Before the start of the last show I'd attended at the Casbah, I had lingered in my car. With a measuring spoon in one hand and a brown-tinted bottle in the other, I dispensed a precise amount of GHB and then downed the salty chemical with a grimace, chasing it with desperate gulps of soda. Finished with my task, I touched up my red lipstick and thought, now I'm ready to see some live music!
This time, with my brown bottle long empty, I entered the club sober with David, a man who wouldn't touch an illegal substance with a ten-foot leather whip. The Casbah is one of San Diego's longest-running live-music venues. If you've come of age in the past 20 years and have any social life to speak of, you've probably been there at least once.
Tonight's lineup would feature the Ghost Town Deputies, followed by the Millionaires, who would be opening for the Flying Putos. With three bands performing (from three different genres), this night's crowd was typical. There were the business/casual folks, looking as though they'd just left work for a happy-hour cocktail. A cluster of old people (think 40+) reminisced on shows they'd attended "in the old days." Standard clubgoers, dressed in the latest trends and anti-trends, were there to smoke, drink, and pick up on clubgoers of the opposite sex.
Of course, we also found the music-scene-loving rockabillies. These are the men with pressed jeans, cuffs neatly folded up, and hair styled high and slick; and women with Betty Page bangs, flaunting tattoos of cherries and pencil-thin eyebrows. David fit right in, wearing his side-laced leather jacket, faded blue jeans, and a black T-shirt with a white silhouette of a praying mantis printed on the front.
Guitars and drums blared through the entrance as we were being carded. Drawing closer to the source of the noise, the sound became painful. We faced the "smoking section," an area that consists of the entrance corridor and a bedroom-sized space sided by a wooden shelf for setting down drinks and ashtrays (and the occasional ass). Beyond the smoking area is a back room, half-filled by two pool tables. Peering in the door, we saw four gruff-looking guys shooting pool as if they'd been there since the place opened.
The rest of the room contains a second bar and a few booths for those who fancy conversation over bleeding ears. Passing up the pleasures of the back room, we headed for the action. Next to a door jamb covered in promotional stickers of bands past and present, we saw the Ghost Town Deputies onstage. The floor in front of the band was deserted, save for one couple, and a handful of patrons gathered at the standing tables off to the side.
Two of the Deputies, the guitarists, wore western-style shirts and cowboy hats. The vocals were buried deep within the mix, but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say pickup trucks, beer, and chicks were likely themes. With earplugs protecting our precious drums, David and I tried to place the genre of music. "Country grunge?"
"No," he shouted, "more like redneck rock."
"Yeah, too clean-cut for grunge," I nodded. David wasn't a fan. Despite the decibels, I found the beat to be boot-tappin' fun.
"It's hard for me to respect anyone who, in an attempt to look cool, wears a guitar so low that he can't even reach it," David said. I hadn't noticed, but now I watched as the lead guitarist dropped one shoulder and stretched for the strings near his knees.
"I see what you mean," I said. But we had not come to see the Deputies; we were there to see the Millionaires, a band we knew nothing about except that "they might wear fishnet stockings," as my friend Derek had informed. This seemed reason enough to catch their act.
Derek and our friend Church materialized and suggested we stake out a spot by the stage. Fifteen minutes later, the Millionaires were setting up. Suddenly, the lights went out and fog cascaded from the stage. Though he admitted it "looks cool," David dislikes fog machines because "it's nasty stuff to breathe." As David began explaining how the contraption works (using big words), I became hypnotized by the two strobe lights illuminating the smoke-filled air. I turned to watch people move in the strobe, as though they were all doing the robot (I love that). I noted that the I-never-wash-my-hair messy look is "in" this season.
Silhouettes emerged from the mist, and the sweet sound of piano notes filled the air. Derek had told me the Millionaires "sound kinda like Queen," a band that is on my list of favorites. The ballad-like quality of the intro was reminiscent of the great gays, and as I pondered the similarities, the lights flashed on and before me was big glam rock on a small stage.
Stage right was Joey Guevara on keyboard, guitar, and vocals. His attractive, shaggy-haired head topped a blue Sgt. Pepper--style silk jacket and glittery gold pants tucked into silver platform boots. At one point he made the crowd go wild by playing both his guitar and keyboard at the same time. I was in the bathroom when it happened, but from there I could hear people screaming. When I returned, people told me about it -- why does the cool shit always happen when you're in the bathroom?
Standing next to Joey was Russell Hayden, the lead singer, cutting an imposing figure in a velvet bellbottom pantsuit lined with feathery fabric, incredibly tall heels (I used to have a pair just like them), and black hat. Tattoos were visible on his chest where the V-neck of his velvet shirt dipped down. Russell has a habit of lashing his tongue out between words, and at the end of each song he kissed his hand and waved it at the crowd. Morgan Young, the drummer, wore a purple-striped suit. Later, I would see him unbutton his pants to prove that his underwear matched -- glam to the core.
Joe St. Day, bassist, stood on Russell's left. Joe's silver boots looked exactly like Joey's. He wore black pants and a silver, glittery top. Blue eye shadow adorned his eyes. Joe is the tallest Millionaire, and he wore his light blond hair almost down to his chin. He, like the others, was having fun onstage. Later, he told me how the band refuses to take itself seriously: "We have a great time writing and performing our music...we want people to leave their worries outside -- check that shit at the door, rush the stage, and ROCK!"
The Millionaires know how to pose. During a few solos, Joey ignited the audience as he made kissy faces, crouched, kicked, and grimaced like Steven Tyler. Despite the band's theatrics and stage show, their music was well rehearsed and tight.
Someone to my left shouted, "Take off your pants!" When I looked over, I saw four women dancing wildly by the bar -- groupies? They looked sloppy, bumping into each other and spilling their drinks, gyrating up and down from crooked standing positions to awkward squats on the floor. They did this for the duration of the Millionaires' performance. Between songs, I looked to Church for understanding. "What the fuck is that?" I asked him. Church knows a lot of people. His answer explained everything. He smiled and said, "They're from P.B."
Turning to look at the crowd, I noticed a few sad souls "head-banging." A preppy man, with a bit of a mullet, furrowed his brow in an apparent search to find the beat and stick with it. His head would go half up, down hard, half up -- no, missed it that time, okay, start over...no, not quite, up fast! It was hard to watch without intervening, so I averted my gaze...only to find a woman jutting her head forward and back like a pigeon to the beat of a drum that existed only in her head.
I left before the Flying Putos took the stage. Derek told me some of the members used to be in the Beat Farmers, and we were bummed we couldn't stay to see them. But, as exciting as they promised to be, David in his hot leather jacket was all the excitement I needed to round out my evening.