Rave On

Where is the store that sells these smoldering man-rockers? End Transmission pose for their future career as window dressing.
Tony Nelson

I've really got to get over my habit of praising with faint damnation. Here I'm spending the entire afternoon bouncing on my bed to a new album, then I go and type up some complaints about the disc's under-recorded drum sound and append some arcane gender-studies quibbles just to cover my ass.

Well, prepare to behold my uncovered ass. I want to gush, to spew, to be the consumerist devil hovering over your left shoulder in the Fetus whispering for you to buy that White Stripes album, that Sean Na Na album, that Shakira album. (Definitely that Shakira album.) For once, I want to name the future of rock 'n' roll as I see it, or at least act as a witness at the christening.

Okay, here goes. End Transmission are the most exciting live rock band in the Twin Cities today. There, I said it. Felt good, too. Sure, my superego is already frantically summoning exceptions, noting that I haven't seen every band here and--Bah! I have taken my pledge of hype, and I won't back down. Instead, I'll concentrate on my memory of this Big V's show I stumbled into in March.

A typical evening. The familiar faces of musicians and roommates of musicians interacting between sets. A sprinkling of pouty gals arching their backs so severely they seemed in danger of spraining a boob. Some guy in a Motörhead shirt disapproving quietly of each band that took the stage. And End Transmission, whom I'd last seen back in 1999 and pledged to check back on a few months later.

Well, a lot can happen in 36 months. Hell, a lot can happen in a few minutes, as demonstrated by the extended instrumental vamp the band began with. This two-note guitar/bass punch stretched out across a flat four-four high-hat pulse, growing more tense and gripping as it lasted beyond all accepted bounds of introductory instrumental vamping--probably two minutes in real time, a comparative infinity in the here and now. Then, individual guitars and voices started jabbing forward, swerving hectically between the gaps in the increasingly complex rhythmic infrastructure erected by Bob Drake's drums and Jacy McIntosh's bass. McIntosh and guitarists Casey Nelson and Tom Kerkes lurched forward, Kerkes gripping the mic as if it were the only thing keeping him from being flung back into the drums. His mates staggered in just that direction.

Though necessarily lacking this visible intensity, End Transmission's new CD The Holiday of No Broadcast (Audio Liberation Society), offers up eight exercises in synchronized intricacy, each song detonating a series of explosions within explosions, with anthemic choruses making way for even more rousing codas. Knotty, unyielding, and probably hard to play, these riff-puzzles are constructed as if the band had something at stake and maybe even something to prove. Why else would their lyrics drop the word revolution so much? And though sentiments like "Justice must be the fate worse than death/So globalize your own ass" may be too knotty and too unyielding and probably too hard to chant for optimum proletariat mobilization, they do sound plenty progressive.

That's progressive in the Winona LaDuke sense, not in the King Crimson sense. Though never a three-chords-and-out primitive, I still wield prog as an insult, regardless of how many post-post-post-hardcorelings bow their guitars with slide rules. But there's an economy of attack and core of aggression that powers End Transmission past comparisons with austere math-rock sibs. True, when I listen hard, I can hear in "A Restoration Song" not just the sprung rhythms of Gang of Four but traces of the needlessly complex lockstep of glumsters like Tool. But I promised not to equivocate, right? So why don't we just skip to the part of this piece where I interview the band already.


Bob Drake lives in a typical suburban home in Brooklyn Center. At night, groundhogs puncture his lawn, headlights are infrequent, and bug chirps are the only buffer between you and the silence of the void.

When I arrive, Drake, Nelson, Kerkes, and McIntosh are sitting on the back porch drinking Rolling Rocks. Nelson, Kerkes, and Drake are founding members. McIntosh, who has been touring in punk bands since he was 14, is a ringer of sorts, an old friend enlisted when the band found themselves bassless last spring. He handles promotional duties for the group, and he chatters off details, such as the fact that the band records every rehearsal. "There's always a tape rolling," he says.

In the studio, songwriting is a collective effort. Still, editing duties fall to Kerkes. "I'll get a delivery-driving job and listen to the tapes while I work. If there's something really good that someone else forgets, I'll remind them."

Kerkes is also keeper of the tapes. Eighty tapes from the past year, plus 20 reels of 8-track, have been deposited in a Members Only gym bag he totes about. "Tom's been known to dump the tapes out on anyone's floor," Nelson says. "That's a very familiar and heartwarming sound to me now."

"They're not labeled," Kerkes says, explaining that he distinguishes them by small marks on the cassette shells. "They have little scratches that I recognize."

"It's very Conan," Drake quips of Kerkes's barbarian system of pictograms. He adds that the band has begun using hand signals to change parts for the song, increasingly relying on nonverbal communication.

Some of us, however, get to ramble on as much as we want. So, have I told you about End Transmission, then? Have I mentioned that they're a really, really good band? Really. I'm not just saying that.

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