Chapter XI. Gigs: What it is like to play in front of an audience.
Chapter XI. Gigs: What it is like to play in front of an audience.
Marcus and Ken

Gigs. It’s all about getting up in front of people. I recall some video interview - maybe with David Byrne - where he describes talking to someone at a bar, you know, just being a regular guy, but then there comes that point where you get to go up on stage and become different from that guy that remains back at the bar. There’s a little swagger as you make your way through the crowd towards the stage. Whoa, make way, man with guitar coming through.   

We officially became a band in December, 1980. Our first gig was sometime in the Spring of 1981 at an Elk’s Lodge in Rockville, Maryland, arranged by Jim’s work mates at Mercury Press (Jim worked for Science Magazine), which was near the Elk’s Lodge. I don’t remember the music at all, but there was this very drunk Lodge member with a peasant straw hat, unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt and a face painted on his belly, dancing around the place between our sets. In June of that year was “Ridgestock” in Greenville, Monroe County, West Virginia, where Marcus and Genni first met and built a small house. Ridgestock was essentially a mini hippie pop festival on top of a hill. I got the gist of the local economy and heard tidbits about who did or didn’t go to jail; suffice it to say, there was lots and lots of marijuana. Both of these shows were a good way to get our feet wet; we were not polished, but you have to start somewhere. Another memorable early gig was at the club Columbia Station in the Adams Morgan district of DC, where we were trying out stage presentation. Since the band was called Acrylix, we bought 4 cheap heavy plastic waist length ponchos or raincoats in 4 different neon colors. We each lost about 2 pounds in sweat that night. Then, we got the idea to name ourselves colors: Marcus Maroon, Jim Magenta, Shelly Sienna and Ken Crayola. The names stuck. We ditched the raincoats. 

The other bands that Acrylix shared bills or venues with were all part of the fun: Tony Perkins and the Psychotics, Eubie Hayve, Young Caucasians, Tru Fax and the Insaniacs, The Intentions, Black Market Baby, Slickee Boys, Martha Hull and the Steady Jobs, Graphic Shadows, and Insect Surfers. Another early 1981 gig was opening for Tiny Desk Unit (which included NPR’s Bob Boilen; the band's name is the basis for the name of his radio show today). What’s in a name? Well, plenty; it was an accurate reflection of the whole early 1980s new wave gestalt. I still maintain some connection with the people in many of these bands. Now that I’m back in Los Angeles, I’ve reconnected with David Arneson, who moved here a while ago and has continued his brand of psychedelic surf rock with the Insect Surfers. 7 Door Sedan has shared bills in DC with Jerry Herg’s (Young Caucasions) current band Color School, Mark Noone and Marshall Keith and Martha Hull (Slickee Boys/Steady Jobs) in their various incarnations, Tony Piazza (Eubie Hayve) and Claudia Neuman’s band Sister Ex, and Rustbuckit (Boyd Farrell and Mike Dolfi), and with Bob Boilen at the Robert Goldstein (Urban Verbs) tribute concert in 2017. Further, I enjoy following Bob, Peter Muise and Carl Cephas (Tony Perkins), and Diana Quinn (TruFax) on social media. 

Anyway, back to 1980s gigs. Shelly, a lesbian, vied with Marcus for the female groupies. More often than not I drew some stoned Rastafarian asking me about my guitar. Due to the prevalence of cocaine at that time, some of the sets that were timed as 45 minutes long during rehearsal magically clocked in at only 35 minutes during the actual gig. But mostly it was simply the thrill of being on stage. One fond memory is of us waiting in the alley behind the original 9:30 club in DC (930 F St, NW) before going onstage to play our set opening up for the Slickee Boys. It was a sweltering, humid summer night (July, 1983) but that did not prevent me from wearing an oh so cool leather jacket (man it was hot; suffer for fashion) as I watched rats scurry around a dumpster. I had a wide grin and thought “ahhhh, I’ve made it.” That show….I still remember the excitement of playing with an excellent sound system in front of a packed house. My memory – go ahead and argue in your own memoirs – is that we were So. Fucking. Good. There is nothing like playing authoritatively in front of an appreciative audience. You get to that point after practicing and practicing, to the point where you can play the song in your sleep and, as a result, when you get onstage you can focus on performing (e.g., Keith Richards’ bottle of Jack Daniels) instead of just playing. There were moments of Zen at that show when everything else around me seemed to drop away, like hammering out a simple riff at the end of our tune Downtown, while we vamped and Marcus listed out all these downtowns (Detroit, New York, LA, Chicago), or playing an atonal, speaking-in-tongues style guitar solo, determined not to play in any scale or key (except maybe the key of off), over Jim’s tune Dance, Dance, Dance (More than a Beat). The performance was blistering hot, fucking loud, and in front of a large, rapt audience. Like a wind tunnel. Bliss. I don’t think I’m capable of really living in the moment except in moments like that. Performance requires a serious suspension of disbelief. What I am trying to convey is I was so full of myself, a hot shot with a fuck-you-I’m-going-to-blow-you-away attitude. That feeling that I’m killing it and everybody out there knows it. And even if you play a clam (as Buddy Rich called mistakes) you play through it, smiling all the time. Better yet, play the wrong note again to show you meant it the first time you did it. As the Bonzo Dog Band’s Vivian Stanshall once said, I’m not a bit like you or you or you, I’m a super show biz star. Looking back, that moment was my personal reward for leaving Los Angeles for DC, for eschewing the tried and true and taking a chance without knowing what lay in store. 

Below are posted a bunch of Marcus’ flyers - great pieces of memorabilia for the time period that more than once have served to jog my memory. We taped them up everywhere before shows. We had our first anniversary as a band at DC Space (7th and E, NW) on December 12, 1981. We played at Desperado’s on M St. in Georgetown, opening for the Brains from Atlanta in May of 1982 (note the flyer mentions that our first single Waiting/Dancing would be available soon), and the Bongos from Hoboken in November 1982. The Brains scored a huge hit with Money Changes Everything, which Cindy Lauper recorded. The Bongos/Richard Barone were part of the thriving pop scene in Hoboken that included The Feelies; both bands are still at it today. We also had gigs with the various local DC bands at The Chancery on New Jersey Ave (my friend Bill came down from NYC with his band LuLu Review to play with us in early 1983), Friendship Station and One Flight Up (both on the same block near Wisconsin and Fessenden), The Psychedelly in Bethesda, Fort Reno in NW DC, the Marble Bar in Baltimore, the Wax Museum in SW DC, the 930 Club, and DC Space. Besides Baltimore, we also ventured out of town to Lancaster, PA, Philadelphia, and New York City’s Peppermint Lounge. Cult movies that were popular around the time were Liquid Sky, Buckaroo Bonzai, Repo Man, and Brother from Another Planet. Bars played MTV (launched on August 1, 1981) videos of The Smiths or Eurythmics, or maybe Michael Nesmith’s movie Elephant Parts. It wasn’t until March of 1983, when MTV (under threat from the president of CBS Records to go public with their apparent racial discrimination) finally showed Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean video. It was electrifying and we were totally blown away. 

We had a record release party for the Color Blind EP on November 29, 1983 at a place called Numbers on 19th Street just south of Dupont Circle. At the gigs were usually Nicki, Genni, sometimes Genni’s son Zack in his leather jacket, the neon artist Marty King, and Carmen and her husband Harry Flores, who later moved to West Virginia to run a B&B for swingers. Everyone wore a lot of lucite jewelry and danced and jumped up and down a lot. We played the “old” 9:30 club, at the original 930 F St., NW address - apparently a few times - with local favorites Slickee Boys and Velvet Monkeys, A Drop in the Gray from Los Angeles, and Boston’s Rubber Rodeo.  We played there one last time, as our next incarnation Shocko Bottom, on December 30, 1988, opening for a past-prime-but-still-good Flock of Seagulls. 

Acrylix went on a short tour of the South in June, 1985 – Atlanta, GA (at the 688 club, opening for a band called the Eurogliders), Athens, GA, Savannah, GA, Columbia, SC, Raleigh, NC, and Richmond, VA. We appeared to be chasing after Athens, GA bands (pre-big time) REM, Pylon, and Guadalcanal Diary, and Minnesota’s Husker Du on the same circuit (see endearingly blurry photo below). At a stop scheduled for Charlotte, NC, the club was shut down when we arrived, after which we drove back across state to Raleigh to crash for free at Jim’s Dad’s house. Once we were in a Denny’s or IHOP for breakfast when some eager local hipsters – the smaller the town, the hungrier the hipsters - either had seen us play or just thought we looked like a band, and they asked us for our autographs on one or our records. We were totally pro and said sure!, and signed with our stage names (Ken Crayola, etc). Marcus would always add “Always Be True” with a heart. He was good at dropping bon mots, like “it’s either this or pumping gas” in an interview with David Einstein of the DC radio station WHFS, or “well, that’s rock and roll!” when the aforementioned NC gig fell through after we drove 100 miles only to find out the club was closed. That last phrase used to really irk Jim Landry, who was more of a stickler for predictability, stemming from his unofficial role as band bookkeeper (see budget for the tour, below). Jim was responsible for disbursing the $10? $15? per diem to members of the band. He figured there wouldn’t be enough money, so the first day, he handed out money at 11 am, the second day at 4 pm, the third day at 10 pm, and the fourth day, he said, “No man, I paid you guys earlier.” 

Jim_NC Marquee
IMG_0110_chancery_dcspace_first anniversay_1982?
IMG_7520_marble barpsychedellycolumbiastation
1985 Tour

18 thoughts on “Chapter XI. Gigs: What it is like to play in front of an audience.

  1. I’m enjoying your blog/memoir/autobio….whatever you name it. Learning a few things that I did not already know. Keep going!

  2. Great narrative, Ken. I’m enjoying it immensely.
    My favorite lol moment: “Since the band was called Acrylix, we bought 4 cheap heavy plastic waist length ponchos or raincoats in 4 different neon colors. We each lost about 2 pounds in sweat that night.”

  3. Ah geee Kenny- it was Shocko Bottom- December 30th 1988 when we opened for the Flock. . . .and I lost a good chunk of my hearing to tinnitus.

    at least your good with the help.

    1. Ooops! Will edit that part! Um, the reference to Shocko Bottom part, unfortunately I can’t reverse your tinnitus. Sorry about that – hazards of the profession – My grandfather suffered mustard gas poisoning, you had tinnitus!

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