Saturday, April 12, 2014

One Night in 1986 God Blessed Me and The Oysters

Every once in a while, you stumble upon the right rock and roll band playing on the right night—right for them, and for you. This has happened to me more than once, happily, but never quite as urgently as on a night nearly 30 years ago when I caught The Oysters at the (old) 9:30 Club in Washington DC. I don't remember what drew me and my buddies to the show; I know I hadn't heard their debut album yet; probably it was just a random night out; maybe they were opening for Lyres? (The Oysters hailed from Boston.) Whatever the reason, there I was, drunk, young, ready for anything, and the Oysters blew me away. I was astonished at their coming-apart-at-the-seams playing, their literal crashing into one another on stage, the tuneful, anthemic noise, their beery grins often fading to desperate looks when it sounded, and likely felt, like everything was going to fall apart: the song, the band, the friendships, maybe a romance, my night. But the Oysters held it together for a show that's remained secure in my list of all-time favorite shows.

If I'd seen the Oysters the night before or the night after, would they have sounded and looked as if they were saving rock and roll, as they did that night? (It's a question I've asked before.) Maybe they were really on (or desperately off), maybe I was in the correct place to have rock and roll grace bestowed upon me. Maybe it was a random, twenty-something aligning of the stars. Luck. I was amazed and surprised at how good the Oysters were that night. One image stands out: the bass player J.R. leaping and landing on the band's crashing note at the end of some sloppy song—or was it the ragged opening?—a sloppy grin on his face, we pulled it off! He looked like a kid who'd made a half-court shot, or a younger brother who'd begged the band to let him play just tonight, I promise! When I later picked up their one and only album (Green Eggs And Ham, released on Taang! in 1985) there J.R. was in a group shot, wearing his guitar more or less the same expression. I was happy to see that.

The album, alas, disappointed me—it had to, after that night. The drums sounded smaller, the guitars quieter, the indefinable and unpredictable maelstrom of a show—sweat and girls and beer and a night without end and the surprise of being surprised by a great band—culdn't possibly be reproduced. But that's OK. I have the memories, kind of. I did write a review of the show for the late great Washington DC punk zine The Period, but my copy of the issue is long gone. (Anyone got one?) That's OK, too: all I need is the fact of what I saw, a young band of reckless kids hitting a stage, plugging in, and taking everyone and themselves down a shockingly steep steep hill that bottom of which is both blessed and regretted. What a night.

"Headhunter" comes the closest to reproducing something of that night, though really what provided the ear-splitting score was youth and chance. Turn it up.


UPDATE: I tracked down the Oysters' follow-up single, "Mine Caroline," released in 1986. This Bo Diddley amphetamine stomp is more like it. Jump around and bang into things.


Manuel said...

Thanks for the track! They sound great. I can imagine the surge of energy felt from the band and throughout the crowd that night left you wishing for a longer set. That moment after the last song hits its final chord, when everything that was propelled into the air during the set, slowly, starts settling down, and you are left with your heart still pounding, is a moment that sticks. I'm grateful to have The Space, and some band houses in town, that still harbor these kind of moments.

Joe Bonomo said...

Some things never change, thank goodness.