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Mad Missionaries
By John Rodat

Cal Hopkins’ Amish Armada
Valentine’s, March 19

Joe Putrock

Add to the list of standard-issue nightmares—the Naked in Public, the Late and Unprepared for the Big Test, the Running But Getting Nowhere—one from the lives of the unsigned touring band: the High Concept, Labor-Intensive Set Played to the Bartender, his Girlfriend and the Critic. Can you feel your blood run cold? Think about it: driving hundreds of miles, dutifully draping a stage with banners, setting up the props, readying the costumes and makeup, and all this in addition to the normal club-circuit aggravation of lugging your own gear, tuning your own instruments, etc. And when all the prep is done, you look down the bar to see—pretty much no one.

Early in the night on March 19, it seemed like this would be the fate for Cal Hopkins’ Amish Armada. Prior to the set, the band milled around the bar, waiting for people—any people—to show up, drinking beer and playing the jukebox, listening to Big Star and AC/DC. But it was, to all appearances, futile. The flags—one bearing a Misfits-like skull logo graced with a beard and flatbrimmed hat, and two others with double As in coffin shapes—were hung. The creepy wooden crate with the plastic baby doll jammed between its slats was in place before the stage. The black lights were lit. All for naught, it seemed: Folks were staying away in droves. Fortunately, the Amish Armada have a work ethic: Play to two like you’d play to 200—oh, plus, they’re obviously completely fucking nuts. Nightmare-proof, as it were.

When the band changed from their street clothes (indie-rock guy gear: jeans, wallet chains, patched MA-1 jackets, etc.) into their stage gear—Amish gear—the magic of their collective psychosis, their purposeful delusion, inured them to the sad sight of an empty club. Standing behind the stage, they strategized: “You know what’d be cool? If we have you in the crate from the beginning and then bring you to the center. . . .”

Then the strobe lights kicked in. And the smoke poured over the stage. And Ezekial the Maliced, Keeper of the Underworld and AA’s guitarist, reminded us, “You know, a lot’s changed in the last hundred years.” For example, he told us, the evil English and their dreaded Technolo-jesus developed both the Hot Rod Hell Pods, a nefarious means of conveyance powered by the souls of murdered Amish (you know them as “cars”), and telephones, devices which compel Underground Midget Messengers (yes, Amish midget messengers) to haul ass through tunnels, delivering greetings over great distances. They also whipped up television and television advertising to push “tampons, beer and certain grocery stores.” In response, the Armada’s lead singer, Elijah Damned, called for action: “Let us break free from the oppression of the English in an Amish jailbreak!”

You’ve got your rockabilly, you’ve got your rockabilly revival, and you’ve got your psychobilly. Now, also, you’ve got your paranoid-schizophrenic deathabilly. If Hasil Adkins had fronted Bathory, and if by some strange twist of logic, he had concocted a truly fucked-up notion that the Amish were crusading Luddites (with loopholes in their philosophy sufficient for Gibson SGs, amps and low-budget production values) battling the English and their evil tech-based monopolies . . . Well, there’s the Armada in a nutshell. It’s the Flat Duo Jets meet the Insane Clown Posse in a remedial history class.

And apparently, this kind of insanity has some gravitational force, because by set’s end a small crowd (30 people or so) had gathered and pushed forward to chant and pump fists in Amish unity. They willingly played along when a trio of zombie dancers mimed the act of pulling out their guts; their upturned faces smiled into the spray of stage blood spewed by Elijah Damned; they enthusiastically cheered, as instructed, to cue cards (“When he holds up the sign that says ‘Fuck,’ you yell, ‘Fuck.’ When he holds up the sign that says ‘Shit,’ you yell, ‘Shit.’ And when they hold ’em up at the same time, you yell quickly, ‘Fuckinshit.’ ”) It was loud and fun and dumb and inspired in equal measure—and as the last notes rung out behind and the announcement “We’ve got merch for sale” was made, a line formed to buy CDs from the Amish.

More Twang for Your Buck

Rosie Flores
Valentine’s, March 21

Valentine’s really seemed like a dance hall last Thursday night, when Rosie Flores and her three-piece backup band, the Falcons, tore into it with music you could really dance to. Of course, since it wasn’t really a dance hall, only a happy few actually danced.

Flores has been active professionally since the mid-’80s (though she likes to point out that she’s been singing since she was 6 years old), and has performed with an odd assortment of great people, ranging from Jimmie Dale Gilmore to punk diva Exene Cervenka. Her current band (three guys in traditional western-swing gear who play the hell out of pedal-steel guitar, acoustic bass and drums, with Flores on lead guitar) offer an expert blend of honky-tonk, rockabilly and traditional country. They brought out the hardcore faithful, and pleased everyone.

The band started out fine, mixing it up with western swing (“Crazy Mixed Emotions”) and bar-band boogie (“Rock-a-bye Boogie”). They really hit their groove about half an hour into the show. A cover of Johnny Cash’s “Country Boy” cooked; Flores captured that hard-strumming, trademark Cash guitar sound. Joe Ely’s “Box Cars,” which Flores said was her favorite train song, was mournful and evocative, and it featured one of her most compelling guitar solos of the evening. Pedal steel player Chris Gregson (whose playing was the centerpiece of the arrangements) sang “Shotgun Boogie,” then Flores sang her own dreamy ballad “Somebody, Somewhere.”

As noted, the crowd was populated with the faithful. When Flores invited requests, they had ’em. When Flores asked for a drink, bottled water and whisky magically appeared.

It was almost easy to forget that Flores suffered from a cold, except that this resulted in what were probably a couple of unplanned, impromptu instrumental numbers, and a somewhat muddled two-song break with a guest vocalist. No matter. The slight rasp that illness added to her usually clear, high voice didn’t hurt a bit. Whether she was singing a heartfelt blues number (“Blues Keep Callin’ ”), playful rockabilly pop (“I’ll Push Right Over”) or straight honky-tonk (“Honky Tonk Moon”), she had a wealth of technique and feeling to carry her through. In fact, it seemed that Flores was in no hurry to leave; when the lateness of the hour was brought to her attention, she apologized. Rosie Flores could have kept it going for another hour or two. Unfortunately, this was Albany on a weekday evening, not San Antonio on a Saturday night.

—Shawn Stone

 

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