Four Thousand Miles From Tempe

Ten days, five cities, chainmotels and a van named Sugar. This is how Dead Hot Workshop doestheroad.

Wilco, a regional favorite and the headliner on the three-band bill, is wrapping up a sound check as Dead Hot loads in its own gear.

It may not have a road crew, but Dead Hot Workshop has obviously come far since the band's first gig seven years ago in the parking lot of 6East, a Tempe dive right across from Long Wong's. Since then, the guys in Dead Hot have spent many a night headlining at Tempe clubs like Gibson's, Long Wong's and the now-defunct Sun Club. (Owned by local blues legend Hans Olson, the Sun Club was the Gin Blossoms' launching pad and a central meeting ground for the fertile music scene of late-'80s Tempe.)

Dead Hot's country-tinged desert rock--fueled by dueling guitars, a rock-steady rhythm section and Brent's tough vocals--earned the band a solid local fan base, and eventually aroused corporate attention.

Tag Recordings, a New York-based subsidiary of Atlantic Records, offered Dead Hot Workshop a deal in early 1994. Dead Hot's first release on Tag was the 1994 EP River Otis, quickly followed by the full-length 1001. (The number is a tribute to the Sun Club, which was housed at 1001 East Eighth Street in Tempe.) Since signing with Tag, the band has toured twice and landed coveted opening slots for Blue Rodeo, the Joan Osborne Band and the Bottle Rockets.

Tonight, however, Dead Hot opens for Wilco.
Satisfied with his sound level, Brian hops off the stage, walks purposefully to the bar and pans the empty club in anticipation. Thebass player is sporting his signature stage clothes: a red University of Alabama football jersey and black stretch pants. Begrudgingly, Brian recounts a hotel-elevator encounter he had shortly before arriving at the Blue Note.

"I get on, and these three black dudes get on, and they're like, 'Damn! Are you a ballerina?' And I'm like, 'No, I'm cold, and these are the pants I like to wear.'

"Anyway, I'm getting off the elevator, and I hear one of 'em go, 'Snookums!'"

Curtis and Chris, who have joined Brian at the bar, erupt in laughter.
Suddenly, Brent whips by, groaning and grimacing. "I'll never do that again," he says to himself.

Do what?
"Lick a leaking battery."
Apparently, the singer was testing the batteries in his effect pedals and unwittingly licked one that was oozing acid. Battery acid, that is.

When Dead Hot takes the stage, there are only 100 bodies in the 850-capacity hall. People filter in throughout the set, however, and, by its end, the audience has swelled to more than 300. The band seems exhilarated and goes full speed ahead, filling the time between songs with a polite thank you, a second of silence, then another wall of sound.

The crowd of strangers is interested, but not enthralled. There is loud applause or hooting after each number, but the dance floor is barren except for a blond woman spinning in circles at the foot of the stage. The Columbia crowd seems to like the uptempo numbers best. "Fuck No" (or "Censored," as the tune's titled on 1001) rallies the audience, the first of a series of rockers that closes out the set.

The Blue Note clientele includes the deep-voiced, self-proclaimed mayor of Centerview--a town with a population of 189 just outside Warrensburg, Missouri. Civic-minded and clearly drunk, the mayor bellows an invitation to visit his burg--"Fuckin' we rock in Centerview! Come by, dude!"--punctuated by a slammed shot of Jägermeister.

Francis Andrews, a mid-20s guy with a freshly purchased Dead Hot Workshop sticker affixed to his black sports coat, offered this review: "I had never heard of the band, and I picked up a flier, and it had some reference to country music. What I heard was kind of a Neil Young influence. I've seen a lot of opening bands at the Blue Note, and these guys kicked ass for sure."

Saturday, October 7, 12:45 a.m.
The Blue Note backstage area is a subterranean cavity, its black walls covered in band stickers and graffiti. Dead Hot Workshop and some Tag people are sitting around a small, circular table, drinking long-neck Buds, smoking weed and joking loudly, still high from the show.

At one point, Brian and Steve get up, walk through a small side door and disappear. A short search ensues, and they are found peering through an air vent that provides a partial view of the audience--specifically, the audience's feet.

"We found a secret underground air duct beneath the stage," Steve explains in a conspirator's whisper. "You can only see people's legs, and they all got the same kinda jeans. Brian wants to stick this piece of metal out and poke people's legs with it. Here goes. Here's Brian poking people's legs. Watch the reaction."

Brian proceeds to poke away with an 18inch black rod he found in a backstage passageway. He and Steve laugh like mischievous 13-year-olds as the bass player torments the dancers. The first few victims jerk their legs in surprise like a wasp just stung them, but quickly catch on and start kicking at the screen.

Curtis peeks in to see what the ruckus is about, quickly analyzes the scene, and shakes his head like he's seen this kind of foolishness from these two before.

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