Monitors most often become the bone of contention between engineer and band, but to the people in the crowd, the only reason these speakers exist is so the singer can heft her spike-heeled boot onto one, lean forward and exchange sweat and saliva with front-row fans.
Tiger Army disagrees. This copiously tattooed psychobilly trio demanded four extra monitor mixes for its May 3 show at El Torreon because, according to an e-mail Stormy Shepherd of Leave Home Booking sent to disgruntled Kansas Citian John Ferguson (of In the Pines and Federation of Horsepower), singer Nick 13 "doesn't sing like other punk bands." The e-mail went on: "He sings more than screams and takes good care of his voice. It's more important for him to put on a good, quality show to the kids who are coming to see them play than it is to put on a lousy show just so that they can get paid."
Well, Tiger Army did get paid, but the band didn't put on a show of any kind -- except the hissy fit its members threw before bailing.
Shepherd claims that the band walked because, though it paid for the extra sound equipment, the gear wasn't provided. Fortunately for fans, opening acts Street Dogs and 12 Step Rebels didn't leave, and by all accounts, they put on an awesome show. And no one complained about the sound.
"The only request that was made was for four monitor mixes, and we had four monitor mixes. That's what they asked for, and that's what they got," says El Torreon soundman Nic Aldrich, who says he set up the rented monitors before Nick 13's amp was even on the stage. Aldrich claims he told the band that the concrete interior of the all-ages club, when it's not filled with people, makes for bad empty-room sound checks. Rather than take his advice and just let their "ghost tigers" rise, Tiger Army turned pussycat and pranced out, avoiding their soon-to-be disappointed audience, the fans who supposedly occupy such a special place in the band's heart.
Now, from what Shepherd says, our beloved El Torreon is facing some kind of blacklisting. She writes to Ferguson, "Since this happened, we have had NINE of the bands we book for call and say they don't want to play there after hearing about this. ... Last night alone I received emails from 47 bands who book their own tours asking what the deal was and if I thought they should play there. My answer -- YES, but insist that they get a better PA. Bands don't want to drive that long of a distance to play a show and sound like crap."
She continues: "Maybe it's time for the local bands to put on a benefit to help the only club in town that isn't interested in ripping under age kids off, to buy a better PA." (Unlike other clubs, El Torreon doesn't hit minors with an extra charge at all-ages shows.) "You have no idea how many bands complain about playing there and don't want to go back BECAUSE of that. They don't think you guys deserve to hear a show that sounds so terrible. You don't. This club is known by MANY bands as having the worst sound in the country, but bands keep playing because they care about the kids there."
Ouch. The worst sound in the country? Come on. Worst bathrooms, maybe, but I don't know anyone who's had reason to complain about the sound, and, frankly, Shepherd's Oliver Stone-like account of an uprising against El Torreon is hard to believe, especially within the punk world, which thrives on giant, well-run, all-ages venues like the El. Also, extrapolating from Shepherd's logic, Tiger Army is not in the group of bands that cares about "the kids" more than the monitor levels. I tried to contact Shepherd by phone and e-mail, but before she took off on a week's vacation, leaving me with no way to reach her, all I got from her was a voice mail with more allegations about missing monitors.
Tiger Army's tourmates have been in contact, too, but with assurances that El Torreon's reputation is safe. "As a punk rock band I can say we had a total blast and that the club and its representatives value the same punk rock ethics that I have grown up with and loved," Street Dogs bassist Johnny Rioux writes in an e-mail to the Pitch. He adds that he had no problems with the sound equipment. "More important than any sound gear, however, is the spirit of a room and the spirit of the kids," Rioux continues. "That's what keeps the scene alive and affords us the ability to tour and make a living."
If Tiger Army claims to share these sensibilities, we haven't yet heard. As of press time, the band is overdue on a pledge to issue a personal statement, which, according to a message from its label's tour publicist, will explain that Nick 13 and company "love their fans in Kansas City and were not in the wrong."
If that's all they have to say, we don't want to hear it. Maybe it's time for Tiger Army to reassess its priorities. How does the band benefit or help the punk scene in general by being so persnickety? Though there's heaps of "fuck you" in the music, it's tirelessness and self-sacrifice -- not pristine PA systems -- that have been at the heart of punk from the beginning.
The last thing we need these days is for established punks to turn hypocrite, presenting an earnest, hard-working image to the world but being total dicks to everyone they work with. Next time Tiger Army's members pussyfoot through our part of the country, they can play at a Sam Brownback campaign party. They ain't fit to be around us decent folk.