Silver Bullet’s theater of rock

by Jordan Green

The bandstand is a corner of the bar in strip mall near the Revolutionary War battleground in the upper reaches of Greensboro. It’s seventies arena rock, baby, with a massive, crunching guitar sound, thundering bass and extended drum solos, run through the purifying centrifuge of a workaday watering hole where ordinary people blow off steam and observe small rituals of celebration.

Drummer Seth Oldham’s previous employment here at Ham’s Brassfield helped Silver Bullet land the gig. They’re getting paid, but the onus is on the three rock and rollers to keep things lively. They’re vying against two games on the overhead monitors along the bottom of the horseshoe bar: the Tampa Bay Rays vs. the Boston Red Sox in the World Series playoffs and NC State vs. FSU. They hope to get invited back. The deal is they play three sets over a four-hour period from 10 p.m. to 2 p.m., and they’re welcome to perform all dozen or so of their original songs as long as they keep the inebriates happy with the balance of their time. That means covers of Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin, Charlie Daniels and anything else that works the charm.

AJ, a young woman who moved up from Wilmington in June, bounces on her toes. She catcalls to the band and turns to the barflies, shaking them by the shoulders before giving up on them and dancing alone. The draft beer in her plastic cup tosses with the cadence of her movements. Tyson Davis, guitarist Tristan Yonce’s mate from the defunct band Starlyn Garvy, sits at the corner wearing an expression of supreme amusement. The song finishes and a heavyset man named Josh Queen with blond hair and aviator glasses boos from a booth.

“Hey you,” retorts bassist Jon Beal. “Calm down over there, big bear.” ‘ 

Queen, described by Yonce as “the band mascot,” graduated with Yonce and Beal from Randleman High School. He’s one of a handful of friends up from Randolph County for the show. Heading out after the first set, a couple of them invite the musicians to a party.

“Not I, said the goldfish,” Beal replies. “I’ve got to be up at 7:20.” He works at a nursery.

“That’s his Clark Kent identity,” Yonce says.

“I’m a plant nurseryman during the day,” Beal explains, “and a sex god by night.”

Beal wears his bleached hair long in obvious homage to charismatic rock-and-roll front men like Roger Daltrey and Robert Plant, locks that have grown out since his short-hair days as a roadie and secondary bass player for Starlyn Garvy. Yonce, in contrast, has shorn his once luxuriant brown mane in favor of what he calls the “Bill Murray circa 1977 look.” Beal wears a white tie buttoned into a black shirt, and black boots that match with Yonce’s, while the guitarist looks dashing in a jacket and turquoise shirt with a silk handkerchief flowing from the breast pocket. Oldham, who wears cargo shorts, is the least pretentious in dress.

Like Starlyn Garvy, Silver Bullet is comprised of guys with theater backgrounds. The son of a Seagrove hairdresser, Yonce currently plays a violent ex-con with scores to settle in the Broach Theater’s production of Almost Blue running through Nov. 1.

Silver Bullet formed in February after the dissolution of Starlyn Garvy. The latter band played its last show at New York Pizza in October, a night described by Yonce as “terrible” that frayed the group beyond repair.

“To top it off, Tyson and I got busted in the parking lot,” Yonce says. “Let’s just say we were taking certain herbal supplements, and the UNCG police didn’t appreciate it.”

Yonce and Beal, who had occasionally subbed for bass player Anthony Harrison before Starlyn Garvy disbanded, started rehearsing with Oldham as Silver Bullet two months later. Despite Davis’ presence and his guest vocals on a pair of songs, Yonce indicates he doesn’t favor adding personnel to Silver Bullet, beyond continuing a writing partnership with Davis and maintaining a standing invitation to sing a couple songs when he’s in town. Davis, for his part, has been trying to persuade Silver Bullet to join him in Fort Collins, where he reports that the music scene is flourishing.

“There’s a lot less baggage [in Silver Bullet],” Yonce says. “There’s a lot more room to move around, and a lot less ego.”

Yonce’s mother, Maggie Hannon, appears in the bar with a family friend, her daughter and a handful of nieces during Silver Bullet’s first set. The girls line up along the wall, and Hannon and her friend, Kathleen McLaughlin, take seats at a long bar table.

Yonce gives his mother a hug, and she tells him: “They’re going to throw us out at 11:30. So when you see us go, you’ll know the reason.”

“Good,” the guitarist says with a smirk. Later, the girls retreat to the car, and Hannon and McLaughlin stay past the cutoff time.

Yonce dedicates a song to his mother, who wears a shirt inscribed with the word “Fleshtival” to commemorate a show Starlyn Garvy played in Greensboro last year. She acknowledges the honor with a circumscribed wave.

“It’s a Kiss song because she’s such a big Kiss fan,” Yonce says. “And it’s called ‘Love Her All I Can.’”

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