On the rocky road with S. Burns

by Jordan Green

The crowd is alittle lighter on a recent Friday night than the last time S. Burnsplayed at Elliott’s Revue on Winston-Salem’s Trade Street a week or soearlier, but this band has toiled under some adverse circumstances, soit’s no big thing. S. Burns of Greensboro does not fit in thepop-punk boy-band category whose ranks scramble weekly for preeminenceat Greene Street; they don’t really fit in with the folky and drollindie-rock scene, or the ascendant roots-music scene co-led by ThackerDairy Road and Old Stone Revue. Instead, like Burlington’s InstantJones or Silver Bullet (guitarist Tristan Yonce’s project following thedissolution of Starlyn Garvy), they cut a mostly clean through-linefrom the edgy rock-and-roll tradition defined ca. 1990 by bands likethe Pixies, Nirvana and Tool. It’s somewhat unclear who theirconstituency is in these days of fragmented tastes. From humblebeginnings when Brandon Adams started singing and playing guitar solo -“It didn’t go over well,” he says – to when Carlos Castellanos wasadded on a second guitar with a drum machine and the inception of aproper trio with Castellanos switching to bass and Seth Oldham joiningon drums, the band has honed its sound. Castellanos learned to play hisinstrument on the job, and at first Adams had to write his parts.They’ve lived together, traveled together, practiced, played beforestrange and improbable audiences – undergoing all the experiences thatfuse a collection of individual musicians into a true band – but onlyafter five years are they now preparing to release a proper studioalbum. “We said, ‘If we’re going to do this, we’ve got to have areal band,'” Castellanos says. “We need to get a drummer and I need tolearn to play bass.” The band’s CV includes playing a hookah barin Wilmington during an ill-fated move to the coast when they weretrying to break into the film industry, a Burlington youth center, thefamed Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro and Guilford College. They have alsoplayed a biker party in the parking lot of the Greensboro strip clubChristie’s Cabaret. No pole dancing took place during their set, butthey say the band shared billing with an amateur wrestling eventfeaturing Tony Little, or at least a Tony Little impersonator. “Weplayed at a train depot in Gibsonville,” Adams recalls. “We had a verysmall crowd, but the three people who saw us fucking loved us. If weever go back there, we know we’ll have at least three fans waiting forus.” Perhaps the highlight of their touring experience wasplaying the Brighton Bar, a venue in the seaside town of Long Branch,NJ that has been a way station for Bruce Springsteen and other risingartists. On one of their days off, the band was briefly detained by thepolice because Castellanos made an illegal U-turn, prompting a fieldsobriety test (which he passed) and a ticket. In the process, the bandaccumulated two new fans. “One thing about cops in New Jersey,they use a lot more profanity,” Adams says. “We told them we were in aband and they wanted to hear what we sounded like.” Oldham imitates the Jersey lawmen: “‘Yeah, pop that shit in…. Sounds good.'” Tonightat Elliott’s Revue, the front row consists of Tristan Yonce and JonBeal, whose band Silver Bullet also includes drummer Oldham. They’llend up headlining the show when the band originally booked to share thebill with S. Burns fails to appear. The band charges through aset of original songs. Adams plays a gnarly lead guitar processedthrough an array of effects pedals whose sound ricochets off thestructured bass runs supplied by Castellanos. Sometimes Castellanos’bass playing bears a punk-infused kinetic charge; other times itcarries a fluid groove. The Adams’ guitar veers from quiet to freneticwith little warning. Oldham provides a no-frills, yeoman-like beat onthe drums. Their friends kid them from the audience. “You guys are awesome,” says Beal, the bass player for Silver Bullet. “Owww,” a woman beside him shrieks in approval. “Where are you guys from?” Beal asks.