Thursday, April 10, 2008

Club Baby Head, Pt. 1: The Enduring Mystery of the Opening Act

Anyone remember The Goats?

I didn't think so. The Goats were a rap collective from Philadelphia that flirted with mainstream success in the early '90's. Y'know, back when hip-hop was supposed to either ruin or save the world depending on who you talked to.

A friend had turned me on to them, giving me a cassette (!!!) of their fiery album 'Tricks of the Shade'. It was interspersed with skits depicting two lost orphans Chicken Little and Hangerhead. Hangerhead is the result of a botched back-alley abortion. These guys weren't fucking around. Chicken Little and Hangerhead are at Uncle Scam's Circus trying to make their way home.

They had songs about homophobia, the contradiction inherent in the fact that we condemn the Holocaust but seem to be ok with the one we inflicted on Native American peoples, the effect of urban sprawl on family life, y'know, important shit!

Anyway, mix that in with awesome beats, live instruments, several different distinct style of rap/singing, and presto! Weeks of obsessive listening!

When my buddy and I heard that The Goats would be playing Club Baby Head, there was no question that we would be going. One of the cool things about underground less popular music is that you don't have to have some sort of huge plan in place. You just hop in the car and go.

We took the ritualistic drive up I95 to Prov. This drive will forever mean anticipation of musical abandonment to me. It is a highway of music.

Club Baby Head was like the spastic little brother of The Living Room and Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel. It favored less established acts and was decidedly dirtier, more lawless, and temporary. You always had the impression that the owners might make a break for it on a stolen boat trying to get to Cuba from Central Falls.

All that being said, it was quite the fixture on the scene for the better part of 10 years.

We arrived late enough that we hoped to skip the opening band, someone we'd never heard of with a stupid name. But unfortunately (or so we thought...) The Goats were nowhere near ready to perform. They were probably only a third of the way through the garbage bag of weed they'd demanded in their contract. We sat at the bar, sipped beers, and waited patiently, hoping that this opening act wasn't too excruciating.

G. Love and Special Sauce??? What the hell kind of stupid name was that? We joked that they would probably be some sort of boy band doing bad dance steps across the puke splattered Baby Head stage.

In contradiction of our expectations a roadie set up a spare instrumental grouping...a stand up bass, a teeny drum kit, a gorgeous old electric guitar. This was no New Kids on the Block redux, no Color Me Badd.

Out strolled one of the more gorgeous human beings you are ever likely to see. Easily 6'5" tall, G. Love wore a smoking jacket. He reminded of Elvis right off the bat, the Elvis who is just about to join the military. He nonchalantly shrugged the guitar over his slim shoulders and started strumming.

Special Sauce dove in behind him and suddenly all thoughts of The Goats disappeared. Who the hell was this guy and why wasn't he a SUPERSTAR? In a matter of months these questions would both be answered emphatically but that night? I have never been more blindsided in my life.

First there were the songs. Catchy and insistent but laid back. Bluesy but funky. Raw but polished. Here was a guy doing what seemed like a very natural thing to do...playing the blues with a hip/hop stoner vibe instead of the pained preacher tone that was so pervasive at that time.

Our collective jaws hit the floor. Most of the crowd was as flabbergasted as we were...his album had not been released yet and he was just out playing with his Philly brethren. To The Goats' credit, they came out and put on an equally astonishing show, as high-octane as they come. There seemed to be 20 of them on stage, guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, horns, several rappers, guest stars hopping on one point I thought the compact lead rapper was going to shout his lung out of his body. They didn't disappoint.

But the beauty of the unknown act is what I will forever take away from that night, the night that I saw a star before his light had yet to reach the earth.

No comments: