This band Spite is the realest thing I ever saw on a stage. So. Does that mean I like these four gentlemens music? Its a hard question, considering that what they do, symbolically, is pull gum out of their mouths and stick it on your forehead (using drums and guitars and words instead of fingers and Wrigleys). Theyre not afraid to use their fingers -- you just dont exist. Its not exactly the kind of thing you like. But it impresses the hell out of me.
Might as well take it personally. Were Americans; we deserve the hatred. Not that these North Carolina bastards consider themselves paragons -- shit, theyre selling Southern Loser T-shirts at the entrance. They dont want your admiration; youre welcome to hate them back. Theyre asking for it, just look at em.
A couple of Fridays ago, Spite are squeezed in among the hubcaps and license plates at the Garage. Appropriate: You can picture any of them under a lube rack. Josh Pratt, shaped like a file cabinet, his dome buzz-cut, squints at the floor like hes reading fine print and pounds his bass low, lower, lowest till its grazing the ground. Guitarist Dave Campbell, a little guy with a porcelain skinned head and a vertical caterpillar drooping off the tip of his chin, doesnt have as far to go, but hes down as far as he can get, banging his dazed head to a tractor-pull metalpunk riff. Hes Spites third six-stringer within a couple of years, following Live Fast Dan Young (dead of an overdose) and temporary substitute Craig Baker.
Byron McDonald, the drummer, is below low. Seeing his tubs on the stage, I wonder when theyre gonna get set up. Then he comes out and starts hurling himself all over the kit, and I realize they are set up -- about an inch off the floor, parallel to the stage front, so you see him in profile. Hes another nearly hairless man, built like a bricklayer, his contoured butt resting 8 inches above the cockroaches as he leans forward between his upraised knees to flail the skins. Hes completely naked. Every once in a while he feels moved to get up and wander around in midthrash like a lost toddler, staring blankly at Campbells guitar or hopping off the stage to lurch through the audience and fall to his knees facing the back wall.
And the singer -- the singer. Chris Boone is skinny, cranially deforested and tall, too tall to get low, so he hunches himself into an S, grabs the microphone with both hands and yells into it the way he might instruct a younger brother to get the fuck out of his gear. Eyes are invisible under a black John Deere baseball cap; pointy chin sticks out from under the bill, which hes molded into the kind of perfect semicircle only idle crackers know how to produce. Every visible square inch of his arms and neck is layered in thick tattoos. Like Pratt, he wears an old motorcycle T-shirt. He spits. He slobbers. He twists his finger in his nose and wipes it on his shirt. He gulps beer, whiskey and water, and sprays them from his lips into a mist around his head as the assault continues.
The sound these four make is loud and hard, like a Louisville Slugger to the back of the skull, laying you out ruthlessly and methodically, stopping and starting with theatrical precision. There are simple, sarcastic little single-string guitar figures, and monumental power-chord riffs. Between declamations, Boone actually sings, but confines himself to two or three notes per tune. Most of the melodic content seems to come from the drums, as McDonald counterpunches every rhythm with furious rolls and crashes, rarely locking into a four-on-the-floor groove. Its music of immense hostility. And strength.
Whats different about Spite?
Well: Heres a convenient example. At the Garage, a very good local band plays right before them. Broadlawn, I think. This four-piece does a sort of melodic punk thing, with a raging twin-guitar sound. The singer has tattoos and a nose ring; he has good vocal chops and a lot of passion. He is also obviously a nice guy, a guy with his rage under control. He tunes his guitar between songs. He thanks the management, thanks the attendees, thanks the other bands.
Boone doesnt thank anybody. Were Spite. We have a CD that you can get in stores. T-shirts by the door. He drones this litany on two occasions, as if its written on the set list. He sounds like hes telling a drunk his flys unzipped. Onstage or at a truck-stop lunch counter, he would come off just the same. Spite do not emote, see. They are. They have their own personal brand of fuck-you, one they didnt adapt from Johnny Rotten or Kurt Cobain. Its a physical fuck-you, inspired directly by the shit they hate. Thats what makes them different.
Which is why I dont quite get it till I see them; the disembodied music hasnt prepared me, even though Spites first widely distributed album, Bastard Complex on Prosthetic Records, sounds fantastic. Produced by Machine, it has the kind of clean-and-dirty dynamics that every heavy rock band wants. But it doesnt tell the whole story. Listening to Boones meticulously recorded voice, you hear disgust and contempt. You also discover blunt intelligence and maybe even a hint of sensitivity -- traits he never projects from the stage, where hes a full-on brute. When I got the live experience, I realized that the animal is mostly what he wants you to see.
The lie is what the fuck you deserve. Welcome to the pimp march. Is something wrong with me?What is wrong is everything. I am no oneBut just rememberSometimes I cant forgive you. Boones words say specific things very clearly. And he sees clearly. And hes seen some very nasty stuff, heard some fundamental lies not everybody has to hear, up close. Once a person has seen and heard the way he has, putting on the old happyface requires self-deception. And Boone isnt much for lying.
I got that resume from reading the printed lyrics -- didnt need to, though. It comes across like a haymaker from the stage, regardless of the fact that, given the standard state of club PA systems, I can barely decipher a word. Except Fuck you, which Boone repeats many times in one song. Delivered properly, those two words can be most eloquent.
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On the impact end of all this, the Garage audience is at first receptive. The music is powerful, Boone is a trip, theres a naked drummer. So far so good, and maybe the crowd is remembering, as I am, that the great rock bands are often great because their members simply couldnt do anything else. But the Spite dudes take it a step further; you get the impression that if they werent doing this, theyd be fucking locked up. And that feeling can make people edgy. Halfway through a shortish set, Spite has cleared the room.
The exodus is understandable, in a way: Its late, and one gets Spites message fast. As the band breaks down the equipment, Im standing right there at stageside, notebook in claw. Nows the time, Im thinking, to capture a few golden words from the artists.
And I cant speak. They have left me no questions. Not a one.
Spite plan to return to L.A. in April.