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Rank Punk Amateurs

Going pro with The Nighthawks

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Last week, we here at the stately CL compound received a press release, from the Charlotte Area Transit System. Normally, we'd scan the press release for any usable news and then ball it up to prep for a nice game of wastepaper basketball. However, it turns out they were having something called a Bus Roadeo, wherein 17 local bus drivers were to try their hand at an obstacle course set up out near the airport. Cool enough, I thought. Some of those bus drivers are real Ralph Kramdens, professionals at their jobs. Others, however, consistently scare the beejeezus out of me turning curves and merging into traffic. However, a rainy Saturday morning at 7am is not a good time for me to watch a damn bus swerving through traffic, regulated for prizes or otherwise (extra credit points for those of you who realized that I wrote about an event that I didn't actually attend).

Friday night at Fat City, the band Semi-Pro was playing with a number of other local acts, and once again reminded this writer why he likes them (would you believe they're kind of heavy, and I have a lot of repressed anger towards my adolescence?). As shows go, it was good, if altogether unremarkable for Scene and Herd purposes (not to be confused with our Scene and Herd porpoises, who we send in every day to check for underwater mines). There are, however, a few things to be said about the crowd -- more specifically, a couple of guys in particular (begin rant). If you're a local musician, showing up at another band's show is not enough, quite frankly. We all like to see our friends when we go to a show -- it's part of the reason scenes develop, and certain bands provide the soundtrack. That said, please actually listen to the band on occasion. Second, punk rock or no, please put on some damn deodorant before you leave the house. There's nothing punk about smelling like the bathrooms in a Calcutta bus station, and no hippie religion that I know of thinks that a little Mennen Speed Stick is going to jinx your chances of reaching enlightenment. Third, if everyone is wearing an old, two-sizes-too-small high school track T-shirt from the mid-80s, that really doesn't make yours all that unique, does it? Ditto for the sports jerseys two sizes too large. Last, just because you're drunk and at a rock show and are sowing your wild oats in the prime of your youth, don't continually bump into me without the occasional "mmmmheyI'msorryman..." As an old co-worker of mine once said, "Ig-nance ain't got nothing to do with age." Plus, us old guys might be looking for a receptacle for our misplaced anger.

My rant over, I attended another hot and sweaty bar show the next night at The Double Door Inn to see Washington DC's Nighthawks, who might well be that city's greatest export. The "Hawks, you see, have played well over 5,000 shows in the last 25 years, and have along the way become perhaps the preeminent "bar" band in the country. To call them a bar band is in some ways demeaning -- these guys are professionals, through and through. To my eyes, the stage was free of any beer bottles or cigarettes, which makes sense -- one can't play a show most every night if he's still trying to sweat out the night before. The Double Door, where the Nighthawks have played many shows over the years, is the perfect venue for such a show. It's a roadhouse, for all intents and purposes, with smoke-cured walls turned a cream color over the years from personal abuse, loads of neon and mirrors, and older men trying ever so hard to impress their younger wives/girlfriends/mistresses (all while catching a buzz). Many in the slow-warming crowd found themselves dancing uncontrollably towards the end, when local icon Mookie Brill came out, pompadour freshly oiled, to moan out a version of the old Willie Dixon/Muddy Waters nugget, "Hoochie Coochie Man." In the spirit of the song, "the pretty women" did "jump and shout," and some of the men too. The Nighthawks, though all white, are to my eyes bluesmen of the oldest tradition -- indefatigable in both life and performance, and helping bar patrons forget their troubles even as they are probably creating new ones. Life is a tour, the Nighthawks seem to say. No matter what, you gotta show up every night.

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