Mark Crozer and The Rels first came together in early 2012. The band has been through a few line-up changes over the years but is now a five-piece. Somehow we make it work despite the fact that I live in New York and the others live in Charlotte. We’ve played some great shows, particularly those when we opened for The Jesus and Mary Chain last year, the aforementioned Wrestlemania 30 and during a UK tour in 2014. We’ve also had more than a few total disasters, the most memorable of which has to be the night we played a Reverbnation showcase which was billed as part of the CBGB festival in New York in 2014.
In early October I flew down to Charlotte to rehearse with the band for a couple of days. We sounded great and I was excited that we were going to play New York for the first time. Our performance was scheduled for Thursday October 9th. There were three bands on the bill and we had the honour of being the headliner.
It was a long journey back to New York though. We packed up the van early that morning and were ready to leave by 7am. Twelve thankfully uneventful hours later we arrived outside the Pyramid Club in Manhattan’s East Village and unloaded the gear. The door was open and there was already a band onstage and a small audience watching them. A very good sign, I thought. Taylor Short--the Rels guitar player--and I went to park the van and immediately found a parking space just a few blocks from the club. This was a minor miracle and I took it as another sign that we were going to have a great show.
The two of us walked back to the club and rejoined Rels drummer Donnie Merritt and Adam Roth, who was playing bass with us for the first time. I picked up a guitar and made my way to the Pyramid Club door, where we encountered a burly security guard.
“We’re here for the Reverbnation showcase,” I said nonchalantly, trying to play it cool. I looked over his shoulder appreciatively at the young crowd whose numbers had swelled since we’d parked the car.
“Downstairs,” he said gruffly.
“Downstairs? “ I was puzzled. “What’s going on up here then?”
“This is our regular dance party.”
I felt a little peeved but still, if it was like this upstairs then it was sure to be hopping downstairs too. We carried our gear down to the basement. It was deserted except for a solitary figure who was assembling the PA.
“We’re here for the showcase!” I said, still in high spirits.
“Oh, John’s not here yet. I’m Pablo, I’m running front of house tonight.”
We shook hands.
“So when’s John gonna get here?”
“Soon. You can set up if you like.”
We walked to the stage---a one foot high platform that was just about big enough to hold a band---upon which stood a battered and dusty kick drum and a decrepit bass guitar amp. I frowned and ambled back to talk to Pablo.
“Where’s the backline?”
“That’s it,” he said, pointing at the pitiful collection of equipment onstage.
“I was told there was a full backline for us,” I said through gritted teeth. “This is not a full backline. It’s not even a half backline.”
“You need to speak to John about it,” Pablo said.
I felt my heckles beginning to rise.
There was a storage closet behind the stage so Donnie and I went in to have a rummage for any other bits of gear we could find. We found a floor tom with a decades old skin and another bass amp.
Donnie--ever the optimist--continued to try to make the best of the situation but he looked totally crestfallen as he assembled a makeshift drum kit out of the snare and cymbals he’d brought with him and the junk that we found at the venue.
“I’m so sorry about this Donnie,” I said as he unsuccessfully attempted to get his snare drum to balance on a bar stool.
“It’s ok man. I’ll make it work.” Such a pro.
As we stood around wondering how to make the best of the situation another band arrived with a full drum kit and some amps. We said hello to each other and I meekly asked if we could borrow some of their stuff. “No problem!” they said and I breathed a massive sigh of relief. They turned out to be a great bunch and we shared a laugh about the ridiculousness of the backline.
As we stood there chatting I looked around and noticed that there wasn’t a single poster anywhere advertising that there was a showcase that night. In fact, there was no promotional material anywhere in the entire venue to indicate there was any kind of show happening in the basement.
I’m normally a pretty laid-back person and not easily flustered when things go wrong at gigs which, let’s face it, happens all the time. But I found myself quickly losing my patience in this situation. Prior to choosing to do this showcase I had decided only to do shows that I thought had the possibility of at least being well-organized. I had figured that, with this being a Reverbnation event, that would be the case. I went back to talk to Pablo. Poor guy. He’d just finished assembling the PA and was now running mic cables to the stage.
“Why aren’t there any posters up?” I snapped like a bastard. “You’ll have to ask John,” Pablo said, sounding tired.
I sighed heavily and walked back to join the band who were enjoying a drink at the bar.
The first act scheduled was a solo acoustic act. He was was due to start at 930 but by 945 he still hadn’t made an appearance. I decided to go out for some fresh air and hoped that when I came back in I would feel better and the show would be underway.
I was wrong. I came back into the venue a little after 10 to find the stage was now manned by the solo acoustic guy who appeared to have recently ingested a large amount of cocaine and was now soundchecking. He seemed unfazed at having arrived late and unbothered that there were two other acts waiting to soundcheck. He treated the next half hour like a sort of pre-show private concert, pounding and wailing his way through a selection of the worst grunge hits of the 1990s. He was the kind of performer---and I use the word in its loosest sense---whose unfaltering confidence in his own genius is greater than his musical talents by a factor of about a million to one.
It was now 1030 and there was still no sign of the elusive John. Neither we nor the second band had sound-checked yet. I was beginning to lose my cool. I stomped back over to Pablo.
“Where’s John??” I said, trying to remain calm. He shrugged.
“This is fucking bollocks!!” I shouted to nobody in particular.
Meanwhile the acoustic guy had decided to start his show for real.
“Hey motherfuckers!!” he yelled to the three guffawing friends of his in the audience plus the four of us in The Rels and the members of the second band. “Are you ready to rock!?”
I was seething. Adam was seething. Donnie shook his head in disbelief at the guy’s audacity. Taylor was the only one who seemed unfazed as he stood at the bar buying beers for us.
Fifteen minutes into his nerve-jangling set---after we’d been called ‘motherfuckers’ for the twentieth time---I decided I had to get out of there.
As i was in the East Village I thought I would walk up to a cafe I like on Second Avenue where I sat and tried to calm myself down with a large hot chocolate and a cookie. There’s nothing like a large and soothing dose of sugar to calm the nerves after all. After forty minutes had passed I figured it was probably safe to go back to the venue. I was wrong once again. Incredibly Mr Rock n Roll was still going strong and was in the middle of an extended cover of one of Pearl Jam’s worst ever songs. I flipped my lid and, in the grip of an enormous sugar rush, lunged toward Pablo at the sound desk.
“This is a fucking joke!!” I yelled, flecks of spittle and cookie crumbs exploding from my lips. “Who’s in charge here?! Where’s this fucking arsehole John!?”
“He’s upstairs,” Pablo said, recoiling slightly at the by now red-faced and sweaty British guy who was yelling at him angrily. “He’s wearing a Yankees hat.”
I stomped off upstairs and found John casually chatting with a security guy.
“Hey!” I spat at the dude in the Yankees hat. “Are you John!?”
“Yeah,” he said, turning slowly to reveal a pair of clouded and bloodshot eyes. He was massively stoned.
“Well,” I began and then noticed that the frankly enormous and violent-looking security guy was eyeing me evilly. He was built like a tank.
“Um,” I continued contritely. “My band’s playing tonight and I’m just wondering when this guy’s going to finish. He was only supposed to do half an hour and he’s been on for well over an hour.”
John rolled his eyes and told me to follow him downstairs. He went up to the stage, waited for the coked-up singer to finish his song and leaned in to speak to him.
“Ok you motherfuckers!” the singer yelled again. You had to admire his stamina at least. “We’re gonna play one more song!”
He played one more song. And then another. The bastard wouldn’t leave. Eventually Pablo cut him off.
The show was now running more than two hours behind schedule and there was still another band to go on before us. They very graciously agreed to cut their set short but it was still midnight by the time we took to the stage. My one friend who’d come to see us made his excuses--he had to get up early the next day--so we were left to play for the members of the second band whose gear we had purloined and a smattering of guys who’d come in late: one of whom turned out to be a WWE fan who’d come specifically to see us play. That was nice at least.
As is always the case, once we started our set I began to enjoy myself. Playing with The Rels is always fun, no matter what happens, and they are such easy-going people that it’s impossible to remain in a bad mood for long. Plus, this experience was good training for the upcoming Psychocandy tour, I told myself.