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A night at the Rail

By Ben Larson

Fort Wayne Reader

2009-01-16


I’m trying something a little different this week.

Instead of doing some formal interview or band profile, I thought I’d take this time to to give you a warts-and-all picture of a typical show night at the Brass Rail from start to finish. Now, I’ve been to many, many shows at the Rail in my day, both as a performer and a patron, so I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to go into this with a completely objective mindset. I don’t want this to be a love-fest. I want it to be a snapshot of one evening. Anyway, you be the judge.

In order to be there for the whole experience from set-up to tear-down, I arrived at the bar at 8:00 sharp. The crowd at this time was an even mix of people winding down after work and folks just starting their night. I was a little early, so I sat down, ordered a drink, and struck up conversations with whomever came my way. I’ll say this about the Rail, if you go there with the plan of having an interesting evening, it will happen. In the span of about an hour, I talked to a girl named Stephanie (who, as it turned out, is an old friend of one my best friends), Livy, who told me about how she and her roommates used to have a kiddie pool in their kitchen as a way to beat the heat on summer days, and a couple of long-term regulars named Jeff and Tammy who, when I asked them how long they had been coming to the bar, answered with “we’ve been coming here for three owners now, if that tells you anything.” The Rail values its regulars, and co-owner John Commorato told me “people forget that we’re a bar and we love our regulars . . . we’re also always trying to make new regulars.”

Usually, the responsibility of setting up the P. A. falls to the band who is slated to play first. This night the band in question was Hear Hear, a local prog-metal group in the style of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum or iwrestledabearonce. The only snag happened when they realized they didn’t have enough cables to set up all the mics (the band has six members.) “This happens every time,” Commorato told me, in regards to the shortage. They got it all figured out, though, and finished the set-up without further incident.

Another setback happened when there was some confusion on staffing for the evening. Apparently, there was a miscommunication somewhere, and they had one-too-many bartenders there for the evening. Commorato looked over at me and said “I never know about staffing, and who’s working when, but I know it always works out.” Again, they got this snafu solved, and everyone went on with their business. Commorato went on to say “one of the few pleasures of working for yourself is having employees and co-workers that you like and respect.” This is the reason that, even though things are never perfect there, people’s ability to communicate and work together make things run smoothly.

Things seemed to be going fine after that, so I decided to mill around and see what other shenanigans I could find going on. Almost immediately, my eyes were drawn to Hear Hear’s merch table, specifically the booty shorts with their logo on them. I can honestly say that in all my years of going to shows and concerts, I have never seen a band sell booty shorts (complete with a cobra on the left cheek, even.) Also, I saw that Michael, their guitarist, was playing with a bum wing (i.e. busted hand). I looked from his hand to the cobra-laden booty shorts, back to his hand, and thought to myself “now that’s rock n’ roll.” Axl Rose should take a lesson.

When they took the stage, I was immediately impressed. I should mention that I have a penchant for frenetic, brutal metal, and in this way Hear Hear did not disappoint. They have an energy to their performance that draws you in and forces you to pay attention. The fact that they are able to move seamlessly from ultra-heavy guitar-based riffs to keyboard-driven sonic melodies within the same song, all while changing time signatures every few measures made me an instant fan. The best part of their set was when vocalist Jeremy Wysong stood up on the bar, and co-owner Corey Rader looked over at me and said “as long as he keeps his clothes on.” I will be seeing them again.

After they finished, I took the opportunity to have a conversation by sitting down with Gypsy, who was working the door. Gypsy is the kind of person who embodies the spirit of the Rail. He’s a big fella, and not the kind of guy you would want to make angry, but also one of the nicest, most laid back guys I have met in a while. Of course, since he’s the doorman, I had to ask him about tossing people out of the bar. He told me that he almost never has a problem with this. “It’s all about respect,” he said. Usually, no matter how unruly someone is, Gypsy will keep an even tone of voice and politely tell the person that it’s time to go. This almost always does the trick. That being said, there have been a few times when someone needs a little more reminding to be nice. “I never throw the first punch,” he told me, “but I always throw the last one.” The point — if Gypsy tells you it’s time to go, then it’s time to go. Resistance is futile. Did I mention that he also got married at the Rail? Well he did, right in front of the jukebox. That alone should tell you how much people love that bar.

Up next was the rock n’ roll trident of Rusty, Scummy, and Turbo, known collectively as Kan-Tis. I hadn’t seen them in a while, so I was excited to get my fix from the happy hardcore trio. They brought the rock as always, and I was pleased to hear a lot of new material from them. I mentioned this to Scummy after their set, and he said that they are trying to play as many new songs as possible, only keeping some personal favorites, such as “Hummingbird.” He also specifically asked me to give some personal details about the band. I believe “tell ‘em we’re cool,” were his exact words. Being a man of my word, I will honor his request.

Ladies and gentlemen, Kan-Tis is cool. Honestly, how can you not like a band who’s drummer (Turbo) had to make a run home before their set because he forgot his “special underwear?”

Last up for the night was Sirens, who I had also never seen before. My friends in I, Wombat had played with them the week before, and made sure to tell me not to miss them. This proved to be sound advice. Sirens brought a style of thrash that was simultaneously familiar and new. I’d recommend them for fans of The Sword, and their drummer’s powerful snare sound reminded me a lot of John Stanier from Helmet. Also, while they were playing, I was reminded of one thing that sets metal apart from a lot of other rock genres — metalheads love their music with an intensity rivaled only by punk. While Sirens were playing, I honestly couldn’t tell who had seen them before and who had not. Everyone was jumping and thrashing about as if they had been listening to them for years, and that’s what I love about metal.

Metalheads also care about their fellow man. This was made clear when Sirens’ singer accidentally knocked the mic stand over twice, and both times passers-by were the ones to pick it up, straighten it, and even adjust the mic for him. That’s pretty cool, if you ask me.

Things started to peter out after Sirens got done, and that was my cue to call it a night. So that’s my show experience at the Brass Rail. Maybe this was a little gushy, but I honestly could find hardly any negatives about the night...and believe me, I tried. One last thing I want to mention is how much of a diverse crowd that place gets. Aside from the metalheads clad in black, I saw hippies, middle-aged rockers, and even quite a few of my fellow English majors at IPFW. I had a real experience that night, and it turned out to be the first great show of the year for me. Keep your eye out for upcoming shows at the Rail, and I guarantee that you’ll have a fun time.

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