Kudzu Wish’s death bed wake

by Jordan Green

‘“This is our last song ever, I swear that,’” bass player Tim Lafollete says. He shrugs as a voice from the audience calls bull on him.

The singer, Adam Thorn, adds: ‘“Yup, this is your last chance to come up and dance with us.’”

Then the band Kudzu Wish ‘— with 300 plus shows, 10 tours, multiple recordings, dozens of songs and seven years behind them ‘— launches into the tuneful, aural assault of ‘“We’ve Got Big Hands’” at Greene Street club in Greensboro on Sept. 23. This is really it. Ground zero. The end of the line.

Soon the fans accept the invitation, swarming the stage. Some of them bounce around, or scream the lines of the song into Thorn’s microphone. Others sling their arms around the guitarists’ necks as they nail the bridge.

Then it’s over, almost as quickly as it began. The song comes to a shuddering halt with a short squall of feedback. Eric Mann rips his guitar from his neck, one broken string dangling uselessly, and thrusts it against the monitor. He pushes it away like an ex-lover he still cares about deeply, and stares at it with a look of stunned horror. The fans are embracing onstage. All five band members huddle in a group hug. Some fans are crying. Thorn himself wipes tears from his eyes.

The basement dressing room at Greene Street before the show has the feel of a living wake or a loving suicide pact. Chuck Krueger, the lanky Viking-like singer of Wilmington’s Thunderlip comes up and envelopes Thorn in a bear hug. The members of Tiger Bear Wolf ‘— like Kudzu Wish, products of Guilford College ‘— wear expressions of both sadness and gratitude. The two bands are opening for Kudzu Wish.

The band decided to break up when drummer Geordie Woods announced his decision to join the Peace Corps, Thorn says. They’d auditioned new drummers, but it didn’t sound like the same band. Plus the other band members were also feeling ready to move on, so they decided to call it quits.

‘“I think we’re ending it right by having a real sense of closure,’” Thorn says. ‘“We’re not pissed at each other. That’s nice. If you want to use the metaphor of a band is a living organism, some bands have a heart attack. We got a message from the doctor that ‘you guys have five months to live.””

In his more bitter moments it’s apparent how the privation and uncertainty of the road wore Thorn down.

‘“What, are you gonna play in Lakeland, Florida for the rest of your lives?’” he asks. ‘“No, that’s lame.’”

But the flipside of falling short of conventional success is the quality of the band’s interactions with its fans and the sense of community it built around itself.

‘“We never ‘made it big’ and we never made a lot of money, but we have at least one fan in every city,’” Thorn says. ‘“Some shows you had 150 people. Some shows you had one or three.’”

Kudzu Wish set an example for fellow Guilford College alumnae Tiger Bear Wolf, who released a critically-acclaimed debut this year and recently returned from a successful performance at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York.

‘“I think they showed that friendship is one of the most important things about being in a band,’” says Noah Howard, one of Tiger Bear Wolf’s guitarists and singers. ‘“Bands have a limited lifetime, a period of time that people can relate to each other in a special way. They showed us how to get out of our hometown.’”

And Kudzu Wish leaves a respectable legacy of recorded music, particularly with their 2003 full-length release, Reverse Hurricane.

‘“Reverse Hurricane is in my top ten of all time,’” says Josh Berg, a 24-year-old Arizonan who followed his mother to Greensboro about three years ago. ‘“I rank it up there with Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats, Miles Davis’ Blue and Green and A Tribe Called Quest’s Low-End Theory.’”

Some, like Erin Thrasher, say Kudzu Wish was the best band in Greensboro. Thrasher produced a commemorative ‘zine of song lyrics, photos, fliers and liner notes for the band’s last show.

‘“Their songs are anthems (no pun intended) for this filthy wasteland of a college town,’” she writes. ‘“They sing about the things you and me know about ‘— sh*tty landlords, debt, the urge to leave this town but the inability to do so.’”

Watching Kudzu Wish play their last show, it’s apparent that they commanded such loyalty because of the way they obliterated rock-star pretensions and erased the line between performers and audience. A communal moment is created when the singer leans into the audience and sings directly to two or three, and holds the mic out to their mouths.

Kudzu Wish was forged in the house parties that are Greensboro’s fame, but also a mark of its limitations as a music town.

‘“If you’re playing in a house and the PA sucks ‘— and it almost always does, the singer has to sing like this,’” Thorn says, demonstrating an Ozzie-style insane shrieking. ‘“If you break a string and you stop playing at a club people are just going to walk away. At a house party everybody is stuck in the room so if you don’t start playing again soon people are gonna yell at you, pour beer on you or start rubbing their chests against you.’”

Kudzu Wish had something of a reputation for political candor ‘— Thorn recounts an incident in which an outraged patriot followed him into an alley in Falls Church, Va. after he insulted the recently-deceased President Reagan onstage ‘— but he insists the band’s politics were about how they treated people in their scene.

‘“My politics is about the most amount of people having the most amount of fun,’” he says. ‘“I think the rest of the band members believe in that.’”

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