In the Old Testament book of Job, after a description of the flawless title character, who is about to get screwed out of his own skin, Satan pays a visit to God.
The Lord said to Satan, "Where have you come from?"
Satan answered the Lord, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it."
I often feel like the wanderin' accuser when I spend a weekend out, looking for bands to inspire my pen. Oddly, this past weekend took on a religious cast, thanks to a death-metal art opening on Friday, followed on Saturday by a Christian pop-rock show at the Brick.
I'd been looking forward to the painting exhibition by Jay Norton.Named after a Hüsker Dü song, Dead Set on Destruction promised nine scenes from Norton's explorations of death-metal concerts. In the mosh-pit vignettes, wild-eyed dudes careen off each other in rock-and-roll catharsis. In the solo portraits, freaks in gothic makeup, adorned with upside-down crosses and pentagrams, peer wolflike at the viewer.
Also that Friday night at the Pelea de Gallos gallery on Southwest Boulevard were the driftwoodlike creations of Norton's friend and fellow artist Mark Hennessy, the poet and former lead singer of Lawrence grunge contender Paw. Despite the presence of more beer than I've ever seen at an opening and plenty of pagan symbols, the event was much like any normal Crossroads gathering.
The only person who appeared to be invested in the subculture was Nathaniel Dhust, a devilishly handsome rake with longish black hair and the duds to match. The DJ overlord of Elektro Nekro Gothic Night at Davey's Uptown on Mondays couldn't have been more genial discussing the paintings — graven images of a movement that spans from Norway to Brazil to Independence and beyond.
Around 9:30 p.m., Hennessy's current band, 1950DA, set up outside the gallery. Unapologetically grunge, the four-piece dished out searing, detuned riffs and flannel-scorching fury — all wreathed by Hennessy's raving, guttral howl. It was all I could do to keep myself from smashing a beer bottle against a nearby corrugated-steel fence.
The next night was way different. A band called John McKenna and the Free Prescriptions was playing at the Brick. McKenna's MySpace page had impressed me — his mature style had the mellow coating of Elliott Smith with a sophisticated, McCartney filling. Before long, I was downloading his new solo album, Stone Cold Summer, free, courtesy of McKenna. Why had I not heard of him before? Probably because I don't go to his church.
There was talk of Jesus right when I entered the Brick — and not from people who are likely to meet Him someday. In discussing the $7 cover, one wag, who was not staying for the show, said, "All the money goes to Jesus." He turned to the room of mostly seated, mostly older people and said, "Who here loves Jesus?" Then he left the club and went straight to hell.
It was only 9:30 (again!), but I'd already missed the first two acts, Greg LaFollette and Waterdeep, the latter of which I knew to be Christian. Journeyman drummer Billy Brimblecom, a Free Prescription for the night, told me that his first recording session was for McKenna when bonny Billy was only 14 years old.
Now in his 30s, McKenna looked alt preacher man in his black suit and casual fedora. His band included three high-class ladies, in cocktail dresses, on backup vocals, each of whom was married to a band member.
McKenna's songs are smooth, attentive to melody and — get this — happy. One song is based on the kids' book Go, Dog. Go! that, McKenna said, you've read to your kids unless you simply don't care about them. The ditty's called "Play, Dog, Play" and is one infectious kibble. In addition to the chaste lyric We fall asleep after we talk into the night, the song "Stay In My Mind" boasts the line One glass of red wine gives me a headache. But I know McKenna's not the abstemious type — he accepted a Tanqueray and tonic from this here devil after the show.
In the Bible, God allows Satan to kill off Job's entire family, ruin him financially, and cover his body with sores. We will not be doing this to John McKenna. As long as he keeps playing, of course."Stay In My Mind," by John McKenna, from Stone Cold Summer (self-released):