Punk attitude in a bouncy sea

by Jordan Green

A teenage package rock show tends to be a series of small and great moments stitched together by awkward set changes with the rare epiphany thrown in to reward the true believers.

Such is the case at Bounce U, surely the most improbable rock venue in the Gate City. At 8:30 p.m. on a recent Friday night the voltage thunders from the cinderblock firmament of this outer flank of the Quaker Village shopping center near Guilford College.

At the front desk a handful of high school kids collect money and point patrons down a long hallway, which leads to a performance space. Inside the metal door lies a vast room with a gymnasium-height ceiling and white block walls painted with instructions such as “Listen to your party hosts” and “No pushing or shoving – only bouncing.”

A band called Perestroyka churns through the final songs of its set. Guitarist James Abbott creates squalls of chaos and shards of dissonance over a pummeling rhythm anchored by bass player and singer Cameron Fitzpatrick, both bass and guitar tuned down to create a dark sound. Drummer Vincent Russell periodically twirls his sticks and thrusts them defiantly in the air. About five adults wildly cheer for the band.

Three giant inflatable pieces tower above, including a double-breasted basketball shooting gallery with sidewalls resembling old-fashioned high-top sneakers; a giant slide; and a four-walled cage. The only audience members contemporaneous with the band appear to be two girls with heavy black eyeliner and wholesome smiles peering down from the height of the inflatable slide.

After Perestroyka’s set, Julie Chapman, co-owner of Bounce U and mother of one of the youngsters working the door, is found in the lobby.

“This is not what this is really for,” she says. “We mainly do birthday parties for little kids.” Chapman tries to make the case that rock shows are very irregular occurrences here. It’s easy to conclude that if Sam Chapman brings home one spotty report card from the Early College at Guilford, the gig could be up.

“The inflatables are supposed to be down,” Julie Chapman adds, excusing herself. “I’m going to go check on that.”

Meanwhile, the youngsters are waiting for a band from south Florida called Monday Morning Mix-Tape to arrive. The band had left Columbus, Ohio in the morning and their van has broken down a couple times en route, but booking agent Jamie Milton expresses confidence that they’ll be here in time for their set.

She relates how the first show took place last June when the friends were looking for a place to throw a birthday party for Leah Stephens, another member of the management collective. About 150 people showed up, she says. After that, random bands started calling from out of state to see if they could play. The youngsters usually charge three to five dollars at the door and divide all the money among the bands.

One time Sam and Jamie had to take a final exam at 8:30 in the morning after a show. They were cleaning the venue until 2.

“They were messy kids,” Jamie says. “We went to McDonald’s and got some sweet tea and a two liter of Coke.”

“We crammed for that test,” Sam adds. “I think we slept two hours.”

“That was a good show,” Jamie concludes.

Next, a GTCC graduate named Jason Foster takes the stage armed with an acoustic guitar. His band is called the Breathing but, as he later explains, they haven’t been able to adequately rehearse so he’s flying solo tonight. Skinny and plainly dressed with a large star tattooed on his lower arm, he leans into the microphone like a folkish Iggy Pop and spits his earnest anthems.

The inflatables are conspicuously flattened.

Then a band from Charlotte called Philmont sets up their gear. They’re fresh-scrubbed kids. One of them snaps at his band mates and expresses annoyance at the tedium of arranging cords and effects pedals. By the time they’re ready to go the room has practically cleared, but they play their show with a clean sound despite some technical difficulties. Philmont’s music, an evolved iteration of pop-punk that occasionally substitutes a synthesizer for the electric guitar to play the melodic lead, combines soaring vocal harmonies, tightly exploding rhythmic progressions, impeccable timing and restrained squalls of feedback.

As Philmont sets up and plays, the other bands hover around the back door leading to a parking lot – a transit point for loading in equipment. The band from Florida has arrived. They wear black ski masks rolled up on their foreheads and bandannas around their necks. They seem to never tire of yelling, “Heyyyyy…” in what sounds like an imitation of a passionate Sicilian declaration of friendship. Later the lead guitar player, Andy Weeks, and the bass player, Andrew Bond, run in and out of the building with the ski masks pulled over their eyes. Short, slight of stature and with bristling kinetic energy, they look disposed to hold up an armored Brinks truck. Suddenly Weeks nearly collides with Foster on the metal steps in back of the building.

“Hey dude, sweet tat,” he says. “Yeah, gnarly.”

“Thanks,” Foster replies, “Are you from Monday Morning Mix-Tape?”

During Monday Morning’s setup, the industrial blowers hum to life and the inflatables begin to take shape again like vampires slowly rising from their crypts for a night of bloodsucking.

This turn of events creates an electrifying effect. Boys suddenly begin dribbling basketballs around the room and shooting. Girls cling to each other, shriek and collapse into the catchment of the inflatable slide.

Evan Kornegay, guitar player for headline band Devastation Proclamation, comments with satisfaction: “Back in business.”

Monday Morning’s music is raw and loud punk rock that, despite its simplicity, skillfully incorporates various folk elements. As such, if their blazing guitars were replaced with pennywhistles and fiddles they could probably play Irish reels easily enough. Mostly what recommends the music is a ragged passion with succinct phrasing that produces a feeling of exhilaration and communal sharing. In essence, the band plays timeless punk rock – a genre that time and again is robbed of its magic whenever someone falls for the folly of marketing it as a commodity.

They open their set with a countrified romp that features Weeks’ slide guitar and Kevin Bond’s hoarse lyrics. Other songs sound somewhat tender, and still others hurtle forward with spitfire rhythm and raging, barked lyrics.

“Even though we may seem kind of goofy our songs are actually pretty serious,” Kevin Bond tells the audience after the second or third song. “They tackle a lot of social issues and teenage frustrations. We just want to have a good time and we hope you do too.”

The audience number has peaked at 18, and none have heard Monday Morning’s music before tonight. Hysteria overtakes Bounce U, with a mosh pit developing that features good-natured pushing and shoving at its core and audience members on the periphery sailing off into the inflatables. Weeks stumbles into the audience and pulls ripping leads out of his instrument as bystanders happily support him to prevent a backwards tumble. A slender young man in the audience simulates an epileptic fit on the floor. At one point the drummer abandons his kit and dives headlong onto the inflatable slide.

“Hey,” says Kevin Bond, “you all are probably the best people we’ve played for on our whole tour.”

After their performance the members of Monday Morning confer in the hallway, and a bearded audience member named Jeff Bechtel approaches.

“Hey, have you guys met the transvestite outside?” he asks.

“No,” replies Weeks, “but I would love to meet the transvestite.”

Afterwards the hometown act, Devastation Proclamation, finished the show. The energy has already climaxed, but the band matches their Florida peers for rawness and passion. They play punk too, but their sound is looser and dirtier, faithful to the spirit of Southern rock and roll. Ryan Kornegay howls like a young John Michael Osbourne. His brother Evan dispatches quicksilver leads, prompting fans to kneel at his feet.

Later, a black bra materializes and a female audience member attaches it to the bass head of John Sumner’s instrument. Evan Kornegay produces a bottle of rum, which is soon passed through the audience.

“This is great,” his brother says.

To which Sumner adds: “That’s why I say you can have the best punk show with seven people around.”

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