Kick Ash

Your band sucks: Sinking your teeth into the blood-rush of good music at First Avenue's Thanksgiving Eve
Amy Koltun

The Irish call it "a taste of ashes"--that brush with death that comes when loved ones start dropping like autumn leaves, forcing everybody within ash-shot to confront their own mortality. For post-boomers, that taste has come from the ashes that wafted from New York and Washington on 9/11, and the ones that continue to spew from Baghdad and Jerusalem, serving as a constant reminder that, as Kasey Chambers whooped, "We're all gonna die someday!"

So what's a mortal to do? What to do when the invincible becomes vincible and the Grim Reaper burrows so rudely and regularly into your sunny-go-lucky thing? Start making plot arrangements over at Fisher & Sons? Curl up and crawl into a corner and wait for winter?

Or do you try to get warm?

That's what I do. I try to get warm. I do anything I can to get and stay warm. When I find something really warm, like a great singer and songwriter fronting a great rock band, I hold on to it for all it's worth, no matter what anyone else says. I get totally vampiric about it. I sink my teeth into all of its sexy, dirty, romantic juju and I suck on it until I'm drunk on its children-of-the-night energy, and I don't stop sucking until I have enough fresh blood in me to go back out into the drab daylight and take on a place that puts quotation marks around words like "fun" and do what I have to do.

Tonight, for example. Thanksgiving Eve, that most storied of club nights. Tonight I'm going to take my thirsty ass and hungry fangs down to First Avenue, that magnificent doomed ship of fools and memories and make-out parties and history-in-the-making, where Ike Reilly and the Assassination will preview their new CD, The Sparkle in the Finish (in stores early next year). It's a spectacular rock record, equal parts Stones and Strokes, about war and peace and life and death and cars and girls and drinks and songs, but I'm sorry to say that you will not think so unless you decide to think so. That is, you will not feel its aliveness and warmth unless you yourself decide to do what it takes to feel alive and warm, because rock 'n' roll is nothing if not an exchange of fluids, and you gotta give some to get some.

That exchange will happen early and often on Thanksgiving Eve, a date historically haunted by the collective knowledge that the seediness of the night will soon give way to the wholesomeness of the day, but one mutual baptism in particular will come during a moment that will last all of 30 seconds or so. It will happen on First Avenue's mainroom stage, the very same place where the likes of Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks, the Gear Daddies, and Sexorama laid out memorable Thanksgiving Eve meals to all sorts of hungry home-for-the-holidays-nothin'-to-do-but-get-your-ya-ya's-out-and-maybe-run-into-an-old-or-new-love survivors.

It will happen when guitarist Phil Karnatz, guitarist/keyboardist Ed Tinley, bassist Tommy O'Donnell, and drummer Dave Cottini stop thrashing and bashing all at once, leaving Reilly alone with an acoustic guitar in the middle of a song about the wine running out and the afterlife, singing, "It's all right to die, everybody, it's all right to die."

So it is, and let's face it: Thanksgiving is a body count. You look around the bar or the table and see who's still standing, who's made it through another year. You massage their nicks and lick their wounds, and you let somebody else do the same for you, and you throw your hands up and give a little thanks for whatever warmth happens to come your way. Last year at this time, Reilly's heroes Joe Strummer and Johnny Cash, whom he paid tribute to a few years ago in "Hip Hop Thighs #17," were still around. This year they are not, but we are, so here's what we do.

In the spirit of the great Chicago-Minneapolis punk-rock exchange of the '80s, when the likes of Rifle Sport and Steve Albini and Naked Raygun and Man-Sized Action were all in bed together, we welcome our Chicago brothers to their home away from home, and we decide to live, not die, to rock, not roll over, and we decide to make tonight not just another night at the bar, but a night at the bar to remember. Because that's how these things happen. We decide.

We get a drink, flirt with the fellow flirtatious, get seduced by the fuzzy guitars that sound like voodoo trains and melodies that sound like something ancient and sexy and whose core tries to lift, always lift. We press up front, near the speakers or the monitors, with whoever else is game, and then, knowing full well that nobody has to go to work in the morning, we get to work--you open a vein and I open a vein and the band opens a vein and we all start drinking. Feasting.

Then tomorrow, as the mortals try to bring us down with football and politics and slow death, we'll have a knowing smile on our face, a naughty hangover in our head, and the warm taste of hot ashes in our mouth, but enough love and blood to get us through another year.

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