Wednesday, August 15, 2012

So what about the local phenomenon?

Part of the point here is the punk rock perspective that is NOT what Ian MacKaye saw as the vocalist of Minor Threat.  Ditto Roger and Vinne as members of AF.  As much as I enjoy reading about their view from the stage, I also care about the person looking at the stage.  More often than not, that person is me.  Yeah, I just listed a pair of larger-than-life HC bands – but there are plenty of movers and shakers of less legendary caliber that would not qualify for this sought-after perspective.  And there are plenty of bands that no one really gives/gave a shit about (from a purely punk rocker per capita standpoint).  They qualify.  They meet the criteria.  Sorry to reveal an ulterior motive, but I’m gonna talk about my band now.  Mostly, because I still haven’t gotten the ball rolling on other ideas (and some ideas, I haven’t yet thought of).

I was part of what could be termed a local phenomenon – with a stronger emphasis on the “local” and some air quotes around phenomenon.  We were called Brainhammer and we existed in Denver, CO from late 2005 ‘til August 2008.  An existence appended by two single reunion shows in 2009 and 2012.  The most recent sloppy set (and quite possibly the last) was July 4th of this year…

When the last nasty notes rang out and Jason set sweaty drum sticks down and stomped away from the set, I stood there in a hipster bar at max capacity in Denver sopping wet, mic in hand, throat hoarse.  As the audience filtered out to continue a night of hard drinking, they revealed a floor strewn with confetti and silly string and fake dollar bills and plastic gold doubloons and giant inflatable hammers lovingly referred to as whammers.  Cast to the side were crudely written signs. “The Brain is in the house – check him out, check him out.”  “The Brainiac is back, better watch yo’ fuckin’ sack.”  One sign had footprint on it.  That was Brainhammer. 

In late 2005, I was living a sad existence in Boulder.  I won’t get into why I was there, but let’s just say I was about to do my shopping alone again.  Fortunate for me, I was able to weasel into some vocal duties with three new friends and one old buddy I had known from time done in the South.  The three or so songs written at the time I entered the picture were heavy and driving.  I quickly sketched up some lyrics to my fav jam and called it “Are You Ready To Testify?”  It was a fucking anthem.  For me, it became a mantra of sorts. 

It took Brainhammer over a year and a new drummer to get our shit stage ready for the kids of Denver.  But when the lights came up in February 2007, we blew the roof off a small DIY space nestled in some wayward warehouse district.  It was our first show – we should have played to ten kids at 9:00 pm. Instead our set continued to get bumped further and further back until the headliners asked us to play over them.  What the fucking fuck?  We declined. Outside of Steve, Sally, Lynn, Deanna, and Kim, no one had even heard any of our five metal/punk blasts.  Why all the hype?

Next up were a couple of more realistically attended shows.  With songs like Hammer Sandwhich, O.F.R. (OutFuckingRageous – hat tip Nitro) and our eponymous theme song, the buzz was growing though.  We sealed the deal by the third show, thanks to the ingenuity and creativity of our identical twin ax men, with the birth and subsequent unveiling of the Brainiac.  Manned by a good friend (a one-time tryout for drums and a guest vocalist at our first show), the Brainiac, clad in American Apparel briefs, a bathrobe, and donning an oversized but surprisingly realistic brain helmet with novelty sunglasses, embodied vulgarity and chaos.  In other words, rock and roll.   He terrorized the audience and attacked the band members under a tempest of silly string.

Yeah, sure it was a gimmick, but fuck you, it was awesome.

May 2007.  A job opportunity that I seemingly couldn’t refuse, not to mention a host of personal problems and the usual intra-band tensions meant it was time to move my records and my cat back east.  Not before taking a final bow with Brainhammer though.  A mere 36 hours before revving the U-haul, I ended my tenure with the ‘hammer at another DIY venue/living space.  Like our first show a few months prior, the place was packed.  Openers and friends, Havok induced a circle pit that would continue through the night.  The Brainiac entered the ring with usual pomp, but this time with my brother-in-law hurling whammers skyward.  Within seconds every person in attendance seemed to have one (or two) in their hands and were annihilating their best friend. 

After a mere six shows, for me, it was punctuation. For Brainhammer, the legend continued to grow (at least for another year)…

I can’t speak for what happened next (I wasn’t there), but let’s just say that Brainhammer took over. They got a new singer, they added some keyboards ala Andrew WK and the Brainiac’s antics were eagerly anticipated with every new performance. People really responded.  Filling a void left by favorite sons Scot Baio Army? Who knows? 

There were only ever 5 originals, sometimes just 4.  I have only a handful of videos and practice recordings for proof.  There was a one-song demo put to tape after I left but not sure if it was ever released in any organized fashion. Yet Brainhammer was the biggest thing mile-high for a single moment.  The pair of reunions were both sellouts and both insane.  Talk to someone, anyone outside of Denver with any varying degree of involvement in the underground/DIY/punk scene and they won’t know what the fuck is wrong with you if you say “OutFuckingRageous!” or “Hammer sandwich, fuck you upwich!”

So what about the local phenomenon, then?  How does a band become king of the hill for a particular zip code, but remain unheard of and anonymous a few exits down the highway? Are these bands a dime a dozen or was this unique to Denver at this time and place? When the band ceases to play and when the fan base stops caring, what’s left?  Vague memories drifting toward mere reflections of what actually occurred?

Oh well. Telling a story is fun, making my point is hard.

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