Beer-Busted Bladders & Honky Tonk Highs

Trashing motels and crashing wheelchairs with the White Iron Band

Matt Pudas has to take a piss. We've been on the road for almost two and a half hours and are just entering fog-draped Duluth. Since leaving Minneapolis at 1:30 this afternoon, the lead singer of the White Iron Band has consumed five cans of Grain Belt Premium beer and inhaled enough pot to render most people catatonic--all while driving the 160-plus miles to Duluth in his wife's Chevy Blazer at an average speed of 85 miles per hour. The SUV became Pudas's default vehicle after he smashed his pickup truck into the Lowry Tunnel one night driving home from a gig at the Cabooze. I'm on beer number three; it helps suppress the panic attacks.

Right now, however, any concerns about fatal car crashes are trumped by the need to find a bathroom. Unfortunately neither Pudas nor drummer Andy Mitchell, the other occupant of the vehicle, knows the location of the studio where the White Iron Band are supposed to be recording a track for a Minnesota country-music compilation.

"Shit, I gotta pee," Pudas whines. "Let's just end our misery and pull over." Mitchell, a burly, ponytailed redhead in a Minnesota Wild jersey, insists we find the studio first, despite his own dire need to take a leak.

"We're almost there," he maintains. "Deserts, dude, deserts."

The advice is lost on Pudas. "What do deserts have to do with it?" he asks.

"Dry, not wet, dude," Mitchell answers.

The other members of the band, split between two other vehicles, have no idea where they're going either. Supposedly the studio is in a church. We finally decide via cell phone to rendezvous at the Tap Room, where the White Iron Band is slated to perform this evening.

"Ah, Jesus," Pudas continues, rocking back and forth in an attempt to stem the flow. "Pain. The fucking pain. I gotta pee so bad my fucking back hurts." We run a red light in downtown Duluth. Pudas unzips his ripped, paint-splattered jeans. "Sorry, I'm gonna pee my pants, dude. Jesus Christ."

We finally pull into the parking lot adjoining the Tap Room. Pudas slams into the first open spot. He and Mitchell both jump out and begin pissing all over the concrete.

The White Iron Band is often pissed. The core of the group--Pudas, Mitchell, keyboardist Ed Juntunen, and guitarist Sam Weyandt--started playing together during their years at Eden Prairie High School and are all in their early 20s. The present lineup also includes bass player Jan Whitehill (at 35, the band's elder statesman and its fourth bassist), drummer Jeff Underhill, and pedal-steel player Mike Johnson, who couldn't make this trip. Their music was initially laced with the stoner guitar solos and 15-minute instrumentals that define jam bands, but in recent years it's gravitated toward outlaw country and Southern boogie, borrowing liberally from David Allen Coe and the Allman Brothers. This transition coalesced two years ago with the addition of Johnson on pedal steel. The closest local reference point is probably a younger, drunker, hairier version of the Front Porch Swingin' Liquor Pigs.

"We call ourselves a peanut-butter band," says Mitchell. "We go well with jam bands." For the last three years they've been playing a weekly gig at Five Corners Saloon on the West Bank that's become the best excuse in Minneapolis to get drunk on a Thursday night--a ritual that will come to a close this week. "It's kind of like, How long can you peak out at one bar?" reasons Pudas. The White Iron Band's self-released, eponymous debut album came out last year. It's an entertaining (if poorly produced) hour of hillbilly swagger with the mass consumption of controlled substances serving as its guiding thesis. But the group is best appreciated live, and it's in dives around the region where they've laid down the foundations of local rock legend.

As best can be determined, three vehicles have been destroyed during the band's fledgling years on the road. "I know at one time they were down to one working car, between all the members of the band," says Taco Martin of E Company Productions, who has booked the White Iron Band at the Cabooze and other venues around the state. In another road-related misadventure, Pudas and one of the former bass players got in a fistfight on the shoulder of I-35 just outside Ely. Martin says he largely avoided hiring the group until all the members had turned 21 because it was impossible to keep them off the sauce. "How they can have any success is beyond me," he laughs. "But once they get up there onstage you just can't deny that they're good."

Finally Mitchell seems to have determined where the recording studio is located and we're back on the road. On our way there we pass the Voyageur Lakewalk Inn. The band is no longer welcome at the hotel. After a New Year's Eve gig they destroyed one of the inn's rooms by smashing a TV, a mirror, and a case of beer. "I haven't gotten a bill for it yet," Mitchell says. "I don't know what the statute of limitations is." Among the other places that they are no longer welcome due to similar exploits are the Fine Line Music Café in Minneapolis (underage drinking) and Norm's Beer and Brats in Superior, Wisconsin (shattered toilet seat and wrestling).

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