Flip the Bird

For the unsuspecting yuppies who regularly overrun downtown Fort Lauderdale, a Sunday-night trip to Tavern 213 can be a scary proposition. For starters, patrons must battle for a place at the bar with the legion of drunken punks who make a habit of 213's free shows. Then they need to brave the inevitable vomit, slam-dancing, and body odor. If that's not enough to scare them back to the suburbs, their fate is sealed.

When the main event, Middle Finger Mob (213's de facto house band), hits the stage, the doorway is jammed, blocking any escape. The doomed will be forced to try their luck dodging projectiles as the band members beat one another with guitars, Michael Jackson records, and whatever else they can find. It's a hardcore rock-and-wrestling hootenanny: blood, guts, three chords, and the requisite cloud of dust.

"We'll do anything to generate heat," Middle Finger Mob guitarist Jeff Tucci declares. "I've got a keyboard that I'm bringing to the next show. I'm going to announce I'm going solo and hit Matt [Roles, vocals] over the head with it." Tucci's over-the-top wrestling antics have been known to fool even the most jaded scene veterans. "People really think we don't like each other," Tucci laughs. "Well, I hate Fausto [Figuerido, who plays drums], but the rest of the band is cool."

Tucci's had a long time to sort out his feelings for Figuerido. A decade ago the duo made up half of Load, South Florida's loudest and most popular band during the time when Marilyn Manson was a local joke rather than an international punch line. "I remember when Manson got his first white contacts," Tucci sneers. "I went up to him and asked him if he was trying to look evil. He just ran away."

Meanwhile Tucci staked out a reputation as one of the area's most original guitarists. Inspired equally by early-Eighties hardcore, Southern-fried rock, and thrash metal, Tucci played with a swampy grunge tone and fast-fingered chops that separated Load from the pack. In addition to Tucci's hellacious sound, Load featured Bobby Johnston's drunken roar, Tony Quallf's low-frequency rumble, and Figuerido's loud/fast drumming. Together they ruled the early-Nineties South Florida scene, regularly selling out venues such as Squeeze, the Plus Five, Washington Square, and the Foundation.

Unfortunately Load's ability to cross into the national scene took a hit when the band ceased touring in 1994. As the musicians reached their midtwenties, day jobs and long-term relationships took precedence. They remained big fish in an ever-shrinking local pond.

In 1997 Tucci took a leave of absence from Load, dubbed himself "Ho-Ho Spade," and joined Broward female altmetal act Jack Off Jill in Miami's Criteria Studios for the group's debut CD, Sexless Demons and Scars. Tucci explains: "I always wanted to record at Criteria. I have tons of albums that were recorded there, so when they asked, I was down for it."

After a year in service to Jack Off Jill, including a U.S. tour opening for Lords of Acid, Tucci returned to Fort Lauderdale and restarted Load. "I was hoping [that] playing with Jack Off Jill would give Load a kick in the ass," Tucci shrugs. "But it had the opposite effect." In 1999 Quallf quit and moved to Tampa. He was replaced by Grass Patch guitarist Ray Xousa. In 2001 Load released its long-awaited CD, Feel the Power, and fell apart. "By the end, Bobby [Johnston] was just hanging onto the mike stand. I didn't want to go up there when he was drunk, and he was always drunk. It was hard, because he's a great talent and I'd been with him since 1988. We're friends, but it's like a business. We wanted to do different things."

Toward the end of 2001, Figuerido began jamming with Roles on guitar. After Load's last show, they brought in Tucci and began kicking out speedcore jams. Tucci was ready for a new direction. "There wasn't anybody doing what I wanted to hear," he says. "I wanted hardcore." Tucci recruited Xousa and then auditioned for singers. "This guy Al came in," Tucci says derisively. "He had a mohawk and was into Godsmack. I told him to cut that shit off his head. And that I hate Godsmack." Auditioning proved so boring that Tucci and Roles decided to split vocal duties, trading screams on 90-second blasts like "You're a Joke" and "Go to Hell."

While Tucci enjoyed the return to his musical roots, the first half of 2002 was more bitter than sweet. His older brother, Rick -- the person who first hipped him to the joys of punk rock -- was in the final stages of terminal brain cancer. "Rick would've loved this band," Tucci affirms. "This band is a dedication to him. When he came back from his first year of college in 1983, he brought a tape that had Dead Kennedys and DRI on it. That changed my life. What we're doing with the Mob is what he really loved."

Tucci continues to carry on his brother's legacy with every power chord, scream, and broken instrument. "I was watching Ben Hur the other day, and it reminded me why I keep doing this. Charlton Heston says to the commander: 'I see hate in your eyes. That's a good thing. It keeps a man going.' Well, there's plenty to hate in this town. Drive through Weston on your lunch hour. That should keep you going for a month."

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Tom Bowker