The Seven- Year Itch

Expertly wielding a pair of crutches, Goods bassist-singer Jim Camacho hobbles off the Tobacco Road stage after an encore for a recent show. The narrow upstairs cabaret is packed with people, so Camacho has to navigate an obstacle course of tables, chairs, bottles, and bodies. No, wait. Although it's very late on a Tuesday night, the crowd is in no mood to leave. They want more. Camacho executes a pinpoint turn between two tables, totters back onto the stage, and gingerly eases into a chair. As he picks up his bass guitar and slings it over his shoulder, voices in the audience calling out song requests vie for the band's attention.

Camacho's condition is temporary; he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee after jumping off a drum kit during a November show at Marsbar. Still, his slowness and determination in climbing on and off the Tobacco Road stage bears similarities to the Goods' struggle to become something more than just another hotshot club band. Once fresh-faced kids who literally tore up local stages with adolescent abandon, the Goods -- Camacho, Tony Oms on guitar and vocals, Kasmir Kujawa on drums, and John Camacho (Jim's brother) on keyboards and vocals -- are now relatively grizzled veterans who, while still clinging to their idealism, understand that sheer enthusiasm is not enough to snare the musical Holy Grail they've openly lusted after for so long: a recording contract with a national label.

Brandishing a passionate Beatles-meet-Buzzcocks mix of pop hooks and punk spirit that the band members described as "rip" music, the Goods made their first public appearance seven years ago this weekend -- January 13, 1989, to be exact, at Churchill's Hideaway in Little Haiti. By the end of that maiden performance, their instruments were trashed and the stage was in shambles. It was a wild, chaotic evening that served as a template for things to come, a foretaste of the band's anything-goes style.

"It's definitely a day-and-night transformation from the first show at Churchill's," Kujawa observes of the band's progress. "Any fans that we have from those days who don't see us any more, if they came to see us now, they'd be surprised, because it's a whole different band." Oms agrees: "We were young and we were innocent and we were very naive about what goes on in this kind of business. To us everything was pretty much fun back then, and that was it. That was the end of the line."

Over the seven-year stretch since that first show, the Goods have become one of the area's most consistently entertaining rock-and-roll outfits. They've financed two self-released CDs: 1992's rock opera 5 Steps to Getting Signed, which chronicled the band's flirtations with a major label and a high-profile management firm; and last year's masterful Mint, a stunning, self-assured work that showcased the Goods' songwriting and studio prowess. Both albums rank among the finest and most ambitious efforts to have emerged from the city's rich and varied music scene over the past decade.

However, as impressive as the recordings have been, performances are where the Goods have made the biggest name for themselves. Their on-stage exploits are as close to legend as you can get in South Florida, where a collective sense of musical tradition is sorely lacking. Well versed in rock-and-roll history, the Goods even early on displayed a comprehensive knowledge of the lore, legends, and trappings that make the genre so compelling as an art form and cultural force. They also acknowledged the mass-marketed absurdities that often make rock such a repugnant commodity. Applying that knowledge brilliantly, they packed their performances with sendups and references that blurred the line between posturing and parody.

Any one of dozens of anecdotes would make the point. A typical episode came about six years ago, when the Goods were paired with an unknown band named the Psycho Ponies at Who's in the Grove, a trendy, now-defunct nightspot in Coconut Grove's Mayfair. Judging by the club's meat-market vibe, the clientele would probably have preferred a DJ spinning Top 40 hits. Nonetheless, when the time came for the Ponies to open the show, out trotted the feebly disguised Goods, decked out in matching suits and dark glasses; they proceeded to play a 45-minute set that included tunes by then-current local groups such as Vesper Sparrow, Coral Gables, Beat the Press, and, of course, the Goods -- all carefully explained to the puzzled clubgoers before each song by Jim, with the assistance of illustrations, an easel, and pointer.

The Ponies set closed with a ten-minute tribute to noise band Scraping Teeth, whose howling, feedback-laden explorations of the human tolerance for sonic pain would within a few years earn the group top honors in Spin magazine's "Worst Band in America" contest. As each agonizing minute skronked away, the audience's collective mood spiraled downward from befuddlement to mild annoyance to, finally, outright hostility from the handful of regulars who stayed to the end of the ordeal.

It was a ballsy move that exemplified the traits that have always made the Goods a compelling act: an eagerness to push the performance envelope; a playful urge to engage an audience; and, above all, a genuine respect for music, no matter what form that music might take. Unfortunately that assessment wasn't shared by the club's manager, who was so incensed with the Psycho Ponies' performance that he turned off the power to the stage three songs into the Goods' follow-up set and refused to pay them.

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