Sin Tax Has Paid Their Dues
Speakers and monitors block the front door at College Hill Sundries on Thursday night and the windows are covered with blankets and drops. The band takes up about 15 percent of the barroom floor and when the jukebox stops and they start to play the crowd barely registers the change in the sonic environment. Yep, it’s business as usual here at College Hill and the beer-swilling crowd is laced with university doofuses, former and wannabe university doofuses, a few genuine hipsters and a couple of full-on street brothers.
By the looks of things none of the pack came expressly for the band, but the group playing at the front of the bar has at least one thing in common with its patrons: they don’t care either.
Only three members of the quintet known as Sin Tax have made it to tonight’s gig ‘— drummer Monty Campbell and singer Marilyn Wolfe were called out of town by a funeral so guitarists Dave McLean and Doug Baker, with bassist Nancy McCurry, shoulder the load themselves.
The band’s press release touts the fact that the average age of the members is just a bit shy of the half-century mark and steals a line from ‘“The Larry Sanders Show’”: ‘“We’re the school they tore down to build the ‘old school.””
Their set plunders the catalog of tunes that in the mid-seventies were considered cutting edge, before the term ‘punk music’ was coined.
‘“Our stuff is quaint,’” says Dave, whose day gig is running his advertising agency, King’s English. ‘“Quaint like Patti Smith.’”
Ms. Smith is well represented in their cover repertoire, as well as the Velvet Underground, Nick Lowe, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, the New York Dolls and Roxy Music. The set is interspersed with originals and they like to bring their own flavor to the covers.
‘“We’re gonna play ‘Katy Dear,”” says Nancy, wearing granny glasses and an Iggy Pop T-shirt and carrying a genuine Roscoe bass painted hot pink with giraffe spots. ‘“It’s an old mountain tune. We’re gonna do a rockabilly version of it.’” And she applies her ghostly vocals that give an obvious nod to Chrissy Hynde. In her non-rockstar life, Nancy teaches early child development at Randolph Community College.
They’ve all played in bands since their twenties, groups with names like Picture This, The Clalmities and Rick Ronco & the K-Tels, and at this stage in the game they’ll all admit that they’re not looking to make it big in the biz; they’re not after a three-record deal or even an extensive touring schedule. All they seek is a room with a few warm bodies in it.
‘“For me it’s like a poker night,’” Dave says.
‘“This is my bowling night,’” Doug agrees.
As the night wears on and the smoke begins to gather in the corners of the room, Sin Tax pulls out chestnuts from the Jimmy Carter era while the indifferent crowd swells at the back of the house. The pinball machine garners more attention that the band, but a few have wandered up front to see what all the noise is about. They nod their heads in time to the tunes, slap their thighs and a few even push some crumpled bills into the band’s tip jar.
The guys on stage, three-fifths of the band Sin Tax, barely notice.
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