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."
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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.
"We thought that maybe our antics were taking over the music," notes Kujawa of the band's transformation from anarchic provocateurs to polished showmen who've learned how to follow a set list. "We said, 'Wait a minute. We're good songwriters. We have great songs.' So we're figuring that maybe now it's time to put those first, because that's what we're going to leave behind."
"It was more like, fans of good times rather than music fans," adds John, referring to the audiences drawn to those earlier, raucous shows. "I think music fans are gravitating toward us now because we're definitely more musical. We're focusing on the music now, and I think it's coming across."
Don't be misled, though: There's still enough energy during a typical Goods performance to power a small town. And the band still indulges its taste for fun via several side projects. Under the alias of Pud, the Goods and a few additional musicians perform hilarious lounge-lizard versions of rock standards such as Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," Pat Benatar's "Hit Me with Your Best Shot," Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," and Nirvana's "Come as You Are" -- all crooned by Kujawa in the guise of a vodka-swigging, stained-tuxedo-wearing megalomaniac front man named Leopold Pud, who bills himself as "the world's greatest entertainer." Cherry Bomb, meanwhile, is an even more high-concept undertaking, pairing up the Goods with well-traveled musician Pete Moss to play straightforward covers of songs the Beatles covered when they were still working the clubs in Liverpool, from Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music" to Larry Williams's "Bad Boy."
For their regular appearances, though, the Goods have become more streamlined and focused. The band is now homing in on its buzzing brand of upbeat power pop, rather than embarking on situational experimentations and tossing in the country, punk, reggae, and other kitchen-sink flourishes that, while satisfying for the band's hard-core fans, may have provided a slippery handle for less-patient listeners. As John notes of the ambitious Mint, the Goods were trying to record their White Album, "and we haven't even done Meet the Beatles."
Such statements might elicit mixed feelings among the band's long-time fans, because much of the group's appeal is based not so much on their songs but on the unpredictability of their shows. The upside is that the Goods' newer material reflects their growth as artists who have figured out the best way to manipulate their chosen palette. "California" and "Snow Skies," to cite two examples, feature elegant, sweeping arrangements and lyrics that continue in the wistful, melancholic vein of Mint's operatic "Sweet Like a Song" and the tour de force "Train Song." Songs about childhood fears and adolescent dorkiness have been replaced by full-grown statements of loss, regret, and, ultimately, hope. After seven years of speaking to the inner child of their fans, the Goods are now addressing their audiences as adults. And they're still openly obsessed with getting signed to a label. "I was listening to an interview of us back in '90, and there was so much life, we were just throwing it out there," Jim says. "We were in total pursuit of this dream, which is fantastic, but we didn't have the knowledge to get there. I definitely believe that we're ready now."
The Goods perform Friday, January 12, at Rose's Bar & Music Lounge, 754 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 532-0228. Showtime is 11:00 p.m. Admission is $5.
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