An Ax to Find

Rehearsal-room burglary leaves two bands short of at least $12,000 worth of equipment

Jim Andreas and Chris Kennedy have played in bands together for nearly a decade.

Through all their musical incarnations -- namely Trunk Federation (which released two CDs on Alias Records) and the current Down With Buildings -- there is one common thread. Andreas (guitar, vocals) and Kennedy (drums) have spent all these years shaping their ideas and honing their sound in the same place: Room No. 9 at the Argo rehearsal complex in Tempe. Until almost two weeks ago, they'd never had a problem there. But that changed dramatically on Friday, November 30.

That afternoon, the other musical tenants of Room 9, the hooky alt-rock quartet Haggis, stopped by the practice facility to pick up their PA system for a side-stage gig at Nita's Hideaway that night. As singer-guitarist Brian Talenti, bassist Moon and a friend approached the door, they instantly realized that something terrible had happened.

"I looked and I could see a hole where the deadbolt used to be," Talenti says. "And I could see that the handle was smashed, just hanging there. I just kept saying, 'Oh man, oh man' -- maybe a little more expletive."

Talenti and his mates' worst fears were confirmed when they jimmied the door open to find that thieves had walked off with somewhere between $12,000 and $15,000 worth of equipment.

Leaving most of the heavy, cumbersome gear, and concentrating on particularly valuable instruments, the burglars hit both bands hard. Moon lost his Fender Precision bass, which had formerly belonged to ex-Metallica bassist Jason Newsted. The thieves also took his amp head and a tuner. With the burglary coming only two weeks after Moon's car was stolen, the good-natured bassist was left trying to decide which disaster was more pressing. For Talenti, the damage was a Fender Strat and a Marshall head. Haggis drummer Jack Obregon lost his stick bag, tool box, metronome and hardware case.

But as Talenti points out, it was really Haggis guitarist Tony Burns "who got manhandled" by the burglars. Burns lost three of his guitars, including a green-sparkle Gretsch (which he unveiled at the band's 1999 South by Southwest gig), a Fender Strat, and a flying V which he'd started on at the age of 15. They also took his cabinet, road box (which included his amp head) and all his guitar effects. Burns alone was burned to the tune of at least $6,000 in the break-in.

"My new joke is that Haggis is now a three-piece band," Talenti says. "But I'm talking about the gear we have left."

In a more reflective mood, Talenti considers the sentimental attachments that form between musicians and their axes. "It's not about money," he says. "There's a reason B.B. King named his guitar Lucille. You kind of develop these relationships with your instruments."

Down With Buildings hardly emerged unscathed from the practice-room break-in. With dry humor, Andreas says, "They took everything I wanted and left the stuff I didn't want."

The thieves left an amp that Andreas would have easily parted with, and carted off his prized Schecter guitar. They also took another of his guitars, all his effects pedals and the band's PA. Kennedy had a microphone and his cymbals stolen.

Although Andreas and Kennedy had used Room 9 without incident for years, Andreas says it was not the first time he has had equipment stolen, and he doesn't expect it to be the last. As horrendous as the burglary was, he almost views it as the price that all musicians must pay for their chosen vocation. "If you're a musician, about every seven years, you're due for some theft," Andreas says.

Haggis had used Room 9 only for the last year, spending the previous two years in the comparatively lucky Room 13 in the same complex. In a mental fog after losing so much prized gear, the band played its Nita's gig on November 30, relying on equipment borrowed from their friends in the band Hyon. That night, Nita's booking agent Charlie Levy suggested throwing a benefit for the bands affected by the burglary. The quickness with which groups jumped to be on the bill, and the general willingness of local musicians to share gear with the suddenly under-equipped bands, brought at least the glimmer of a silver lining to a thoroughly bad situation.

"We have been getting inundated with hits on the Web sites from bands that have been really supportive and offering to help," says Talenti. "It really makes you feel good to see that kind of positive thing happening.

The Nita's show will feature eight bands on two stages, including the two bands affected by the theft. Barring some last-minute purchases, both of them will have to borrow gear from friends.

But Talenti sees it as an opportunity for his band to focus on playing again: "I'm just looking forward to an awesome night of music."

On the night of the attack -- which likely happened within a few hours of Haggis' November 29 rehearsal -- the burglars left a keyboard amp by the door of the practice room, suggesting that they either ran out of room to load their haul or were close to getting caught and had to flee. In any event, they're unlikely to have much success if they try selling the gear locally. Andreas' equipment had TF (a reference to Trunk Federation) spray-painted on it, and Haggis' highly distinctive gear included a Marshall cabinet covered in red Astroturf.

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