Stuck Without a Voice vs. the Rose Bowl

by Brian Clarey

It’s 9:30 p.m. at the Ham’s on High Point Road and it’s not even halftime yet. Not even close. With eight minutes left in the second quarter the Trojans and the Longhorns pound each other into the turf, both with their sights set on a national championship. The barroom is full of college football fans who put down beers at a solid pace.

The drum kit sits quietly in an alcove off the bar and the guys in the band huddle at a nearby table feeding their faces before the gig, a gig that was supposed to start half an hour ago. The manager approaches the band, his words drowned out by the televised noise but his gestures can be read as easily as the words on this page.

Give it a few minutes, guys.

The guys in the band give nods of understanding and Isaac Whitt, guitarist for the Greensboro band Stuck Without a Voice, crouches in the performance area and strikes odd notes on his axe, eerie background noise to the gridiron roars.

‘“They’re gonna wait ’til halftime,’” says Thomas Urquhart, the band’s manager and president of NJNC Entertainment.

What are you gonna do?

In the last minute of the half Texas scores a big touchdown, and as the remaining seconds tick down the performers take their places.

Five’… four’… three’… two’… one. It’s go time.

They open with a jangly cover of Sublime’s ‘“What I Got’” as the football fans leave the room. But by the third number, a credible version of ‘“Meet Virginia’” by Train made funky with the proper application of a wa-wa pedal, the football fans have been replaced by music fans and the band starts to feel their groove.

The cover tunes keep coming: a little Stone Temple Pilots, some Chili Peppers, a smattering of Green Day and Third Eye Blind and, incongruously, a take on Tom Petty’s ‘“Last Dance with Mary Jane.’”

Cover tunes on a weeknight in a sports bar. Such as it is in Greensboro. But people are digging on it because these guys are pretty damn good.

‘“You try to make them sound as much like the record as you can,’” Whitt says, ‘“but then you add your own little twist to it.’”

The quartet is something of a Greensboro supergroup ‘— Whitt also plays for Les Vegas and the Music Intelligence Bureau; drummer James Hilton, who by the way bashes the skins with extreme competence, also drums for Les Vegas and plays guitar for the 5Ls; bassist Brian Pugh is in the MIB and cuts beats for hip-hop records. For frontman Mike Brown, this is his one and only gig.

Brown, a former UNCG student, has some fans in the crowd ‘— a cordon of loud, drunken fraternity types standing a few feet from the performance space dancing and carrying on like it’s 1999. One of them wears a giant, chromed-out spinning dub around his neck like bling. They’re smoking cigars.

‘“I guess you could say I’m the frat boy,’” Brown admits.

The set unfolds in the barroom as the game resumes. But the contest is in the background now as the tunes take over.

Brown, 25, approaches the mic.

‘“It’s time to throw down old, old school,’” he announces, and the guys delve into the lush rhythms of ‘“Bust A Move,’” Young MC’s 1989 tour de force (which, by the way, came out the year that this reporter was a freshman in college ‘— old old school my ass).

The bass bubbles and the drums snap and the rhymes’… they flow like they have no right to, coming from these young white boys who were in the fourth grade when Young MC sang about the girl dressed in yellow who says, ‘“Hello. Come sit next to me you fine fellow.’”

Then it’s time to stop, collaborate and listen as the tune seamlessly morphs into another classic, ‘“Ice Ice Baby’”