On The Road With Thelonious Monster

A couple months ago Bob Forrest (vocalist and drug counselor, now on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab) received a phone call offering Thelonious Monster a stint on the Punk Legends stage for the 15th anniversary of the Warped Tour. In the LA scene these guys were legends. The band that could of been huge but got caught up in addiction, watching their friends soar around them. They arguably wrote better songs, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. The last time Thelonious Monster played a show was during a residency in December of 2004. They put out an album that year (After a 9 year gap) and played Coachella but that was pretty much that.

Pre-Tour: Warm-up at The Echo

The week started with a warm-up show. I did my best to promote it via their websites and such, but got some assistance from Chris Carey, long time Monster fan, who put together a press release and launched it out into the blogosphere. It’s a good sign, when you go to a show early and there’s already a line before doors. I meet up with some of the Bob And The Monster (A documentary on Bob & Thelonious Monster currently in post-production) crew to make sure they get what they need: Mic to Bob, set up for camera locations and who was going to cover what. I’m on sound detail. The band members arrive and go in for sound check. Where’s Bob? He’s a couple doors down buying records.

Inside, Gary Leonard (Iconic LA photographer) is taking pictures. He has the band set up on a bench with mirrors above them. Long time friend Keith Morris (Circle Jerks, Black Flagg) is around. Former bass player Jon Huck attends, seeing the band for the first time in nearly 20 years. The boys play first, since this is not “their” show.

The lineup is:

Bob Forrest (Vocals)

Pete Weiss (Drums, also a writer)

Dix Denney (Guitar, also original member of OG punk band The Weirdos)

Mike Martt (Guitar, Tex & The Horseheads, Funeral, Low & Sweet Orchestra)

Zander Schloss (Guitar, Circle Jerks, Joe Strummer, Low & Sweet Orchestra, also an actor)

“Dallas” Don Burnet (Bass, Plain Wrap, 3D Picnic, Lutefisk, the newest member at 17 years)

They play about an hour. The folks I talk to all think they sound a lot better than they expected. Bob’s trademark between song banter is there, he recounts a story of his meeting Paul McCartney and the origin of his Beatles tattoo before they go into a raw, dirgy verion of “Yer Blues”. The quasi “fights”. are there, which usually boils down to everyone wanting to play a different song next or Bob picking on Zander. Patrick “Frenchy” French rushes the stage for some harmonica stylings on “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” They are disorganized, but that is part of their charm. The milage shows on their faces and on their instruments. After the set a wave of well-wishers come to say hello. I see that buttons are handed out and that the band members get their copies of the tour poster I designed.

TM_2009Poster copyThe Bob And The Monster film crew are all satisfied, as most of them never got a chance to see the band before. The promise of the band replayed via archival footage seems to have been delivered.

Day One: Pre-Tour, drive to San Francisco

The band traveled north in groups. I rode with Bob.  Pete Weiss and Mike Martt drive up together. Dix and Zander ride up with the gear, driven by Stefan (a friend of theirs, industrious and charming). Don stopped in San Jose to visit friends. Bob & I left around 2pm. He drove. I’m quiet as usual. Along the way, he gives me some schooling in Country music. I don’t usually go for it, but it’s nice to just listen to music without some sort of agenda. We visit other genres as well. “Roll ‘Em Pete” by Big Joe Turner, “The Million Dollar Baby” by Richard Swift are memorable. We also listen to a lot of old timey radio shows. Bob tells anecdotes along the way, locations of debauchery or strange adventures on the road between LA and San Francisco. We manage 3 quick stops on the drive up and make town around 8. We checked into our hotel (an old dormitory style place in the Castro District) and headed out for dinner. It was Mike Martt’s birthday and we ate at an italian seafood spot near Fisherman’s Wharf. Pete, Dix and Zander were there, Stefan had an entourage of females that came and went during the course of dinner. The staff seemed moderately annoyed at our expanding table. Mike had nice things to say about my poster and liked that I signed it to him. Everyone is very welcoming to my being along (I wasn’t sure how that would go, as Bob is the only one that I really knew very well going into the trip). Dix, Zander and I stepped out for a smoke break after the main course. As dessert arrived we all sang Mike Happy Birthday when we came back in. We all go our separate ways after dinner, Bob and I went to City Lights for some books. Then back to our hotel rooms for sleep. The rest of the guys are staying at an infamous SF hotel, that once was the stage for the CIA spying on them (True story, after Bob made a “death threat” against the president).

Day Two: First Show, Mountain View (a little south of San Francisco)

The day started with coffee, then Bob ran some errands, getting himself ready for a show day. We head over to Amoeba to find a cd copy of Dylan’s Basement Tapes. The song “Bessie Smith” had been in Bob’s head for days and gave him goosebumps on the way to the venue. We all arrive at the venue early. Don’s in first for check in. Bob and I are next, we scoped out the stage and production areas and found a shady place to wait. Kevin Lyman (Warped Tour founder) had some nice chairs and a tent set up that Bob picks as the place. I left them deep in conversation to go see Fishbone, who played early that day. I ran into Mike Martt at the stage and took him over to Bob’s cool hiding place. We hung out with the Fishbone guys after their set for awhile. I enjoy hearing them talk about the old days together. Thelonious Monster is scheduled to headline the Punk Legends stage at 645pm. The guys seemed a little cautious about this until finding out that Fear would be playing after them that day. “A real punk legend” says Bob after we chat with Fear frontman Lee Ving. All of the band are a little shocked at how strange the crowd make up is, and how much the place is plastered with posters advertising the different bands and their merch. The festival seems to be haven for street teamers.  Advertisement overload. Thelonious Monster’s set felt very short running 25-30 minutes. By that time of day most of the kids have wandered off, so their crowd is pretty thin. I thought they sounded good, but like a band on vacation. Zander and Don sum it up best saying that their bar style set isn’t going to work here and that they should try something different tomorrow. I think they’re all a little bummed about the crowd (I know I was). Bob later says “I’ve been playing to no one my whole life”. We all stick around for Fear, a lot of the festival crew was around to watch them. Bob and I stay late and end up catching the famous Warped Tour BBQ that happens at night. We have veggie burgers with a friend of Bob’s who is in band management while a ska band plays on a makeshift stage. Afterward we head back to San Francisco.

Day Three: Second Show, Wheatland (north of Sacramento)

We head out around 11am for the drive to Sacramento. We stopped off at a giant thrift store before leaving town. Bob picks up a couple books and 3 volumes of Joseph Campbell’s Power of Myth on VHS. We listen to some Dylan and a lot of XM radio on the way. As we closed in on the venue we realized the directions are no good. I wrote some down at home before I left, they’re wrong. I grabbed a direction sheet from production in SF, they’re wrong. We end up getting there after stopping to ask at a gas station. The venue is only open during the summer and it shows. The place is pretty run down. The weather is hot, miserably hot, dry with no breeze. We grab some lunch with Zander, Dix & Stefan then try to find a shady spot. Thelonious Monster is scheduled a bit earlier that day 345p. This was a relief to all as it was pretty brutal out there. Several guys have towels soaked in ice water.

They sound good. They play like they have something to prove, if to no one else, at least to themselves. Angelo Moore comes up to play some sax on a searing version of “Union Street”. The crowd turn out is better. Angelo dances around in the audience like a madman. Bob and I took off immediately after the set for the long slog back to LA. We listened to a lot of old radio shows. We took few breaks and made town by midnight.

Day Four: Third Show, Chula Vista (south of San Diego)

The band and I made our separate ways for Chula Vista. I head out around 11a expecting nasty traffic. I find it. I arrived a little before 3p, with the band scheduled to play at 345p. Bob, Pete & Don are there. Texts are flying, phones are dialed, some are answered. Mike, Dix, Zander & the equipment may not make it, traffic is worse than any of us thought it would be. The tension is thick. In the mean time, the guys round up various members of Fishbone & Trulio Disgracious to have some backing & equipment. As their stage is being set up Mike Martt arrives, I direct him to the stage. I finally got through to Zander, who is nearly there. I run out to meet them in the middle of the road. We storm a side gate, security doesn’t want to let them through. We flash enough All Access passes that they allow us to park there long enough to unload the equipment. Stefan and I grab whatever we can and rush Zander and Dix to the stage. We get the equipment there with 5 minutes to spare. Close. There are 12 or 13 people playing the set. It’s a mighty show. Everybody has a good time, this is one of those shows people will talk about years later. As he climbs down from the drum riser Pete says to me, “NOW you’ve seen a Thelonious Monster show”. They all seem highly satisfied, and with good reason. We all drive back to LA. One more show to go.

Day Five: Final Show, Carson (south of Los Angeles)

I head down early, wanting to make the most of the last day. The band isn’t playing until 445p. I ran into Don sometime around 1p. Nobody else was coming until the 2 o’clock ball park. I’m in text contact with everyone to try to avoid the problems of the previous day. I’m also trying to make sure Keirda, Rick & Austin of the Bob And The Monster crew are covered to get in and film the show. No problems on their entry. Mike shows up around the same time. Pete strolls in a little later. Dix & Zander are next, then Bob. Everybody is in good spirits, it’s been fun, but they’re ready “to go back to retirement”. At least from “touring”, there is talk of more LA shows, and talk about making another album. I mostly run with the BATM folks, catching them up with how the tour is going, where everybody is, who they should talk to. I was also trying to make some horns happen since it was being filmed, thinking they should get the best show possible. Keirda talks to Angelo about his interview, how great it is, and how she heard he joined the boys for a song a couple days before. We encourage him to do it again. Thelonious Monster takes the stage a short time later. The set starts off a little sloppier than the last couple. Angelo jumps up for Union Street. They finish strong. Everybody seems happy, there are some old fans in the audience. They seem to have a good time too, rocking out and singing along. A few friends of the guys come and say hello after the set. Most everyone takes off shortly after the set. I stick around to catch Fishbone, and watch over the remaining equipment. Lee Ving was standing around, looking sullen and defeated. One could see the years of waiting on his face. He perks up slightly when he gets recognized by someone in awe, then returns as they leave. He looks like he needs a chair, but the only seating is equipment cases. I head home after Fear’s set sometime before 8, hungry and tired, but glad to have been a part of it.

“This isn’t a tour, it’s a shopping trip to San Francisco” Bob says. Why do it? “Because I miss seeing these guys, I miss hanging out with them.” I didn’t know most of these guys before this mini tour. They all are great characters with strong senses of humor. After spending the last few years maintaining Bob’s website and myspace pages it was fun to play a small role in the return of this band. I came home sunburned to the point of blisters, it was worth it and I already miss hanging out with them too.

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