Truck Ruckus

The MadCaPs take their music to the streets of Phoenix literally

Friday, February 7, 2003

Time: 7:30 p.m. Thought Crime

There's no vantage point in central Phoenix as illuminating as the one-story rooftop above Thought Crime, a communal art space on Central Avenue just north of Roosevelt. "The DEA is stationed in that building. You've got the transvestite bar there, the crack dealers there, the bail bondsman over here and you've got Channel 12 News hovering there," says John Logan, lead singer-songwriter of the MadCaPs and a Thought Crime resident, as he surveys the view. "And you've got us."

The odd thing about the MadCaPs is how much the band does seem to belong to this disenfranchised locality. Where the community might still shun a guy in a dress six sizes too small, it squeals with delight for a band playing music from the bed of a pickup truck. Most gawkers don't know the group's name or repertoire, yet they high-five them like conquering heroes.

An earlier '90s incarnation with a more conventional spelling did things the conventional way – and burned out. "The bottom line is we've got to be having fun," Logan says. "Do as others don't' has always been my personal credo. What can we do that no one else is? And the truck idea, which I'd seen done once for St. Paddy's Day in Tucson, seemed like a good one." Logan and friends borrowed a truck and a generator and, literally, hit the road the following month.

On the first Friday of each month, the MadCaPs hit venues guerrilla-style, becoming that day's truly unofficial "house" band. They visit six to eight galleries a night, playing for hundreds of people. The 'CaPs' biggest audience to date remains its set after the Flaming Lips/Beck double-bill at Gammage Auditorium last November. Positioned between the Lips' and Beck's tour buses, the 'CaPs held a CaPtive audience of thousands filing out of the hall, including the Flaming Lips themselves.

"They were watching us in the parking lot," says bassist Christina Nuñez. "And when John goes, We'd like to thank the Flaming Lips and Beck for opening up for us tonight,' the drummer for Flaming Lips is like, Yeah!' Later, they said they could hear us from backstage. John was inside the show with a cell phone and he came out during Beck's encores. As soon as people started coming out, we counted off the first song. No one fucked with us."

Fear of the unknown makes this venture more exciting than a bar soiree. There's always the concern this could be the night they get hassled by authorities, ignite someone's road rage or get a flat tire. This is also the first "First Friday" on which Logan's oldest friend and the band's newest guitarist Kevin Henderson is along for the ride. To date, the cops have been super-supportive, coming to the group's aid once when a highway patrol car ran their license after an impromptu gig at a Circle K. After local police informed them, "It's all right, they do this every month," the perplexed patrolmen followed the MadCaPs before getting on the bullhorn and requesting "I Shot the Sheriff." Take that, Joe!

8 p.m. Still at Thought Crime. The traditional "opening ceremony" unfolds without incident, but drummer Troy Maskell later tells of a neighbor on the other side of Central who was more than slightly mad over the MadCaPs. "She circulated this complaint around her building about that ominous place known as Thought Crime' where she called us noise terrorists,'" he chortles.

8:35 p.m. The Paisley Violin parking lot. Although the band arrives at each destination playing an original surf instrumental, any allusions to beach rock cease once Logan hops from the truck and sets up the mike stand on the street (where the group is safe to perform sans permit). Their actual set diverges in style from the Velvets to prog-rock to spacier sounds. "Anything goes but everything must go," says Logan. The dedicated ones who've nicknamed themselves "Madheads" follow the group from venue to venue and risk carbon monoxide poisoning. The truck keeps running to power the generator, which has its own fumes. "At least we're not using a diesel truck tonight," says drummer Maskell. Regardless, Nuñez, who played violin before taking up bass last year, says the truck is still her favorite venue. "Nobody's telling us You need to do this' or Be here at this time.' And I like it when people get pissed off when they're stuck behind us. It's like being in a Mexican restaurant and the mariachis come up to your table."

9:15 p.m. Monorchid Gallery. Here, the 'CaPs enjoy their most dramatic setting of the night thanks to the adjacent walls with recessed lamps. Within minutes, their sound sets off a nearby Ford Bronco's car alarm. But like something out of Pleasantville, its owner is actually happy to move it. Three ladies, whose cars are blocked, wait patiently for them to finish. After a caustic "Ballad of a Thin Man," the band is off to chase down a couple through an alley with that surf music again. The couple is nonplussed but not displeased since the volume is nowhere near the eardrum-shattering frequencies of your average beat siren.

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