Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I Died and Went to Rock 'n' Roll Heaven

Let me be clear about one thing: I hate jam bands.  

Well, at least I thought I did.

I thought jam bands played pseudo-Grateful Dead covers and plucked a lot of bass while audience members with varying degrees of dreadlocks spun in circles and stared toward the sky (sorry JAL, I still love you). It’s not so much a roller coaster as, unsurprisingly, an acid trip. One drop and you’re off on the music’s whim. Not to get dark, but it makes me feel trapped: WHEN WILL THIS SONG END ALREADY?!?

My best friend, JAL, mentioned above, has taken me to a few of these kinds of shows before. (Though, to be fair, she is not so much a dirty hippie as a clean one. That is, she is happiest barefoot but still shaves her armpits.) But my tuneage is more than a little different.

Like many angst-ridden youths, I began raising myself on punk in middle school. Not thrashy, yell-y kinds of things, but loud, fast guitars purred over by deep-voiced men. Old school goodness like The New York Dolls, the Ramones, and The Velvet Underground; new school stuff like The Pink Spiders. Then there was also my never-ending love for The Rolling Stones, instilled in me by my father. To this music, there was a reckless abandon that I so desperately wanted to duplicate in myself. It was the sound of streaking, of making out in the backseat of cars, driving really fast, and smoking cigarettes, all of which were deliciously taboo to me as an adolescent. In punk and in good old blues-infused rock and roll, I was able to liberate myself from myself and pretend that I was just a little bit dangerous. You know, like Sandy at the end of Grease.

I went out of my way to learn a lot about my music, but JAL’s I have not really touched too much—it was too soft, too smooth. It was not until two weekends ago, actually, that I realized all jam bands do not fit the aforementioned description and perhaps I just dislike endless funk. I learned that it is, in fact, possible to jam and simultaneously rock your face off.

Photo by Carlos Henriquez, www.chenriphoto.com
Enter Iced Ink, the brainchild of St. Paul, MN native Mike Krenner. Krenner has spiky dark hair with matching beardy business and thick, goggle-like (but in a cool way) black-framed glasses. Krenner writes in the band’s biography that the idea for Iced Ink arose when:

“Suffering from severe M.A.D.D. (not the moms/drunk driving one but the Musical Attention Defecit Disorder one), he wanted to be in too many different styles of bands at once – metal, funk, surf, pop, rock, jazz, rockabilly…. It was decided that in the interest of time and not lugging guitars and amps all over the Twin Cities that it would be most efficient to just cram all of his desired genres into one sole cohesive glob of sound.”

Iced Ink has gone through a few lineups since it began in 1998, along with a move from the chilly depths of Minnesota to the mostly less chilly Brooklyn in 2009. Krenner (guitar) found his two current bandmates, Gregg Mitchell (bass guitar) and Ethan Meyer (drums), in Spring 2011. Fast forward to February 2012, when CH invited me to see them them play in a small, two-room bar on the Lower East Side.

The fellas picked up their instruments and I realized there would be no singing. Oh no, I thought. Is this really going to be another of JAL’s bands? But then…the thrilling squeal of electric guitar, the thumping crash of drums, the heat of a perfectly necessary bass. My feet started moving independently of themselves, followed by my hips, my arms, and my neck. B, Mike’s delightful pixie wife (who also makes the band’s gig buttons…I now have a full set proudly tacked onto my bulletin boards) grabbed my hand. “Come on!” she said. “Let’s go dance!” To the front of the room we went, and everything but sound fell away.

My body followed the band’s fantastic lack of pattern, a surprise in every new and different chord.  I didn’t know when it would end, but I didn’t care; I didn’t want it to. My feet stomped, my hair flicked back and forth; it was like I had been possessed and dear god if this is what the devil felt like then please let me go to hell.

Iced Ink was all of the things Mike had wanted it to be. It was rockabilly, it was surf, it was punk, it was rock and roll. I heard all of these familiar twangs and beats from my adolescence—Brian Setzer Orchestra, Dick Dale, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC—but all smushed together in an incredible music sandwich—it was like when you don’t think a Fluffernutter will be the most amazing thing ever but then you eat it and you can’t imagine your life without it.

“Yes, I’m alive!” I heard my brain say. “Please never stop lusting for life!” All of the recklessness I wanted as a teenager I heard in this music and for once I was able to cut myself loose. In Iced Ink, there was electricity and life and energy and bright red blood bleeding from rock and roll hearts onto dirty punk shoes and it was one of the most beautiful things I had heard in a long time.

I left, converted.