Bring the Noise

Cover your ears or bask in the blare. Miami avant-skronkers Harry Pussy, Rat Bastard, and Tom Smith's To Live and Shave in L.A. have launched an audacious aural assault on the senses. But is anyone out there listening?

The fact is that Rat can play what he calls "boring guitar-god cliche bullshit." He still occasionally sits in on lead at Myrin and the 2 Wotz reunions, or when a veteran local rocker with a shred of integrity (read: Charlie Pickett) asks him to. But for the most part he's sworn off the typical rock guitarist's method: recycling riffs that Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton ripped off from Jimi Hendrix who stole them from Buddy Guy who got them from Guitar Slim and Muddy Waters who filched them from Robert Johnson who, as everybody knows, made a deal with the devil to buy them in the first place.

In an interview with New Times following Scraping Teeth's selection as America's worst, Spin editor Mark Blackwell theorized that the thing that made Scraping Teeth special, the quality that enabled their music to plumb depths that thousands of other more mediocre contestants could not even fathom, was their musicianship. "They've obviously been playing for years," Blackwell asserted. "They didn't create this music to try to win our contest. I don't think they meant to be bad. They meant to fit some mysterious category of their own, like Skinny Puppy or the Swans, with all the things that make those bands interesting removed."

Many musicians would be discouraged to find that a major music publication such as Spin had judged their music the nation's worst. Not Rat. He couldn't have been happier. "We've achieved the ultimate reaction!" he gushed back then. Generating a strong response is Rat's supreme musical goal. "When I play music, it's like when I played high school football -- I get psyched up," he explains. "You gotta go out there and you gotta kill. You can't just play because there's nothing else to do or because you want to look cool. There's a million bands out there that sound like Pearl Jam. You gotta kill!"

Much of said killing, at least as perpetrated by the local noise bands mentioned above, occurs on Thursday nights at Churchill's Hideaway in Little Haiti. Rat has been holding court at Churchill's on Thursday nights off and on for the better part of a decade. The festivities used to include performance art from the likes of Tina's Dirty Girl Revue (basically an ex-stripper named Tina telling provocative stories), and Scraping Teeth regularly would share the stage with avant-rockers such as the Trash Monkeys. Of late, however, the night has been billed as "Frank Falestra's Beautiful Noise Series."

Drive Choir took the stage at 11:45 p.m. on a recent Thursday night. This is normally prime time for live music clubs. However, discounting journalists and bar employees, for this particular installment of the Beautiful Noise Series band members outnumbered listeners. Despite the paltry turnout, Drive Choir looked nervous. The band evinced little to no stage presence: They wore jeans, nondescript cotton shirts, and sensible shoes; vocalist-guitarist Bill Munoz often turned his back to where the audience would have been if there had been one; nobody in the band danced or otherwise engaged in typical rock-star posing or histrionics. If anything, Drive Choir looked fearful.

Musically, they were disciplined and melodic and placed far too much emphasis on vocals to be considered true noise. Michelle Oleck even played flute on several tunes and frequently sang harmony with Munoz. Songs were structured and lyrics were, by and large, intelligible. And bassist Carl Carvajal and drummer Brian Grayson anchored a conventionally tight rhythm section. With the exception of Munoz's odd forays into free-form feedback jams, the band was hardly scary at all. In fact, they were downright enjoyable.

You had to figure Falestra would be disappointed. Drive Choir was his favorite local band. They had played a civilized, harmonious, palatable set.

But Rat wasn't worried. His ace in the hole was coming up next.
Tom Smith is probably not the antichrist. For starters, he doesn't look the part. Smith has one head, not seven, and no horns to speak of. If you didn't know him, you would have an easier time picturing him standing in a driveway in Cocoplum waxing a BMW than stalking the stage at Churchill's on a sweltering Thursday night. Smith has the cocky bearing of a Southern frat boy; a slight puffiness about the eyes suggests one too many keg parties. Not only does he not resemble the antichrist, he probably wouldn't pass muster as an alternative rocker. Short hair, but not buzz-cut. Baseball cap on backward. Solid black T-shirt. No goat. No tattoos. No pierced body parts. White socks. Cute legs. (A female musician who considers herself something of an authority on the subject recently remarked upon the sleek muscularity of Smith's gams during one of his rare public performances. Smith is not bashful about exposing them, either -- his wardrobe runs to jean cutoffs rolled up to reveal plenty of thigh.)

He arrived at Churchill's quietly near the tail end of Drive Choir's set. As soon as they finished, Smith was on-stage setting up. He did not mingle with the band, nor did he waste any time glad-handing the dozen or so patrons who had drifted in after midnight. He was, in short, all business.

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