By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
It's safe to assume it was the first time a bunch of West Kendallites appeared in the New York Post's infamous "Page Six" gossip column. And it's especially notable because they did so for indirectly inciting a minor riot in L.A. alongside a famously celebrated, then disgraced, then semi-redeemed memoirist.
"Crowds Collide" was the headline on the blurb this past May 17. It read, "James Frey — who told Page Six, 'I'm trying to break the mold of what readings can be' — had a mini-riot break out at his session Thursday night at Whiskey-a-Go-Go in Hollywood. Six bouncers tried to remove six hooligans who were there more for heavy-metal band Black Tide than to hear him read from his novel Bright Shiny Morning. Literary types were horrified as the brawl spilled out to the sidewalk, where it took 20 cops to quell the violence. Three men were arrested."
Frey, who was trying out a band/book-reading combo, was a newly minted fan of Miami's latest and only current metal sensation, Black Tide. His people contacted their people, and the band members were flown to L.A. for the appearance. A few songs in, it became apparent that everyone had possibly underestimated the frenzy lapping around the band.
A few weeks later, bassist Alex Nuñez is recounting his side of the story in a resigned, almost tired drawl. But as he gets deeper into it, he becomes more animated, his voluminous, crinkly black mane vibrating slightly as he shakes his head. "The venue was being strict, like, 'Nobody can mosh at all,' because it wasn't really a show; it was a book-reading session. So that made sense, because there's tables there and everything. But of course kids don't give a shit," he recalls. "So eventually kids just start getting a little crazy, security guards telling kids not to do it, kicking kids out.
"So finally we get to our last two songs, and we're like, 'These are our last songs, go fucking nuts, whatever.' So kids start going crazy, and I see this one big security guard come in from the right and just start shoving everybody towards my side of the stage." And that's where things get murky. As Black Tide launched into its balls-to-the-wall cover of Metallica's "Hit the Lights," punches were indiscriminately thrown and a dog pile of sorts formed while the confused band continued to play.
"Our tour manager runs in, our manager runs in, our singer's dad runs in," Alex says. That dad was present, and so fiercely protective of the kids in the crowd, because he is the parent of a young teenager: Black Tide frontman Gabriel Garcia, who is 15 years old.
"The security guards were totally, if I can use the word, assholes. They started kicking kids out of the place and strangling them," Gabriel's father, 43-year-old Raul Garcia, recalls by phone. "There was this kind of wrestling stuff between, like, 20 people trying to get these kids out of these gorillas' hands. In the end of the thing, the police got there and they arrested a few people. But what can I say? It's part of the business."
"I'm never playing the Whiskey again," says drummer Steven Spence, at age 20, the oldest member of the band.
"Nah," 18-year-old Alex retorts. "That was fun as hell!"
The story of Black Tide's unlikely rise to nascent big-label, thrash-metal stardom begins in the sun-bleached stucco expanse sprawling westward along Kendall Drive. It's in this suburban flatland where the band got its start, and where I agree to first meet Gabriel Garcia and 19-year-old bassist Zakk Sandler at a Starbucks inside a strip-mall Borders megastore.
Zakk is the easier to spot. With a fancy belt buckle and forearms stained with classic rock and roll tattoos, he has a blustery, self-assured musician's swagger. He's measuredly cheerful, and his offstage face seems permanently etched with an expectant half-smile, just waiting for an opportunity for a dose of spitfire wit. Gabriel, meanwhile, seems to appear out of nowhere. Slight of frame, his head barely reaching the top of the bookshelves, he has a subdued, regular-dude persona. A worn beanie advertising the Sparks alcoholic energy drink covers most of his forehead; his trademark long metal locks are pulled into a ponytail dripping out the back. Onstage, he's a leather-clad demon, self-exorcising from some fiery pit within his belly. Off, he looks huggable. Unfailingly polite, he sucks a strawful of whipped-cream-topped frozen coffee drink before softly answering questions. (Meanwhile, father Raul browses elsewhere in the store; he will later drive Gabriel away in the family minivan.)
Both guys quickly warm up as they recall the beginnings of their band and their local childhoods. Gabriel was a student at Claude Pepper Elementary, maybe in second grade, when he fell under the influence of a cool, older, pop-punk-loving cousin. And he decided, like his cousin, he wanted to play the guitar.
Raul Garcia, a wry, glib man, later describes the episode: "Gabriel was eight years old, and we went to the flea market one Sunday. And he was like, 'Hey, Dad, can I get that guitar?' It was an old electric guitar selling for, like, $25. I said, 'Are you crazy or something? The guitar's even bigger than you.' So he started crying, so I said, 'Okay, there you go.'"