It's only 10 feet between the first row of chairs and the two foot high stage. But she takes an eternity to traverse the distance, her glazed eyes fixed like beaming devices somewhere around the base of the microphone stand. Slowly, laboriously, Little Miss Quaalude weaves her way forward, balancing on her out-stretched right hand a small basket filled with popcorn.
She eventually does reach the stage, no mean feat since her brain has apparently resigned all control of motor capacities. She pauses for a moment to ascertain that she is still standing, then slowly cocks her throwing arm and lets fly with her ammo. The ammo, instead of pelting the lead singer in the face, dribbles pathetically around his feet. He keeps jumping and singing. She collapses in a heap in front of the stage.
Oddly enough, this girl's gesture is a heartfelt — if booze-and-drug fueled — display of approval and affection for the performers. This is no standard rock concert. No, no, no. It's Tuesday night at the Mabuhay Gardens, 443 Broadway, San Francisco's leading (and only) punk rock/newwave venue.
Three bands share the bill tonight; two are experienced, local talent and have played this club before. The opening act, however, has never done a show at the Mabuhay. Except for one small party, the band has never even performed in front of an audience. As a matter of fact, it has only existed two and a half months, as long as the bassist has been "studying" his instrument.
The band can be considered unique solely in terms of its membership: the musicians, manager and "road crew" are Stanford students. They are Phil Otto (vocals), Tim Clark (guitar), Dave Latchaw (drums), Jimmy Jett (bass), Rich Johnson (manager), and Dean Thomas (sound). I also play guitar in the band. We are called Raw Meat. We play original material, and we are not punks.
The two-year-old punk rock movement originated in England as a backlash against the ultra-clean, supermarket quality, middle-of-the road, baby food heard these days on "progressive" FM radio stations (once bastions of "free programming" and anti-Top 40 ideals).
Highly publicized in this country during the 1977 American tour of the Sex Pistols, England's best known punk band, punk rock and its Thalidomide offspring, New Wave and "power pop," have since been denounced by critics as a media fad, a trend which couldn't last.
The sound is a far cry from the sterile Fleetwood Mac / Boston/Kansas / ABBA / Foreigner / Barry Manilow lightweight schlock of the '70s. Influenced by "punks" like the early Rolling Stones, Who, Kinks and Velvet Underground, the simple, guitar-based music is almost frightening in its intensity. It's rough, raw, loud, vicious and decidedly noncommercial. Listening to New Wave is like having a nose job done with a jackhammer during an earthquake in a vat of boiling tar and pig intestines: it has a subtlety quotient of zero.
"Listening to New Wave is like having a nose job done with a jackhammer during an earthquake in a vat of boiling tar and pig intestines"
The major outlets for New Wave bands are small clubs (as opposed to the intimate 100,000 person concerts of today's rock "megastars"), the leading two of which in the U.S. are CBCB's in New York, and San Francisco's Mabuhay Gardens.
Having done a sound check this afternoon (to set up equipment and insure that all sound levels are properly balanced), we await our 11 p.m. starting time. At 10:30 we repair to the "dressing room" — a 7 1/2 yd. x 1 1/2 yd. disaster area sporting the latest in "spray paint chic" — to tune guitars and don stage garb.
The Mabuhay is one block east of Broadway's real primordial sleeze: Carol Doda's, topless/bottomless joints, nude wrestling parlors, hustlers, hookers — and one-hand-galIop-book bookstores. The marquee innocently boasts a "piano bar," "Filipino cooking" and — strangely —'"family entertainment."
Inside chandeliers that look like bunches of communion wafers strung together cast inappropriately dim glow over the stage, the dance floor and three rows of wooden chairs and tables in front. A second level, raised about three feet, houses more chairs and elon-
gated picnic-style tables. An enormous, decrepit canvas backdrop frames the stage, and on one wall a lake/ volcano/palm tree mural of Tahitian tranquility is an anomaly in the otherwise seedy atmosphere. Capacity is about 250, and anyone over 18 is welcome: refreshments include a fully stocked bar and free popcorn.
Eleven o'clock. Standing stage left. The lights dim. Dirk Dirksen, goateed owner of the "Fab Mab," babbles an introduction; all I hear is . . Raw Meat —" We saunter onstage to a hefty cheer, the lion's share of which apparently comes from our "rooting section" (because bands are paid a percentage of the door — and are guaranteed return engagements on the basis of their draw, it is not unusual for a group to "stack" the audience with friends, parents, lovers, winos and any other fools they can coax to shell out the $3 cover charge.
We're on. Plug in. Slow drum count for "White Alligators," the set opener. Then BOOM! — ZAP! — SLASH!! — a veritable phantasmorgasm of light, noise, sound and fury. And we're off and running. Weird things begin to happen. Ash trays fly up on stage. Popcorn too. Apparently all part of the game: the more they throw, the better you are.
It's a very short 45 minutes. Only flashes remain: Jimmy, legs bent and mouth open, prowls the stage, plugging musical holes with cannon-like bass plucks ... a roadie stage left tosses a glass of beer at me . . . Tim chonks away at his guitar, sweat flying as if from a law sprinkler... we sit during "Crazy Jenny," the slow one, the guitars wrapping majorand minor chords around Phil's straining, aching lyric . . . Latchaw ticks a BOMP-CHUKKA-OOMPH-BOMP reggae rhythm for "Planned Obsolescence," looking like the deranged grandfather your family never talked about . . . missed cues... out-of-tune guitars. . . weakening legs . . . heat . . . lights. BASH! We're done; we're off . . . That's it. One minute total chaos, the next, relative silence. It was that short.
We made enough money to cover both the rental fee for the U-Haul trailer, in which we'd trundled our equipment to the city, and back, and the tape used to record the show. In this case, however, monetary gain is incidental.