete, working at a prolific rate that has amassed a body of about 30 songs since they formed last June after some impromptu sessions at Brewballs bar in Burlington.

“I believe if you focus on the beauty of the music, success will follow,” Walker says. “You do it because you love it, and you give it the same energy even if you’re just playing for your friends.”

Arizona credits Church as the creative force behind the band, and says that he and bassist Jeremy Wyrick handle most of the business.

Church, for his part, approaches his role with humility.

“These guys are the best musicians around,” he says. “I listened to what they were doing, and I was surprised that they wanted to play with me.”

Arizona, Wyrick and drummer Dean Walker have been playing together for some time, but Wyrick and Church’s relationship actually goes back to elementary school. They went to the principal’s office together for a matter involving tearing off pieces of foam and flicking them, says Wyrick, but Church does not recall the incident.

“We went our separate ways through middle school and high school,” Wyrick says. “Now we’re tearing stuff up again, but mostly onstage.”

That’s right: Like the Who, Hendrix, the Clash and Nirvana, this band has discovered the inverted passion of destroying their instruments onstage.

“It’s so much fun,” says Church. “Man, you just want to smash something.”

“It’s like a bad drug addiction,” adds Arizona. “I’ve threatened Dean about jumping into his drum set.”

There will be no mayhem onstage tonight, however with the possible exception of Church accidentally knocking his mic stand loose at the elbow and dropping to his knees to sing the last line of a song. The audience, likewise, stands and watches with rapt attention.

They play with feral intensity as the pensive Church growls his lyrics like a troubled Peter Garrett, the guitars ring and crunch with a seething quality that veers from melodic to discordant, the drums occasionally gallop forward in crazy-making signatures and the bass punches out the rhythm.

Stops, starts. Passion and vacancy in equal measures. Punk rock in the spirit of ’76 in ghostly traces from Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground through Patti Smith and Richard Hell to the Pixies, Radiohead and Kurt Cobain.

“We’re having a great time,” says Wyrick before the band launches into its last song, “Why Can’t My Heart Be Enough?,” a soulful number that suggests Hank Williams working out his karma onstage at the CBGB. “Hope you are too.”

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

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