Rock Gods #123: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Revenge was sweet for the Old Shorts when they found themselves on the same bill as their nemeses Jam Like a Mother last week. You’ll recall that JAMLAM wedgied The Shorts right out of a gig a few weeks ago by jamming for hours on some insipid pop hit.

How could JLaM have forgotten that imbroglio? Short-term memory loss brought on by mysterious clouds of a suspicious smoke, we wager.

We surely didn’t forget about (or understate) the jam-band’s unforgiveable set-stealing maneuver; we wrote about it here. The event certainly didn’t leave the minds of The Old Shorts; the band’s been seeking some pop payback for the indignity for weeks, plotting their moves carefully. But JLaM didn’t seem to suspect a thing. Not that we’re sympathetic, mind you; back when they delivered the umbrage they were the biggest smarmy creeps we’d seen on a local stage, well, for that whole week. All the more annoying for being oblivious. Unknowing. Wide open.

“We thought about it way too much. It We got nothing done in rehearsals,” says a member of The Old Shorts who prefers not to be identified (except as a member of The Old Shorts). The distraction’s what made the band realize they couldn’t pull off the most obvious plan—the tedious choice of simply doing the same thing back to JLaM at the earliest opportunity, playing so long and hard that the long-haired freaks couldn’t get a note in edgewise. “We’re not good enough to play that long. We don’t know enough songs. Besides, if we did that, we’d lose our own fans.” Short and sweet has its drawbacks.

“Anyway,” pipes up a friend of The Old Shorts who’s sometimes in the band (and who doesn’t want to be identified either), “that just seemed too obvious and boring. We’re all gamers. We’re into strategy.”

So ground rules were set:

1. The comeuppance would have to come on the playing field. No “gotcha!s on the sidewalk, or visiting JLaM’s members’ homes or dayjobs.

2. The punishment would have to fit the crime. The crime, you’ll recall, was that JLaM chose to stay “in the groove” and extend a song interminably at the expense of another band’s entire set.

3. It would have to be cool.

Setting the stage for the rematch was the easy part. The Suburban Arts street festival about ten miles out of town had asked both acts to play. They were among literally dozens of other acts lining miles of bike path, alongside artisan’s galleries (card tables, really), kettle-corn vendors and area residents who were still going to walk their dogs, damn it, along this suddenly bustling thoroughfare no matter what.

What we have left out of this story so far is that Jam Like a Mother are mama’s boys with big trust funds and big allowances. They have nice equipment. They don’t need or know how to use half the gear they willingly pay so much for, except for one gimmick they take full advantage of: Everything’s wireless. The guitarist, the bassist, the singer, even the keyboardist, can wander off on the mildest whim.

That was a known fact. That helped.

Old Shorts aren’t just gamers, they’re hackers. And they know other hackers even cleverer than them. These are the kinds of guys who win at robotics fairs, then relax with punk rock afterwards. While they may not claim to play music well, they can take their guitars apart and put them back together.

It was child’s play to work up a wonder box that could interrupt and overtake the frequencies of the JLaM’s wireless guitar transmitters. A little more difficult, but worth it, to rig a cheap guitar tuner so that it could hear a note, duplicate it, and keep playing it as long as needed. A tech whiz from a local prog-rock outfit, that prefers not to be named, helped.

There’d even been a back-up plan, which itself constituted a more impressive scheme than most vengeful local bands would be capable of. Hidden speaker in a fake sculpture. Seriously. And nobody ever knew.

The main plan was better though, because of the way it totally messed with the heads of Jam Like a Mother (and when we say “heads”…). It happened live. It was as creative and awe-inspiring an involuntary collaboration as you could ever hope to witness.

Brief sound check. Set starts, goes on for a couple of minutes so that JLaM can be lulled into a sense of security and find a groove. Then the madness starts. A low-level buzz, which the band obviously believes is just its own technology glitching a bit due to the outdoor gig.

Then the lead guitar is shanghaied. First, it’s just overladen with soft effects that the band doesn’t even notice. But when the notes start coming faster than the guitarist’s fingers seem to be moving, everyone freaks. A guy in the crowd shouts “Backing tapes!” Somebody else yells “Eric! Come out of there,” which we took as a joke meaning they thought another musician was lurking in the bushes. Little did they know. The guitarist, whose stringy-haired visage had been stuck in that insidious jam-face goon grin since the set started, suddenly grew face muscles—his jaw dropped and his eyes popped as if he’d been possessed. Which he had.

Meanwhile that bothersome feedback buzz has grown into a disco throb, eventually adding a hooligan chant of “Jam Like a Mother, Fucker! Fucker! Fucker!” Parents are covering their children’s ears. Teens are dancing and laughing. Ceramic artworks are quivering from the decibels. The guitarist drops his enchanted axe and it keeps playing.

This is life-changing art at a freaking street festival.

As often happens in times of mid-set crisis, most of the band was either unaware of what was happening to the guitar or too “professional” to stop playing without a signal. The guitarist (forgive us for calling him that over and over; we just don’t want to learn his name) finally was screaming and tossing his instrument on the stage. Yet it played on, and so did the hexed frontman’s bandmates, partly because they weren’t hearing through the monitors much of what the audience was hearing. Their diligence and obliviousness (a real consistent trait with Jam Like a Mother) only added to the chaos and amusement.

How can we reveal so much? Are we sacrificing our pals in Old Shorts just so we can write a fun story? Unfortunately, while some of our info is exclusive, we weren’t the first out of the gate with this info. It was released first in a police report. Luckily, that report was just a $25 ticket dutifully presented to members of Old Shorts for some sort of public disruption. Any attempt at an arrest or a hearing was laughed away before it could even get any further. Old Shorts has paid the fine, apologized for the foul language, and a chastened JLaM urged their parents not to press charges.

Not only was justice done, The Old Shorts got a gig at this weekend’s Underground Arts fair, as a performance art exhibit. Don’t expect it to be a double-bill with JLaM; they’re laying low. It may be true or just a snarky joke, but some say the band has gone acoustic.