Providence, Rhode Island was and remains the home of H.P. Lovecraft. It was a town I had been to only once before I ventured north to see the Deadbolt show at Club Hell back in May 2010. The last time that Deadbolt came east was a year before, playing down in NYC for the Psychobilly Luau. The second-hand account said that it was that the band lived up the image presented on all their recordings. Sparks. Snakes. Voodoo. Of course, they had to come East on the one weekend when I had to go West. Still stinging from my bad luck, I don’t know if I could have bought my ticket any harder than when I did after finding out that Deadbolt were coming back.
Initially, I was going to catch one of the shows down in Brooklyn but I got the heads up about the Providence show because John from The Crimson Ghosts said his new band, The Evil Streaks. Forget Brooklyn. I was Rhode Island bound.
Providence was a short drive in a rented car, a tomato red sedan that was chosen for me out of availability, not because I wanted to be putting 200 miles under the wheels of a cop-catching blur. I wouldn’t roll into town in a car the color of electric-ketchup by choice, but it was all the rental had. My own car had been dead and buried a good six months before. It doesn’t really stand for a stellar endorsement but if you need to go to Providence, go rent a wreck. No need to go all out.
It’s all highway from New Haven up towards Providence. It was only a matter of spending the time to get there from where you are. Once you get to Providence, make sure you know what to do with yourself. With what little time and even less knowledge of the area, I didn’t see much of it outside the few blocks I haunted while waiting for the show to start after getting back from Swan Point.
Don’t know if it’s something supernatural but I ended up at Swan Point Cemetery after hitting city limits and getting lost a bit. Cobblestones and hillside colleges don’t make well for those of us with poor sense of directions. If there wasn’t a natural draw of the town to the place, I might have missed it all. Might be an anchoring part of the town for all the unseen energies to sink towards or maybe I’m more intuitive than I let on. Fuck it – who knows?
After parking the rental, I talked briefly to one of the caretakers at the front desk—good folks, used to celeb stonehead like myself, I suppose—before locating the Lovecraft family plot in the sunny patch found off in a far spot of the cemetery.
There are individual headstones for members of Lovecraft’s family but also a large stone obelisk in the middle of the arrangement. It wouldn’t draw a passerby’s attention, though. Swan Point is populated with fantastic stonework and the Lovecraft spire is indistinguishable from any of the countless jetting spikes aiming heavenward on the grounds. If I didn’t know what to look for (and didn’t have the map provided by the front desk, many thanks) I could have easily walked right over H.P. and not even know he was there.
Swan Point is really a magnificent graveyard. I was lucky enough to catch it on a good day; cloudless, a very blue sky that held a bright sun on the late spring day. I regret not staying longer around the cemetery to spend looking at all the different gravestones and markers throughout the area. I knew I could have plugged in the mp3 player and lost the entire afternoon looking around, and my greater concerns were about finding a parking spot near the club. This is my life, parking lots and graveyards.
I read that H.P. didn’t have his own headstone and it took a group of dedicated fans thirty years ago to secure him his own marker. It was clear which one that was from the adornments that loving fans had left—two rubber monsters I’d find out of the red machines at the exit of a Supermarket, a silver coin imprinted with the Big Y logo and a total of eight cents (one nickel, three pennies) laid out on top of the headstone. I had decided not to leave anything since I figured that H.P., not being rather social, preferred to be left alone.
Someone had left a few sticks of charcoal behind on the ground. I used it to make a few etchings of his name on the only paper I had available. Sat and thought about how this man who died in poverty is regarded so highly today, that one of his creations has garnered such notoriety among the spooky, the nerdy and the overall strange subcultures. Yeah, he has his misgivings—anglophile as he was, racist opinions and such—but art is the great facilitator of forgiveness, especially after death. Death, time and art can wipe a person’s slate clean, when added in the right sequence.
I pinched a few bits of dirt off his grave for proof and headed off. For the next few hours, I would walk around the part of Providence near Club Hell, stopping to grab a beer at a sports bar, examine the shelves of a used bookstore and walk until I got tired of walking, sitting down on a bench until it was time for the show.
Club Hell was a few numbers down from a second-floor showing from some mid-level popular screamo faux-punk group attracting a northeastern mall-hipster feeding frenzy crowd that sang along with some of the lyrics, something I heard out of the open windows while waiting for Hell to open.
I was there among the other early birds, two pscyhobilly girls—hips in 50’s dresses and bats for tattoos—and the small talk told me that they had put on a few shows in their backwoods part of Massachusetts or New Hampshire (can’t remember.) They had traveled the distance to catch the voodobilly icons and ended up talking to a shaved-head biker with old ink in skin that, for my betting money, was as worn and weathered as the leather he had on. Having not seen him before, I didn’t recognize that biker as Badtime Charlie.
Some quiet-preshow murmur ran about the crowd, for a few weeks earlier when long-time bassist R.A Maclean quit the band in a public manner, posting to the band’s web-sites (facebook, myspace, twitter) about inter-band problems, the most of his grief anchored with the drummer—Badtime Charlie. It wasn’t a Charlie took over on bass on that night, which was weird since 3rd Degrees, the second bassist, is still with the band but wasn’t there on this tour (likely that he couldn’t get time off from work for this tour, which is understandable since that despite being fantastic and well adored, these are working class musicians in this scene.) Tank Johnson, a former drummer for the band, was there to cover (and rejoin the band. It seems.)
Before they played, the opening acts took the stage. The Evil Streaks put one a hell of a set. It was a Necro-Tone family outing, as the Evil Streaks have members of Gein and the Graverobbers, The Crimson Ghosts and Ghouls Night Out. It’s a band that rose from the ashes of Ghouls Night Out, since Myra didn’t want her songs to be orphaned after the break up, so she and John put together this band.
The two of them were in The Disconnect, another good band before its time, so the transition into this band (with The Rev and Sloth on bass and drums, respectively) makes sense. It was great to see them. They’re coming out with a 7” soon of four new songs that we’ll let you know about when it releases. If you can catch them in person, do so. It’s a combination of really tight rock and roll. The GNO songs have really grown and until there’s another release (since ‘The Mourning After’ is out of print,) you’re not going to hear them unless you catch the Evil Streaks live. You should. Myra has really developed her vocal range and when she busts out the soulful sound in ‘The Rage,’ it’ll really stun you. It was a great showing out in Providence that got the crowd moving.
They were followed by Rhode Island’s own King Sickablly (aka Sasquatch, of Sasquatch and the Sick-a-billys) also opened, doing a very impressive one-man-band deal with a kickdrum and a fullbody guitar peppered with vulgarity and attitude. The man’s a performer, I tell you. He recently had a second pressing of his King Sickabilly release made up which you should get before it sells out again. If you need music that can help you express both a sense of self-confidence, outward loathing and general ‘fuck it’ attitudes for everything and everyone, King Sickabilly is the way to go.
And then, there was Deadbolt. Harley came out with the power sander, shooting sparks. Badtime Charlie took the bass and Tank sat on the drums. From there, they went over a set that covered the Deadbolt history from early songs (“Who the Hell is Mrs. Valdez?”) up to the ‘I Should Have Killed You’ release (“Telephone the Dead.”) There was (fake) snake handling and hairspray sharing. They covered a lot of songs, from “Tiki Man” to “Zulu Death Mask.” “Truck Driving Son of a Bitch.” It was a good set.
Similar to how he plays the drums, Badtime Charlie played the bass with a lit cigarette and a tweaker’s ferocity, making him bounce and vibrate as he beat the hell out of the strings. He was visibly a man not to be messed with, while Harley had the appearance of a well-trusted uncle. Sure, he might smack you for saying or doing something stupid but was charismatic, funny. Just seemed like a good guy to go to a barbecue with.
They didn’t get to play any of the songs off the new album, ‘Voodoo Moonshiner,’ but I think that might be too close to R.A. leaving for them to play it. That’s a bummer because songs like ‘Voodoo Moonshine’ and ‘Buy a Gun, get a free Guitar’ are really good and should become future Deadbolt classics. Maybe in the future, they’ll bust one or two out.
Deadbolt. It was a strange show because it was both enjoyable and, I hate to say this, disappointing. Similar to The Ghastly Ones show, I knew I had some high expectations of this band that I had been listening to for years but never got a chance to see.
Clearly, if the business with R.A. hadn’t gone down, the show would have been different. It would probably be like the prior year’s show at the Luau, with less pomp and less verbal bitching out the former bandmate throughout the set. It left me feeling both glad for the experienced and somewhat disenfranchised. Whatever happened between Deadbolt and R.A. is their business and will remain. Ain’t my place to pick sides; I’ll still look forward to Deadbolt and R.A.’s new band, Swamp Angel. But the bashing and badmouthing detracted from the show. It helped the band, wounded by the ordeal, cope and deal with it. Sucks for the show, I suppose.
I’m trying to wrap this up in some theme and all I got is this: the imagination is cruel because it always overlooks and ignores the reality and bullshit that comes with everyday existence. Like Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the imagination can cook up some of the most horrific monstrosities to make the world seem darker and much larger than what it really is. Or, in the case with me and Deadbolt, it could smooth out the cracks and raise anticipations beyond reason. I wouldn’t rid myself of my imagination, not for anything. The heartbreak and disappointment is a worthy price to pay, I suppose. Imagine how more miserable how H.P. would have been without his stories, left to the confines of his reality of Providence and Red Hook? Imagine how slower the days would have passed if I didn’t anticipate the show at Club Hell? Even if the experience is less than stellar, it’s better to have the anticipation to it and to witness it (and come out disappointed) than to not endure it at all. It’s better to lose than not to play.
That’s all I got. Was it a good experience? Yep, and it was one that I don’t regret. Deadbolt is coming back East. The shows will be better, of course. I can’t catch it though. Coffers are bare and the trip is too much to take. One can only go to Providence so often.