Sometimes The Best Bands In The World Play Right In Front Of The Toilets
11:11 AM EDT on June 9, 2023
I’m at home. I’m bored. I can't remember the last time I went out on the town, be it by myself or with people I know. I used to beat myself up over not getting out enough, but I got over that. I like my house, I like my dog, and I like my chair. I am bred for a life of sedentary comfort. Being out there, by contrast, takes work. You have to, like, talk to people you don’t know and all that. Ugh. Also, have HEARD about the wildfires? One false breath and your lungs turn to ash. No thank you.
Tonight though, will be different. Tonight, I am going out. I tell my family and they’re blown away by the news.
“Where are you going?” my daughter asks.
“To a rock concert.”
“Can I go?”
“Because they rock too hard for you.”
For anyone, potentially. You have never heard of the Amazons. This is horrible, awful, putrid, and yet another indictment of evolving American musical tastes as a whole. But I digress. The Amazons are virtually unknown here in the United States, and were also unknown to me until only a few years ago. This is one of the rare bands I discovered through Spotify. I don’t remember the exact how of it. I think I hit Go To Radio on one of my playlists by accident, and then the algorithm stumbled bass-ackwards into gifting this band to me. The song that came on was “Black Magic.” Once that hit my ears, I knew I’d found a rich vein of gold.
Rock ‘n’ roll still lives over in the U.K. (and Europe, really), which is why I’ve had to spend the bulk of this century swiping my way across the pond to find new bands. Sometimes, as with the Struts, those bands manage to get a foothold in the U.S., even if it’s a small one. But most—A, Idlewild, Doves, the Amazons—are bands that I’ve largely had to keep to myself on these shores. They play exclusively in the stadium of my mind. Sometimes I hope they get big over here, but every huge British act not named The Beatles has long found that to be a brutal task. Even if a newly rumored Oasis reunion happens, and it’s not looking good presently, that would barely register over here. It is what it is.
The upside of America’s indifference to rock is that when those smaller British acts DO come over to play, it ain’t hard to get tickets. And it wasn’t hard to get tickets to see the Amazons. I didn't buy these tickets the moment they went on sale. I waited a bit, both because I was lukewarm on their latest album and because of straight-up laziness. I had no one to go with, and did I really want to spend a night out of my chair?
You just lived through a pandemic, you slovenly fuck. Get out there.
I did. I looked at the band’s site again and tickets were still available, for a mere $15. I bought them without even seeing what the venue was. I just knew it was in nearby Silver Spring, which had a few decent-sized clubs. Close enough. Good enough.
Now it’s the night of the show. I open up my phone to glance at my ticket. It says the show is at Quarry House Tavern. I’ve never seen a show at that club. IS it a club? It doesn’t sound like a club. Quarry House Tavern sounds like a tavern. Hmm. Maybe it’s a tavern with a big-ass event space attached to it. I know The Amazons aren’t big in America, but they’re still BIG. They’re named the Amazons, for fuck’s sake, and their songs are bigger than a rocket launch. That video above shows the band playing to a thousand maniacs in their hometown of Reading. Surely there are enough Reading-ians in the D.C. area to fill a proper club. This band was nominated for Best Breakthrough Act at the 2016 Q Awards, motherfucker!
So I do a Google image search of the tavern. The first image is a basket of tater tots. Dude, that’s a bar. I’m seeing one of the biggest acts in England in a bar. I haven’t seen an established artist play in a bar since I saw Bob Mould do it in Chelsea in 1999 for a charity event. But fuck it. I’m going. ROGG ‘N’ ROW. I cue up their latest album, which I’d never given much of a chance, to fire myself up for the show. You can’t wear a band’s t-shirt to their concert, but you can sure as fuck pregame with their studio shit. I listen to “How Will I Know If Heaven Will Find Me?” harder this time and found more gold on the back half than I’d remembered.
I hadn’t made it to “Ready For Something” on my first spin. I am now ready to be ready for something. I eat dinner with my family, pop a sweet psychedelic treat, call an Uber, and get ready to have my balls rocked off.
I get to the bar. I’m dressed like Peter King: loose shorts, running shoes, thin hoodie, no ass. I’ve got my glasses on, because my eyes just get tired from wearing contacts for too long. I have no friends or lovers with me, so I just kind of amble around the joint. I don’t look like I’m here for a concert. I look like I had to come in to ask for directions, or maybe for tater tots. I feel like I’m a weird old man, and perhaps I am.
I look in the back room and I swear to you that I’ve sung in rooms this small. The Amazons are wildly overqualified for this venue. There’s no stage; just a playing area situated right in front of the bathrooms. If I need to take a piss (a lock), one of my favorite bands is gonna be in the way.
So I use the can before the show starts to prevent that from happening. I go in the stall and am greeted by a clean piece of graffiti that reads, “Nice cock!” Aw, how did they know? The toilet seat won’t stay upright, so I have to hold it against the tank while I piss. Its shadows look like a bunny rabbit’s ears. The faucet is weak but the hand dryer is shockingly powerful. I come out of the pisser and the Amazons are waiting around to play. Lead singer/guitarist Matt Thomson is just sitting there, with nothing to do. Should I say hi? Should I tell him, like, who I am? How the FUCK would they know you are, you arrogant prick.
Then I realize, I’m not supposed to be in this part of the bar right now. I remember the bouncer telling me that right before I went to piss. This part is closed off pre-show so the talent can chill. I feel like everyone else in this room, Thomson included, knows I’m not supposed to be here. Who’s that weird old shithead? they’re all probably whispering to each other. The edible hit in full like 15 minutes ago, if you can’t already tell.
I flee to the bar and order a near beer despite the fact that, due to a nasty case of chronic acid reflux, I’m not supposed to have one. I risk the pain. For rock and roll. There’s a bear head sticking out from one of the bar’s support beams, wearing sunglasses and holding a Pride flag in his mouth. You’re a good man, bear. I order the tots. I also order another near beer and then another. I am now trickfaced. I stare at my phone because there’s no TV. I think about watching the game on my phone, but it feels like a lost opportunity if I do. So when the first band starts warming up, I spend a good minute trying to put an earplug in, and then I go into the back room. Kinda Evil lead singer Amanda Dove tells the crowd, “This is the first time we’ve ever been in Silver Spring,” which sounds right. Maryland is full of “Hey I went there once” kinds of towns.
There’s barely anyone here (yet?) when Kinda Evil gets started. Roughly six people are standing right in front of them. There’s no security barrier or anything. The only stage lighting is a tangle of Christmas lights stapled to the ceiling above the band. There are a bunch of chairs lining the wall and lots of people are sitting in them, staring at their phones. I worry I look as bored as they do, so I drift back to the bar and put the game on, taking off my glasses so I can see the screen better. I really need progressive lenses. During the commercial break, I reply to a tweet, telling a New York Times reporter that a gas grill is just so much easier than charcoal. I am fucking DYING for the Amazons to start playing. I am dying to stop being me.
I don’t have to wait much longer. Both opening acts play for less than 30 minutes. Once they’re finished, Thomson and his bandmates start setting up and doing their own sound check. This isn’t an arena show, where lighters are already in the air when the band takes to stage and do some last-second noodling to get in tune. This is not rehearsal as theater. This is work, and the crowd leaves the band to it. I take my spot about three deep from the “front row,” if it can be called that. I could easily muscle my way to the front so that I’m eye-to-eye with Thomson, but this isn’t that kind of show, and certainly not that kind of venue. So I keep my distance. If this band was as big as they ought to be, I’d be sitting in the nosebleeds of fucking Nats Park, forced to stare at them on Jumbotron so that I could get a decent look at them. So the fourth row is a fair deal.
If the Amazons had their pride wounded by playing at a mere tavern, it sure as hell doesn’t show. The second they launch into “Ready For Something” as their opener, my surrounding environs disappear. When you’re in the presence of a real band, you know it. You immediately sense that the time for fucking around is over. And the Amazons are not fucking around. They’re polished. Professional. Deadly. Thomson is singing and dancing like he’s in front of a crowd of 100,000 and not 35. By the third song, he’s already got us doing call and responses, singing what he tells us to sing. His bands rip through their best songs, not bothering to overload the set with new material. All hits, no ass-scratching.
In between hits, Thomson asks the crowd, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but Bad Brains are from D.C., yeah?” The crowd gives him a hell yeah they are, and then Thomson tells them, “I’ll never forget that they were the first band I downloaded off of Limewire where the file gave me a virus.” And then they launch into another monster.
I am smiling now. I’m dancing. It’s that exclusive strain of white-guy dancing where my feet are bolted to the floor and I have one leg bouncing slightly up and now, but it’s dancing all the same. I am halfway between nodding and headbanging as the Amazons power through riff after riff. But I don’t care how I look. No more awkward questions for the bouncer. No more weird old guy. No more wanting to go home. I am not me anymore. I am fucking thunder.
This is what I left my house, my chair, for. I don’t need to look at my phone. I don’t need to know the score of the game. What game? Who gives a fuck? How could anyone on earth want to be doing anything else right now? Thomson is hammering on his guitar and making big O faces in between singing, and I’m not in a bar. I’m in the club. I’m in the theater. I’m in the arena. I’m at a fucking speedway. There are a million other fans around me, and all of them know the lyrics to “Doubt It” from wire to wire. Right before they play that song, Thomson tells the crowd, “We wrote this song specifically so that we could play it in a joint like this.” If that’s scripted banter, I don’t care, because it’s correct.
This is what rock—particularly the English strain of it—does. It blows the fucking walls out. It makes you feel like a god. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a band this tight on stage, and the Amazons didn’t even HAVE to be tight if they hadn’t felt like it. They could have seen the room, said fuck this, and half-assed their way through a set as the bathroom line next to them grew. They refuse to do that. Instead, they play like the fucking rock stars they are. At another break between songs, Thomson quietly tells the crowd, “This is a dream come true for us." All that matters to him is that they had made it to America. It didn’t matter WHERE in America. They just wanted to play here, and they made it count.
The set lasts less than an hour, and I walk out to get an Uber home. I meet two Defector readers outside the tavern, and one of them says to me, “Dude, they gotta fire their manager for putting them there!” And yeah, if there were any justice, the Amazons would be bigger. Then again, I know what I just saw. I don’t care that it was a bar. I don’t care that they had to set up their own shit. And I don’t care how many people did or didn’t show up. That’s one of the biggest bands in the world.