Pain Relievers

After marauding up and down the East Coast, and befriending Ween, Less Pain Forever returns for the holidays

When we last encountered Less Pain Forever (previously known as Lush Budget Presents the Les Payne Product), the mercurial duo was going mobile, hitching its fate to a 1983 Chevy Southwind RV, and heading for the East Coast.

More than six months ago, the irreverent, jumpsuited musical pranksters (guitarist-singer James Karnes and drummer-keyboardist Chris Pomerenke) packed up their belongings and drove in the direction of New York, with no gigs booked, and no idea of when -- or if -- they'd be back to the Valley.

This week, Karnes and Pomerenke return triumphant, having played 60 shows, befriended the members of Ween, earned a plum gig at New York's Mercury Lounge, and filled German dance floors with the tapping toes of über-disaffecteds, who mistook the band's warped pop minimalism for some sort of Flock of Seagulls tribute.

Less Pain Forever: Hailed in Germany as sexy, obsessed and violent.
Kevin Scanlon
Less Pain Forever: Hailed in Germany as sexy, obsessed and violent.

The group's entire RV odyssey has been a series of fortuitous accidents, according to Pomerenke.

"We came up to New York without a show, without a tour, without anything," he says. "We got a string of shows at the Mercury Lounge. We just dropped off a pack, and the girl called us back and she was like, 'What is this pack? Someone dropped this off, and I love it.' And we said, 'We're living in a motor home in a parking lot in New Jersey.' And she said, 'I love this story. I want to have you guys every Saturday night in August.' So we just got a string of great shows in New York."

From there, LPF hooked up with a girl who coordinates shows for a massive underground punk circuit along the Eastern seaboard.

"Kids will get a PA and there'll be like 10 bands and they'll get a church or a YMCA or something," Pomerenke says. "On the East Coast, there's a string of those happening everywhere. She would e-mail people and get us on all these shows, so we've been doing that up and down the East Coast.

"She e-mailed a friend of hers in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and the guy booked us. He asked us what we sound like, and we're like, 'People say we sound something like Frank Zappa, or Devo, or Ween.' He said the guys in Ween are his best friends and they live in the same town we were going to."

New Hope is a sleepy hamlet along the Delaware River that tends to be a big tourist magnet for people blissfully unaware of the deranged musical alchemy that the Weensters are concocting within its city limits.

"It's a town about the size of Sedona," Pomerenke says of New Hope. "It's just a souvenir shop, basically. Just a boutique. It's real quaint and charming and postcardy, but it's the home of the fucking most obscene band in the world."

For Karnes and Pomerenke, unabashed disciples of the demented twosome that's brought us such heart-tugging classics as "Flies on My Dick" and "Spinal Meningitis," being introduced to Dean and Gene (and bassist Mean) was akin to getting a private audience with royalty.

"We met them [Ween] separately, and we were just trying to not piss our pants," Pomerenke says. "Dean was really nice and asking us about our band, and our RV, and what we were doing. Gene, we didn't really hang out with very much, we just kind of ran into him.

"We've met so many people in that area that were so cool to us that we stayed there for months, and we would hit Massachusetts and Philadelphia and Baltimore, and come back. You go to the video store and see Dean, and you go to the bathroom somewhere and you see Gene. It got to be really surreal."

So surreal that Less Pain Forever found themselves jamming at a party with Dean, and recording in the basement studio of Mean, with the bassist himself twiddling the knobs. Eventually, they even recorded at the home of Ween's drummer, the same locale that Ween uses for a rehearsal space.

During their stay in New Hope, Less Pain booked a brief tour in Germany, where they'd played nearly two years ago, along with the band Crowded Orifice. This time around, they crammed 11 shows into two weeks.

"It was weird," Pomerenke says. "This time we came, just the two of us, and we rented a car. We didn't go with another band, we just did it ourselves. But we played a lot of the same hard-core, punk-rock squat-houses. And they were booking us as an '80s dance-pop band.

"We'd get there, and they're like, 'Oh, yes, you're the '80s dance-pop band.' And we're like, 'Um, kind of.' And it'd be like these totally extreme, homeless, crusty hard-core kids. We'd start playing and they'd dance through the whole set. I don't even know if they really liked us, but they thought it was fun to dance to us."

Offering proof that the band's high-spirited performance approach can startle and bemuse neophytes, one German writer described the duo as "sexy, obsessed and a little bit violent" -- a worthy recommendation, to be sure, but one that might create the erroneous impression that whips and guillotines are part of the Less Pain experience.

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