Thursday, May 15, 2014

Government Flu Part Dwa (or How I learned to embarrass myself and sleep on the floor)

They came, they played, we moshed.  Government Flu recently wrapped their two week onslaught of the land o’ the free.  If you were lucky enough to catch them, you know why this post exists and why I’m devoting a second screed to these Polish punks. If you haven't checked them out yet and you like hardcore, don't read this post yet, just go here.

Washington DC

Damaged City Fest took place in a church.  St. Stephen’s has been hosting the hardcore scene since the 80s.  Mutters reverberated through the crowd during the fest’s stretch, “Ian Mackaye was baptized here,” “Yeah, his dad works/worked/might have worked here, too.”  To bleary-eyed Poles ready to kick off their tour, this had all the surrealism of a jet-lag inspired dream.  Robert, Refuse Record’s impresario, Government Flu backer, and traveling tourmate observed that if a church in Poland boasted a DIY punk gig it would shock the scene with possibly months of philosophical web ranting and much existential where-are-we-headed discussion and debate. Alas, this was not an anomaly on American soil.  In fact, this was the first of many contrasts the guys would note.  In Europe, squats are venues; in America, someone’s house (including god’s).

“We are Government Flu and we are from Poland.” Two seconds later the moshing erupts.  It doesn’t take much to get charismatic DC punks a movin’. Slap down some bar chords at mid-tempo and you are ready to rage.  This author grinning ear to ear.  GF command the place for 15 or so minutes.  Songs bleed into one another with nary a second to catch your breath.  Since the planed touched down, there had been no rehearsals, they had bought new gear (do some price checks online between the States and Europe and you’ll know why), they were jet-lagged for chrissakes.  This had all the ingredients of a fuck up, a sloppy set.  Naw, they were as tight as a touring band on their last day on the road, not their first.  I wasn’t standing there slack-jawed cuz I needed lunch and a coffee.  I was floored by how good they were.  Concise, direct, fast.  Until then, I only knew what Refuse and NNNW had offered via vinyl discs.  What had been engineered studio side was not a singular construction – this band is that fucking good consistently!

Crouched behind the merch table, I got to know the guys.  Instant sonic connection the way hardcore does best – band/fan/friends.  Helping Lipec identify denominations of American currency, yanking out sizes S, M, and L from the densely-packed T-shirt box, chatting with Wolfi as he listed his impressive roster of active bands, I already felt like part of the team.  I guess I insert myself into these scenarios by being as helpful as possible.  It’s a sincere overture. I live to give; further evidenced by pointing out accidentally vegan snacks at the store for the crew.  Oreos, Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos, Nutter Butters. All the while, roadie, documentarian, artist Paul hung in the back observing through a lens.

Day 2 began with slowly pulling myself off of cold hardwoods.  To my right, a table of spare bike parts and cat food.  To my left, Wolfi’s feet hanging sleepily off an air mattress. Snoring resonated from the room beyond.  I wonder if there’s coffee in this punk house?

A gradual awakening later, we found ourselves at Damaged City’s Sunday matinee featuring an encore by Infest. This followed by a quick transfer of luggage from one van to another (sans my goddamn Underdog hoodie).  Goodbyes to DC friends issued, Jay Wiggin, our expert driver-to-be, zipped up to the curb and we hopped in.  The tour begins!


We joined the crawling masses exiting the nation’s capital post-Cherry Blossom fest.  Like prostrating monks on a pilgrimage, we oozed forward, stopped, oozed. It gave time for Paul to regale us with a tale from the after-show most of us lethargically skipped.  During a particularly severe mosh, a very drunk attendee had been launched laterally into the wall-space next to Paul.  Her face connected with dry wall.  Before Paul could relax a concerned grimace, she abruptly turned to him with blood now coursing from her mouth and rolling down her chin.  “Rubber Band!” she bellowed, much to Paul’s confusion. Pulling her ragged hair back from her splattered face in a gesture, she reiterated “Rubber Band!”  Given Paul’s similar hair length, she wrongly assumed that he would have an implement as painful and impractical as a rubber band that he could lend like a good punk Samaritan.  When this line of dialogue did not yield results, she demanded to know where he was from.  “Germany” met with “No! Wrong accent!”  Paul didn’t argue he just spoke German to her for the remainder of their encounter.  Thus was born the first inside joke, heckling option, and chant of the tour – “Rubber band!”

Philly at sunset meant just enough time to wrangle vegan cheesesteaks while the author helped himself to a birthday cake milkshake (it exists!).  Up a steep gangway deep into an unassuming warehouse sat the venue.  Greased liberally with sweat and booze, this novelty turned into a concrete slip-n-slide by show’s end. And wouldn’t you know it – our 9:30 PM arrival time meant the show was already two bands in.  Didn’t anyone ever tell Philly’s crustiest about hardcore time?  8:00 means 9:00, 9:00 means 10:00 and so on.

Given that Government Flu’s sound was described as “very Boston” by a show-goer, it seemed unlikely that the crust punks would care, but damn if they didn’t get down.  Fuck. Yeah!  Amp problems that would rear their head during the tour’s duration prevented the band from fulfilling their set list, but no one cared.  A cheerful pulse buzzed in the air as the only liquid on hand being alcohol-laden.  The straight-edgers among the crew grew thirsty and jealous.  The only water option being to dunk one’s cup-holding hand down into the icy beer can filled cooler where many a grimy hand had tread before and hope for bacteria-free agua.  I snuck down to the local Chinese restaurant/convenience store combo behind a half-inch of bulletproof plexiglass for bottles of non-crust punk water.  Even the drinkers in the crew were relieved.


The huffs, puffs, and muttered curses of a roommate who, unbeknownst to him until that moment, had hosted sweaty Polish, German, and American punks in his classy Philly townhouse, stirred me from my slumber.  Awarded for some reason with an air mattress, I slept soundly and deeply in the kitchen.  Thus making it difficult for said roommate to grab a banana and coffee before dashing off to work.
More-than-just-a-driver Jay, arranged for such comfortable digs.  Unassuming and quiet at first, Jay seemed to know all the attractive women in each city along the tour and could effortlessly arrange sleeping quarters.  Like he alone was aware of and had access to some heretofore unknown circuit of beauty and hospitality.

We rolled northward to NYC.  Being that tour is often questing for a comfortable toilet, a supply run to Guitar Center proved to be just what we needed. Relieved and ready to refuel, Ralf and I jogged up to an adjacent double D for caffeine and carbonation.  Standing quietly in front of the register, transaction pending, Ralph studied the palm of his hand like reading his fortune. I leaned over and removed from his hand the correct change and paid the lady.  Why are nickels bigger than dimes?

Parked now Brookyln.  After targeted strolls from record store to record store via the Polish neck of Greenpoint, we found ourselves at Death By Audio. Being that this Monday night sat between Damaged City and New York’s Alright, the turnout was on the weak side.  Spartan, but solid.  Everybody was friends with everyone else by show’s end.  Group photos abound!  Government Flu executed with precision as they do.  Eye brows raised in surprise, heads bobbed, LPs sold. 

In cosy loft space somewhere in Brooklyn, we all crashed on the hardwoods, and you will be better served by your sleeping pad, if you don’t roll off of it in the middle of the night.  Across the room, above the sink, buzzing away was a glowing homemade neon sign that demanded “Do your fucking dishes.”

New Brunswick

A rainy morning can’t dampen the day if you begin it right - at Dunwell’s with a pair of jelly-filleds and a coffee. Goddamn! Obligatory trips to the Apple store and Battery Park behind us, the grease truck ambled into the Garden State to partake in a long-standing Jersey punk tradition: a basement show in New Brunswick.

Packed to the gills, enthusiasm pulsed through the room, this would be the setting for one of the most embarrassing things to ever happen to me in a front of an audience. For, nearly four days I pushed for the guys to play “New Barbarians” from the split with Poison Planet.  File this under “be careful what you wish for,” because Ralf said” we’ll play it tonight, but you’re singing it.”  Holed up behind the merch table for the remainder of the evening, I read the lyrics over and over again.  Confident that I more or less had them down, I hung near the front during Government Flu’s set.  When it came down to get down, Ralf yelled my name and forcefully jammed the mic into my hand.  What I found myself holding was an unplugged mic.  Shit.  Rather than rooting around on the floor for it, I ran and grabbed the back-up mic, perched like a bomb waiting to go off on a stand in front of Marcin.  I yanked it away and spun back to the audience ready to annihilate and annihilate I did.  I felt a sharp tug from the far end of the cable as I charged.  This is what happened: the mic cable was extremely short.  I marched away at the worst angle possible and the plug didn’t come free, it bent and held fast to the PA innocently resting on a shelf.  The sharp tug I felt was the PA firing off the shelf and plummeting down into the guitar amp, which then, in the sickest game of dominos, collided with the amp’s head sending it to the floor and promptly going silent. Guitarist Marcin stood their looking at me in confusion. Mortification.

The song I had attempted to sing is 35 seconds long.  35 seconds.  That’s all I had to hold it together for – 35 seconds.

It was nothing a two-buck fuse couldn’t resolve, but the damage had been done and the set was over.  This didn’t prevent a line from forming at the band’s table or Night Birds from headlining (much to Brian from NBs chagrin as he joyfully exclaimed after the amp blew “Alright! I get to go home early!”).  It was a freak accident that shook my already sensitive nature. For one of the first time’s ever, I hung in the back during Night Birds’ set.  I could do less damage that way.  And insult to injury as I said goodbye to the band since my short ride with them was at an end…it was fucking snowing outside.


A week later.  Driving solo down to the edge of Dixie.  A long week of work behind me soon to be punctuated by Government Flu’s last show stateside.  I wondered what I would find down there.  Would the band still be friends or would they be fed up?  Would I find my own personal redemption after making a mess ten days prior? These and other dramatic thoughts probably say more about me and my tendency to think too much, to worry and stress because when I arrived it seemed as if I had just left the movie for a scene.  Most of the guys poured over the selection at Vinyl Conflict. Crouched over a crate of his own distro, Robert made deals.  Jay sat on a bench outside hunched over his phone. Wolfi, not a fan of whiling away the day at a record shop, chatted with folks outside.  Paul hung back with the camera. High fives all around. It was time to eat vegan and play some fucking hardcore, dude.

Glued to the stage, head banging like a kid listening to Slayer for the first time, raising my arm to shout a chorus or two, I savored this last performance.  The band pared their set down to a bullet; a single sucker-punch in the kisser.  They hit it and 12 mins later the tour was over. 

An unfulfilled crowded demanded more.  A single original and a few covers were delivered.  The last tune of the night, “Ready to Fight.” Moshing immediately ensued.  Hinged loosely to the stage was a metal set of stairs for loading in/out.  Handy, but a dangerous obstacle if and when shit gets outta’ hand.  A bearded mosher who had stumbled throughout the show happily lit on substance and chemicals suddenly ejected from the pit and face-planted into these steps and hung awkwardly and quite motionless. Having heard the sound of this collision off-mic and seeing his limp carcass,yff mic, I immediately wrenched him to his feet. He put his arm around me and I thankfully didn’t see any blood chugging out of his skull, so I turn to set him down on the bench right behind me.  Jay was sitting there with a look of surprise across his face as if to say “What the fuck are you going to do with that?” like I had walked in with lawnmower strapped to my chest.  But he scoots and the man gets dumped.  I turn to see Government Flu bang out the final beat of Negative Approach and it’s over.  I didn’t even see the last song.

That was it.  12 hours later, they would be airborne, enroute to Warsaw and Dresden and I’d be back in New Jersey curiously scratching my head.  What had just happened?  I’m not sure I learned anything.  I embarrassed myself, I made new friends, I heard good tunes.  If I can be allowed a moment of pretension, I guess this experience reminded me that this culture churns unbeknownst to most as they go about their lives.  While punks in bands, at shows, at record stores, are in most cases, not separated from society, they’re not fully integrated either.  A world exists beneath the surface pounding away around the world, playing loud music and crashing on the hardwoods.  And we had a floor to sleep on that last night back in DC, but I nabbed a couch. 

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