Performing in hell.
Performing in hell. Credit: Suze Kraft

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Hand Grenade Job was on tour in the great American South and Northeast during February, March, and April. Over the course of the tour, HGJ’s Beck Levy chronicled her experiences on the road. Read previous entries here.

High school reunion! Credit: Thera Webb

April 15, 2017: Allston, Mass. at Track Shacks for Rogozo Showcase with Missing the Action, The Dingo Babies, Rogozo, Mint Green, and Elizabeth Colour Wheel

I wake up and there’s more wildlife: cats, birds, a chipmunk, a flock of wild turkeys. Too soon, it’s time to leave. Klark can’t make it to my show because he has a show of his own across down, with his country band, Georgia Overdrive.

I drive to my friend Thera Webb’s house in Dorchester. She makes me coffee and we sit on the couch with her cat Fiddlesticks. The TV is tuned to CNN, and they’re covering the protests today in the Bay. Neonazis are marching down the streets of Berkeley, openly seig heiling. Thera and I are both panicked because of the parallels to the Greensboro Massacre. Today’s Nazi march, the police collusion, the antifascist counter protest, it all feels like a trap. Thera lived in Greensboro and so did my ex-partner. I’ve met survivors of that massacre and I’ve been to the memorial. We sit on the couch, paralyzed by dread, refreshing Twitter to get more info than is on TV, and I just keep thinking I can’t take any more death. Once I hear back from my friends in the Bay I start to relax. They’re all safe and assure me that the Nazis seem pretty disorganized. This is what passes for a best case scenario.

Originally, Gauche was supposed to play Lady Fest in Boston today, and HGJ’s plan was to try to jump on that with them. But before we could see that plan through, Gauche dropped off Lady Fest, they needed to end their tour in Montreal because of Mary’s Downtown Boys obligations. I wanted at least one show to break up the drive from Montreal to D.C., I needed the gas money. Plus, I haven’t played Boston since Turboslut played there like 10 years ago. I have friends there I wanted to see, and to play for. So I asked Thera if she knew of any other shows I could jump on. She did some digging and found a bill I could get added to. The booker and bands weren’t anything she personally knew, but it was a show and we weren’t in a position to be picky, looking to be added to something so late.

The Hamburgler Credit: Beck Levy

Thera and I get in my car and drive to the show.

What happened next was so bizarre that I demanded written statements from all my friends who attended. The following are our accounts of the night.

Beck: A girl with no pants and an oversized light pink t-shirt reading “Daddy please can I?” directs me to the rear of the compound. Thera watches my car while I load in. Out back stand a circle of post-adolescent, loosely-punk-appearing boys. Though I’m holding gear and searching for an entrance, they ignore me. I ask “Where do I load in?” and they point at a door. I walk down a short, narrow hallway into a basement where a band is passionately playing to a completely empty room. It was spooky like there was an audience I couldn’t see. Every surface here is covered in clumsy graffiti.

I’m not sure how to describe the situation, but I want to prepare Thera in some way, so each time I come back to the car to grab another load of gear, I ask her a question:

“Do you like the smell of burning rubber?”

“Did you like the movie Gummo?”

“Did you like puberty?”

And so on. After I’m done loading in, I see a young man with long hair wearing all white, a white cape, and makeup that looked like if The Hamburglar recently vomited several liters of ketchup. He is the person I’ve been in touch with about playing. Oh… good. I introduce myself and he confirms that I’m in the right place and there’s an actual show happening here.

Thera and I walk down the street to get some food, though I feel a little stupid for leaving my gear in a situation where it could plausibly be stolen by any number of creatures, both human and rodent. We meet up with my friend Suze, who I went to high school with and haven’t seen in, like, a decade, maybe not since the last time I played Boston actually. I try to warn her about the show situation, but she is unperturbed, explaining that she used to live in Allston and knows that it’s terrible.

We walk back to the house. The band who was playing to no one is still on stage, just standing around. There is an actual stage, and a soundboard, the only elements that make the basement actually seem like a show is going to happen, rather than, I guess, the world’s least intimidating Fight Club. The situation is in a state of disorder. It just seems like someone needs to take charge, so I start setting up around the people standing on the stage. Each person I encounter who is involved with running the show looks progressively younger and younger. I tell the boy-child running sound that all I need is one microphone and one mic stand. He has a lot of follow-up questions, seeming concerned that I might not know what I’m doing at all.

While I plug in my pedals, an Alfred E. Neuman-lookin’ dude starts harassing me. He plugs a cell phone charger right into the power strip I’m using on the stage. He keeps getting in my face, asking me over and over again if I’m a rapper, giggling maniacally. My patience threadbare, I completely ignore him. I have zero capacity to give warnings, only to knock this juvenile the fuck out. The soundchild is standing there uncomfortably throughout, but doesn’t intervene except to weakly say to Alfred, “I think she’s busy.” He gets a phone call and wanders off.

“Why am I here?” Credit: Selfie

Once I’m set up, I go use the bathroom upstairs and try to steel myself for playing. When I come back down, the basement is about half full. I inform The Hamburglar and the soundchild that I’m going to begin. They say ‘okay,’ and look like they’re waiting for further instructions, so I tell them to turn off the lights. I light my candles and focus on giving my all for the last set, determined to deliver, summoning my power, forming an orb of pulsing light around myself powerful enough to supercede this reality and take us into another one. But really, I’m just trying to ignore the feeling inside me that’s berating and taunting me like “this is the culmination of all your work, look at yourself, playing in a sewer to college brats, this is where you ended up.” I take a deep breath, take my mic, extend my arm up to the ceiling, and begin to sing.

As I layer the vocal loops, Alfred returns downstairs, walks to the center of the audience, and starts moshing, shoving the people around him, throwing up his hands and screaming “YEAH!!!! YEAHHHHHH!!!!” I snap. I stomp the foot switch that cuts the loop, and berate him over the mic. “Why don’t you just leave? That way, you’ll only have ruined two minutes of the show, rather than the whole thing.” He begins to protest, putting up his hands. I shaked my head. “Nope. No one will miss you. Just go. Get out of here.”

I’m ready to make a blood sacrifice of this brat, right on stage, as a warning to anyone else who might dare step to me. Alfred slinks away. Determined to go on, I hit the footswitch to resume the loop and resume playing. The crowd seems scared, I can’t tell if they approve or disapprove of my actions and I also don’t care. I get through my a capella songs and move onto my autoharp songs. Apropos of nothing, the soundchild runs on stage and adjusts my mic stand height, lowering it to where I know I will knock into it as I strum my autoharp. “Um… okay… thanks…” I say, hoping to expedite his exit. I play my songs, knocking into the microphone every third or fourth chord. At the end of my set I tell the audience that tonight is my last show in two months of touring. They clap.

Thera Webb: There was this super obnoxious guy who kept bothering you while you were setting up. You came up to me and said “If I beat anybody up at this show it’s going to be that guy.” During your first song you were doing some vocal loops (or whatever the real term is) and he started, like, howling along in this super fucking annoying manner. Everybody was totally rapt and paying attention to you and they were all super bummed by this dude, who didn’t seem to know anybody. You got super stern and suddenly turned the music off and laid into him really good, telling him that if he left now people would forget that he had ruined the show for everybody. So he left and then you went back to magical music and everybody was happy.

Beck: Feeling shell-shocked from mounting indignity, I pack up my stuff. The soundchild comes on stage, generally standing exactly where I need to be, and makes conversation with me about how he has been on tour before and he can’t image going for longer than a week and I must be crazy especially to do it alone. Out of nowhere, the soundchild tells me “Between you and me, I don’t like pop-punk.” I’m startled and concerned. “Oh no,” I say, “Is this a pop-punk show?” “No, no,” he quickly replies, “Well, I mean, a couple of the bands are, I mean a few.” “Oh man,” I say sadly, “Oh man.”

Alfred reappears. “Hey!” he says, “Hey! I didn’t mean disrespect or nothing I’m just having fun,” he informs me, “We cool? We cool?” He asks. “I don’t understand why you are talking to me,” I say, “Not now, not before, not ever.” Alfred is at a loss. “So we’re cool?” He clarifies. “Why. Are. You. Talking. To. Me?” I state, my temper simmering back up into a boil. The Hamburgler appears out of nowhere. “Um, hey man,” he says to Alfred. “I don’t think she wants to talk?” Alfred looks at me for confirmation. “I already told you. Leave,” I reiterate. Alfred shrugs and goes. The Hamburglar is satisfied, swelling a little with pride. “If you ever feel unsafe here, please let me know,” The Hamburgler assures me valiantly. “What?” I think. “So you can write a piece of musical theater about it later?” “Let me know if you need anything tonight,” he adds, generously. I laugh and laugh and control myself enough to emit the sincerest “thank you” I can muster.

Kate Gray & Joel Magnusson: First off, I was so upset that I missed most of your set. I figured you’d be on later, and for some reason I didn’t ask. All I heard was the end of “The Monster of the Potomac”… you had your eyes closed singing, hugging your autoharp… Everyone seemed to have forgotten to posture for a bit and was just watching you in silence. It seemed really intimate and unique atmosphere for a house show like that.

Beck: When I finish packing up, I move my gear to near the rear exit, and join my friends upstairs to debrief on what we’ve all just experienced. We confer on our options for socializing with each other—should we go somewhere else, or try to hang out under these ludicrous conditions? Nobody is in the living room, so we decide that we will just take over that area and people-watch. Our group determines that if the conditions become way too dire, any one of us can use a safe word and I will get all my stuff together and we will all leave. For now, out of a stubborn desire to maintain the façade that this is a show, I turn the living room table into my merch table, spreading all my offerings upon it, which includes pages from the Yerbamala Collective’s anonymous antifascist manifesto Our Vendetta.

The show (which is actually just a college house party, but I’m still pretending for dignity-related reasons) is becoming exponentially more crowded, with the most miscellaneous people, each with their own visual subcultural gesture, the aesthetics aggressively competing with one another, the scene as a whole becoming incoherent. There are definitely people here in costumes, and definitely people who are not, but there’s a vast gray area between.

The only thing that’s coming into focus is the role of The Hamburglar, who appears to be associating mostly with a cadre of other people who are (probably) also in costume. It seems that they are all in a band called Rogozo, who are putting on the show—maybe headlining it—and based on context clues, I’m guessing these kids are really, really big fans of The World Inferno Friendship Society and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or, depending on how culture trickles down through generations, really big fans of music inspired by both.

Most of the people who walk past the living room don’t engage me, but a few do. A couple people tell me they liked my set. One person tells me they looked me up online and told me it was so cool that I got to play with Thou. “What were they like?” he asks. “Oh…” I say, feeling emptied of all words and unable to navigate this interaction in which a stranger is apparently idolizing my friends. “They are good,” I say feebly. “That’s so cool,” he says. 

A young man approaches me to compliment my makeup. “It’s very MCR,” he says approvingly. I feel dumb and old, but glances around my circle suggest that no one else knows what this means either. “Sorry,” I say, “What’s MCR?” The young man laughs. “My Chemical Romance!” He exclaims pityingly. “Oh,” I say, exhausted confusion becoming the psychic space in which I will apparently reside for the rest of my life on this cursed hell planet.

Thera Webb & Paul Henry: It was like being at the party Can’t Hardly Wait was based on. The basement was filled with a casting call of ’90’s style teens, flannels around their waists, drinking vodka from the bottle. Maybe it was more like the party scene in My So-Called Life, where Angela falls in the mud, except instead of a sick grunge band, there were seven bands, including at least two pop-punk bands.

There’s like actually no way to describe it as a lived human experience except as a movie trope. I didn’t go to the bathroom but I assume there was a bathtub full of beer and somebody passed out in it.

Kate Gray & Joel Magnusson: We all sat down in the living room upstairs that we agreed looked like a set for a “party” college house: the bad couches, case of ramen, a little bit of weed and a cigarette butt on the coffee table. Duct tape blocking off the stairs to the second floor. We people-watched and you sold a few things. A young black guy with glasses said he only had a dollar then had a hard time picking a pin. Like 30 minutes later he came back and said he found another dollar and got another pin. He seemed so nervous, it was sweet. Many people asked about the pages you had with text on them, given out for free, and seemed baffled by the concept.

We ascertained that The Hamburglar-looking guy was dating the girl with white dress and Siouxsie makeup because I heard him ask her if his mom complimented her eyebrows. We saw many parents in general… Thera thought that the first older couple who came in were there to complain about the noise, but as the evening went on, at least three more sets came in.

I tried to casually ask Thera if she was a poet in the manner I imagined the guy harassing you asked if you were a rapper.

Thera Webb & Paul Henry: Highlights: a random bearded guy with a racist native american skull shirt confusingly sitting down and talking to us as if he was friends with somebody in the group (Spoiler: he wasn’t), three sets of adult parents there to see their kids’ band, a gaggle of Berkelee students dominating the keyboard in the living room—next to two bulk boxes of ramen—playing classic rock, and then a beautiful piano concerto.

Kate Gray & Joel Magnusson: The crowd there represented basically every subgenre of the the “alternative” scene. There were stoners, goths, people wearing costumes (?), mall punk peeps (like the guy who said your makeup was very “MCR”) etc.

This guy with a big beard and a t-shirt with an eagle on it who looked too old to be there (i.e. our age) sat down next to Joel as if he was friends with us. He asked if it was a good time to tell you he was a fascist, in relation to the paper that said “be the fist in the world you want punching a fascist” or something. I don’t think any of us wanted to engage in that humor and ignored him. He just kept saying things like that and I was trying to use our safety word “limit.” You said that you thought one big thing would happen to make us leave but it ended up just being a small, annoyingly persistent thing. While this dude was fuckin’ up our mojo, a girl was playing beautiful calm music on the keyboard.

We tried to get Fomu but it was closed, so we got candy at Walgreens instead. You said you wanted to only play shows in pharmacies from now on, and we approved. Also, we discussed vitamins and you also said you take so many that your pee is apple juice.

Susan Kraft: I have never before seen such an assortment of people in one place; people in costume, parents, and barely 20-year-olds with bottles of vodka all commingling in the armpit of Allston. By the way, I didn’t want to alarm anyone unnecessarily, but the stairs leading to the basement would probably not pass any sort of inspection. They did not pass my inspection. The saving grace of this event was the indomitable Hand Grenade Job’s one-woman performance with gorgeous voice layers and a true dark and dreamy quality, with a touch of glitter. The candy afterward was a sweet end necessary to blunt the effects of being in Allston.

Beck: I felt bad for subjecting Kate (also a friend from high school) and Suze to all of this. I hadn’t seen either of them for so long, and they have been such good friends to me, and this is how I repay them. We say goodbye in front of a ramshackle, rat-infested, abandoned house nearby, the site feeling safer and more comfortable than our previous location.

Thera and I walk back to the venue to collect my gear so we can leave. I’m also hoping to collect some gas money, though I don’t feel optimistic. First we try to go through the back entrance, which is where my gear is sitting. A group of people smoking outside tell us that entrance is for bands only. “I am a band,” I tell them. “Oh,” they say, “then go in I guess?” The door is locked. They don’t have a key.

We go in through the front entrance, where we are instantly hit with a cloud of smoke so opaque that I briefly freeze with panic and terror, before my other senses inform me that it’s just hours and hours of unvented weed. Thera and I move through the smoke and the partygoers, down to the basement, where a pop-punk band is playing. We move through the crowd, and it’s taking all my self-control not to just shove people out of my way. I just want to be in a car moving away from this place. We make it to the narrow hallway by the rear exit, where all my gear is stacked. It’s pitch dark, so Thera uses her phone as a flashlight and I start to pick my things up.

Suddenly, a girl runs toward us yelling “No! Nope, no. You can’t do that,” with the same tone you would use with a naughty child, only in this situation, the person saying it appears to be a child. “I played tonight,” I tell her firmly, “this is my gear, and I am going to take it, open this door, put it in my car, and leave.” She is instantly offended, “Hey,” she says with visible upset, “I’m a person and you’re a person, so let’s talk to each other like we’re people!” I’m utterly baffled by this and am not sure how to respond. Her labile state reminds me of someone having a bad mushroom trip. “Are you okay?” I ask her. “Are YOU okay?” she responds belligerently. I give up and just keep picking up my gear.

In which The Hamburgler contemplates HGJs merchandise options.s merchandise options. Credit: Joel Magnussen

The girl stands blocking the door. “What band did you play in?” She asks me accusingly, like she’s hoping to catch me in a lie. “Hand Grenade Job,” I say, “are you going to pay me?” I ask, realizing that there’s no way in hell I am going back upstairs to the door after this. “No!” she exclaims in disgust. “Oh, so you book shows here and don’t pay the bands?” I ask. “No,” she says, improvising, “You have to wait until the end of the show to get paid though.” “I have to leave now,” I tell her. “Can you come back another day?” she asks. “I’m on tour, I don’t live here. I am on tour and I’m playing shows and I played this show,” I expound, hoping to open a portal into reality for this young lady. “I need gas money,” I tell her. “Well, maybe someone can PayPal you later,” she says.

She steps aside and Thera and I quickly relieve the hallway of my possessions, load up my car, and drive away.

“Did that really just happen?” I ask Thera. “Which part?” she replies. “Um… I guess all of it… but did a child really just yell at me and try to trap me in a college party?” I ask. Thera confirms this indeed had just occurred.

Back at her house, we’re laying on the couches, decompressing from the ordeal and trying to explain what we’d just been through to Thera’s partner Ryan, who, as a musician and longtime booker of shows in the Boston area, is completely unimpressed. I am trying to compose a text to The Hamburglar asking to get paid for the show, but everything I write is super mean, so I hand the phone to Thera, who composes a concise message: “Hi, thanks for the show! The person guarding the exit told me you would PayPal or Venmo my gas money?” It’s perfect, it’s polite, it gets right to the point, I could never have written it on my own. Thera’s poetry MFA is shining through.

We are blown away when I get an alert on my phone from Venmo, informing me that I’ve just been paid $100. Thera and I scream and scream, Ryan smirks.

We watch a reality competition show about sword-making until we fall asleep.

Hand Grenade Job performs on June 26 at Atlas Brew Works with Thou, Cloud Rat, False, and Moloch at Atlas Brew Works. 2052 West Virginia Ave. NE. $15.