Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Mike Hadge Trio - The Beginnings: An Observer's Account

The crowd was relatively indifferent. The night so far, had been a bit of a relative drag – with no festivities bringing anyone to more than a golf clap. It was a humid, sticky July afternoon, and whoever’s idea it was to have the tent set up in the middle of a K-Mart parking lot ought to have their head kicked in by a mule, both for the reason that it attracted all the hottest parts of the sun, and parking became an issue for K-Mart patrons. Nevertheless, the heat was but an easy excuse for the listlessness of the afternoon. We were ready for something, anything to kick this bar mitzvah into high gear.

Suddenly, they took the stage – three young ruffians dressed in matching bowler ties and V-neck t-shirts that appear to have been recently purchased at that same K-Mart took the stage. Well, to be honest, “the stage” I refer to really was more of an area blocked off rather haphazardly by traffic cones, but it still provided sufficient enough for Mr. Liebowitz’s forty-five minute speech about how proud he was of his son just prior to this moment. The three young ruffians set up their equipment in what seemed like seconds, and might have actually been. The young ruffian in the center took the mic and introduced the band, “Hey everyone, we’re the Mike Hadge Trio” he began, his voice whimpering over the PA, which to be fair, was more of a Fisher-Price karaoke machine with the handle broken off, “and this first song is in honor of Johan becoming a man.” Suddenly, like a steamroller full of construction workers building a giant steel tree fort on that same steamroller, the band launched into their first song, and the crowd was stunned.

By no stretch of the imagination was it any good, no sir. However, it had a certain something that we just couldn’t put our finger on. Maybe it was the sweat pouring into our eyes or the K-Mart shoppers beeping at us to get out of the damn way, but the sound these young ruffians were producing intoxicated this listless crowd. And what a sight they were, the leader Mike Hadge on guitar and lead vocals, bass player Gary Stevens on mandolin and harmonies, and percussionist Garri Stephens on spoons and key-tar. It was obvious right from the get-go that these guys hated each other, just plain loathed one another. Well, it was more like the other two despised Hadge, as he crooned away at whatever piss-poor excuse for a song they had been performing, their icy stares pierced through him like a thousand sharp needles through a…human, I guess. The first song ended and the crowd did not know quite how to react. I assumed it was because they were all mesmerized, but I think it had far more to do with the fact that they weren’t quite sure if the band seriously expected applause for that display.

The Trio carried on with what can be best described as “musical masturbation”, in fact that may have been the name of the song, as was anyone’s guess due to the poor PA. All that the crowd knew was that after the Trio riffed on a sloppier than hell free-form eight bar, Hadge launched into a spoons solo that was cute at first, but lost some momentum in the eighteenth or nineteenth minute. Literally, he just kept going, and the other two members could be seen getting cake across the room. After he finished the “song”, Hadge could be seen yelling profanities at the other members to put down their (blank)ing cake and get their (blank)s back on the stage. This did not go over well.

By this point, most of the crowd had left, though I stuck around, as my mother had not yet shown up to drive me home (K-Mart was having a sale on fabric softener). The Trio proceeded to stumble into another song, which was introduced as “Pure Shit”, and lived up to the title. After the first few minutes of the song, which again, had no discernable lyrics, Hadge and Stevens could be seen exchanging unfriendly words. Apparently, Hadge was commenting on Stevens’ less than adequate mandolin playing, though to be fair, Hadge did not appear to actually be a musician. The two yelled back and forth until Stephens got into it as well, with the two side men taking on the leader of the band. This was very exciting to see the real working dynamic of a band in action, though to refer to them as a band is perhaps the most generous act of my life thus far. However, things turned ugly very fast. Stevens grabbed a broken beer bottle seemingly out of nowhere and thrust it towards Hadge, who dodged it just in time, but unfortunately leaned right into Stephens’ swinging folding chair that had just reached the apex of its force. Hadge was down almost instantly, though the “song” had never sounded better at that point. What was left of the audience erupted in applause, and the conscious members of the band stormed off the stage in a huff. Guests had already pretty much cleared out, except for the lucky few, and those who were there really had lost all interest in the happenings behind the traffic cones. Nevertheless, Mr. Liebowitz promptly reminded the remaining Trio members that he paid for a fifty-minute set, and they had only given him twenty-three. Plus, it seemed the cost of cake had upped the time to about an hour and a half. Much to their chagrin, Stephens and Stevens lumbered back on stage with no idea what to do, clueless without a leader. They proceeded to tell corny knock-knock jokes and stories about “wacky family Christmases” for about an hour while the ambulance came to wheel off Hadge. I’ll never forget that night I witnessed an early incarnation of the Mike Hadge Trio. It was clear they were working out a few kinks, mainly because no actual songs were performed, but the distinctive dynamic and sound they’re known for was already in place, unfortunately. The bar mitzvah overall was decent.

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