Four Thousand Miles From Tempe

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

"You get yer teeth kicked in, boy!" he warns. Brian lets out another chortle and continues to harass the patrons.

Saturday, October 7, 1 p.m.
The train is seconds from crossing the road and annihilating anything unfortunate enough to be in its way.

Exactly how many seconds is a question of no small importance. Dead Hot Workshop is scheduled to make an "in store" appearance at (of all places) a Best Buy in St. Louis, and the band is running late.

Chris decides he can make it and guns the engine. He runs a stop sign doing 50 in a 25mph zone, narrowly avoids one, two, three cars, and narrowly beats the train as his passengers hum the theme to Mission: Impossible.

The Best Buy gig is a disaster. A local rock station supposedly sponsored and promoted the event, but no one shows up to see the band. Daunted but not about to throw in the towel, Dead Hot sets up on a tile floor in front of a few cut-rate keyboards and a car stereo wall display.

The ensuing performance is uninspired, to say the least. Brent's vocals compete with intercom announcements: "Phil, please call customer service in computers. Phil, call customer service in computers please."

Dead Hot plays five songs, then ends the misery with a quick-and-dirty cover of Tom T. Hall's "The Year That Clayton Delaney Died." A group of about 20 Saturday-afternoon shoppers bearing "What the hell?" expressions gathers to witness the spectacle. As the band is closing up shop, Brent encourages the patrons to "look for that last song on aisle eight."

Saturday, October 7, 9 p.m.
It's a good night to be a werewolf.
Black clouds in the sky over St. Louis peel back to reveal a waxy, full moon, which only intensifies Dead Hot Workshop's manic anticipation of the night to come.

This evening's venue is Mississippi Nights, a no-frills, 1,500-capacity rock club with a topnotch sound system. The club is sold out tonight, in part because of the headlining act's status as a regional band on the verge.

The Bottle Rockets are labelmates with Dead Hot Workshop, and, near the end of the Tempe band's set, Rockets singer/guitarist Brian Henneman takes the stage dressed in white bell-bottoms, a sleeveless Jack Daniel's shirt and a timeworn straw hat to help whip the crowd into a frenzy for the wind-up. "You all are gonna dig it really a lot! This is a great band, so comeondown!"

Like children to the piper, the people flood from their seats and fill the front of the house in no time. Henneman sits in on lead and back-up vocals for a rollicking cover of Neil Young's "Roll Another Number."

The Bottle Rockets then proceed to tear the roof off the sucker with a white-lightning set of highly theatrical hillbilly rock. At one point, someone in the audience offers Henneman a three-quarters-full bottle of Jack Daniel's. He graciously accepts it, then chugs it over the course of a solo, playing guitar with one hand, hoisting the bottle with the other.

The show's over at three in the morning, but bedtime is still hours away. The bands make for a bar across the Mississippi River in Illinois called Pops. The booze at Pops is cheap and the clientele is rowdy; the bar never closes. The house band is a cheesy cover group called Seventh Heaven that specializes in Meat Loaf medleys. Brent surveys the scene and offers a summation: "This place is kinda like a Festus, Missouri, high school senior trip to Rocky Point, Mexico."

Sunday, October 8, 1 p.m.
The Holiday Inn manager is knocking on the doors, calling out polite but firm reminders that check-out time was an hour ago.

Minutes later, four disheveled musicians (and one road manager) suffering from hangovers of varying severity shuffle out the lobby and into the parking lot, dragging their bags and squinting against the sunlight. Once more, it's time to ride.

The jaunt to Kansas City takes only a five hours--not enough time to recuperate. The band pulls into town around dinnertime, checks into another cheap chain hotel, orders room-service hamburgers and zones out on cable TV for an hour. Then it's up and at 'em--time to do a radio spot and load in gear for that night's gig at a small club called the Hurricane on the Missouri side of the city.

Fortunately, the radio station is within walking distance of the Hurricane, and after sound check the musicians make their way through empty downtown streets, instruments in hand, Brian strumming his guitar like a minstrel.

Dead Hot does two live acoustic numbers on the air and plays along with a deejay for a short interview, then heads back to the club for a two-hour wait before going on. The guys are visibly ragged and spend the time sitting in a stupor on a long, black leather couch backstage.

The band goes on just after 1 a.m. to an audience of 50, most of whom ignore the music, hovering around the bar and clutching drinks like pacifiers. It's a horror show of a gig, with multiple gear problems, boggyacoustics, broken strings and all the energy of apower outage.

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