Notes from the Guilford Avenue underground
The railroad tracks cut across Guilford Avenue on the western edge of downtown Greensboro, a zone of the city that could be called the PBR District for its grittiness and its frequenters’ disdain of ambition.
The Westerwood Tavern has recently changed ownership, prompting grumbling from some residents that the bar is trying to attract a more upscale clientele. Across the tracks and down the block is an underground redoubt called Fort Asshat where about a dozen students, artists, anarchists and other Dostoyevskyan rebels live and churn the waters of creative agitation.
Last Thursday, three local rock outfits and a lone woman armed with an acoustic guitar and a handful of self-penned songs made a beautiful racket at Fort Asshat. Piedmonster, Hide and Seek, blank_blank and the Wilson Street Warriors, and Sue Edelberg are acts that might one day be famous. Then again, you may never hear of them again.
If the venue name throws you for a loop, think of a grimy, battered farm cap. Think of train hopping. Think of scavenging. ‘Ass’ is another way of saying ‘ghetto’ or ‘hillbilly’ but appropriate to its own subculture. Not a putdown but a declaration of conciliation with one’s human limitations.
Blank_blank has been recruited to fill in at the last minute because headliners No! from Athens, Ga. failed to show. Larry, a pudgy guy who wears thick glasses and a gray hooded sweatshirt and is almost certainly the house’s senior resident, takes a dim view of No!
‘“That damn band from Georgia never did show up,’” he says. ‘“They said their van broke down. That’s the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard.’”
A young woman with long dreadlocks tucked under a baseball cap who plays drums for a local band called Requiem, disagrees.
‘“Usually it’s true,’” she says. But she concedes: ‘“Usually a band will have two or three people who are really on top of their sh*t, but sometimes you’ll get a band where no one is on top of it.’”
The two lounge on one of the beat up couches in the hallway with a handful of others under a collection of photocopied band fliers from previous house shows, waiting for the crowd to come in and the music to begin. David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars plays softly on a CD player from behind a closed bedroom door.
Various handwritten signs around the house attest to the humor and negotiation of living in a house with a dozen or more mates. One states: ‘“Red’s preferred pronoun is now she. Please try to use appropriate pronouns when referring to her.’” Another tacked to a bedroom door warns: ‘“If you’re looking for me it won’t be easy because I’m wearing a disguise.’”
Another sign refers to the more practical matter of keeping the thermostat set at 55 degrees so house members won’t have to pay out the ‘ass.’ More relevant to the occasion is one duct taped to the back door: ‘“Shut door while bands are playing please.’”
The revelation of the night is a UNCG student named Sue Edelberg who hunches over a classical guitar with an open binder of song lyrics on a kitchen chair before her. Her songs contain the expansive architecture suited for a full rock band, but in one human’s hands retain a skeletal intimacy. They range in tone from mournful blues to pop-punk and emo within the limitations of a cheap guitar with nylon strings ‘— bashed bar chords, delicate picking and surging riffs. Hers is a melodic and punchy voice that artfully deploys edges of anger and regret for good effect. Lines like, ‘“I just said, you just got here, you can’t leave,’” nail moments of life ‘— in this case a song that seems to be about a friendship between two women severed over a kiss with a boy.
Blank_blank plays next. Their outfit is two young men, Michael Barrett and Erik Chaplinsky, who build a wall of noise with dual guitars, along with two young women who respectively play drums and a keyboard. This is their third show, says drummer Dana Mayorga, and they’re still experimenting with the elements. An earlier incarnation of the band made use of samples of Guilford County School Board meetings recorded from cable television broadcasts. There are no samples used in this performance and none of the band members sing, with the exception of a delirious cover of Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘“Naomi.’”
Hide and Seek brings its fashion posse from Winston-Salem, and once they’ve gotten their sound adjusted they launch into a cacophonous aural assault. Zach McCraw, dressed in a wrestling mask and a black fishnet slip, jabs out angry riffs that sound like a Skilsaw guitar on his keyboards while singer-trumpeter Savannah Tuttle performs the robot dance and Devin Booze thrashes his kit. In nihilistic fashion their fans perform a freakish jitterbug and other dances that variously involve humping each other, falling on the floor and assaulting band members. It’s music about joyful n.
Finally, Piedmonster ‘— the house band ‘— takes the floor of the living room decked out variously in matching pink visors and a furry wolf mask. They play tight dance songs anchored by drummer Naman’s expert rhythm that translate into good-humored, punchy, and concise little rock gems. The microphones are pretty much shot by now, but this doesn’t discourage singer Rita O’Brien from belting out lyrics familiar to many of the audience members including at least two who join her. Almost converse to Hide and Seek, Piedmonster’s songs pay tribute to indeterminate enthusiasm and uncomplicated fun.
In ‘“Power Trip’” the band plays a stripped-down version of ’70s arena rock that gives a nod to the joyous sloppiness of the Replacements. The last song ‘“’¡Skafee!,’” extends the genre to a scrappy ska style that morphs into speedy punk and erupts with squalling guitars. O’Brien makes a determined effort with a trumpet solo and the floor bounces with the weight of some 50 revelers.
The song ends, and the night concludes with audience members making screeching animal noises.
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