This band Spite is the realest thing I ever saw on a stage. So. Does that mean I “like” these four gentlemen‘s “music”? It’s 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 Wrigley‘s). They’re not afraid to use their fingers — you just don‘t exist. It’s not exactly the kind of thing you “like.” But it impresses the hell out of me.
Might as well take it personally. We‘re Americans; we deserve the hatred. Not that these North Carolina bastards consider themselves paragons — shit, they’re selling “Southern Loser” T-shirts at the entrance. They don‘t want your admiration; you’re welcome to hate them back. They‘re 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 he‘s reading fine print and pounds his bass low, lower, lowest till it’s 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, doesn‘t have as far to go, but he’s down as far as he can get, banging his dazed head to a tractor-pull metalpunk riff. He‘s Spite’s 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 they‘re 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. He’s 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. He‘s 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 Campbell’s 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 he‘s 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. It’s music of immense hostility. And strength.
What‘s different about Spite?
Well: Here’s 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 doesn‘t thank anybody. “We’re 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 it‘s written on the set list. He sounds like he’s telling a drunk his fly‘s 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 didn’t adapt from Johnny Rotten or Kurt Cobain. It‘s a physical fuck-you, inspired directly by the shit they hate. That’s what makes them different.
Which is why I don‘t quite get it till I see them; the disembodied music hasn’t prepared me, even though Spite‘s 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 doesn’t tell the whole story. Listening to Boone‘s 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 he’s 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 can‘t forgive you.” Boone’s words say specific things very clearly. And he sees clearly. And he‘s 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 isn’t much for lying.
I got that resume from reading the printed lyrics — didn‘t 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.
On the impact end of all this, the Garage audience is at first receptive. The music is powerful, Boone is a trip, there’s 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 couldn‘t do anything else. But the Spite dudes take it a step further; you get the impression that if they weren’t doing this, they‘d 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: It’s late, and one gets Spite‘s message fast. As the band breaks down the equipment, I’m standing right there at stageside, notebook in claw. Now‘s the time, I’m thinking, to capture a few golden words from the artists.
And I can‘t speak. They have left me no questions. Not a one.
Spite plan to return to L.A. in April.