Hi, My Name Is Ryan

The clown prince of Phoenix's downtown art scene is sacrificing madcap antics for a Mormon mission

Ryan Avery staggers through the Trunk Space in downtown Phoenix, sweaty, smelly, and spent.

For the past several minutes, the 19-year-old front man for the thrash-punk foursome Fathers Day has transformed his flabby, 5-foot-11, 230-pound frame into a frenetic pinball of cherubic fury, including rolling, crawling, and jumping around the Grand Avenue art gallery like some crazed spider monkey.

While the band blasts out distortion-filled punk with the tempo of machine-gun fire, Avery howls out lyrics and slams himself into the dozens of folks who've gathered at the Trunk Space for the group's CD release party, held, fittingly enough, on the third Sunday in June — Father's Day.

Ryan Avery
Luke Holwerda
Ryan Avery
Ryan Avery
Luke Holwerda
Ryan Avery

His antics end in the blink of an eye, as most of Fathers Day's songs last less than a minute, including one clocking in at a mere five seconds. Most of their gigs run 10 minutes, if that.

Yet Avery's wiped out after tearing about, since he jams more energy into one gig than Henry Rollins puts into an hourlong set.

Avery's overheated state isn't entirely because of his punk rock calisthenics. On this sweltering summer evening, the guy's wearing a black-and-white polyester pinstripe suit, a red checkered dress shirt, a neon blue necktie and suspenders. On his face: a fake mustache and Ray-Ban sunglasses. This garish getup assaults the eyes of audience members and leaves Avery feeling "like a baked potato."

"That was a sick song, dudes," he says to the crowd of onlookers. "Man, am I hot."

Avery adjusts a fake trucker mustache pasted to his upper lip, ironic considering he's unable to grow facial hair. In his childhood, he suffered from hypopituitarism (a deficiency in hormones from his pituitary gland), which stalled his puberty, giving him the appearance and voice of a pubescent teenager. It's the same disease afflicting outlandish MTV2 comic Andy Milonakis, whose gonzo comedy is similar to Avery's (although Avery says he doesn't find Milonakis funny).

It's all part of the surreal spectacle and silly shtick of Fathers Day, in which Avery and his bandmates play a costumed quartet of the "world's worst dads," who play punk when they aren't abusing their kids or mistreating their wives.

For instance, Avery is Douglas Patton (a.k.a. "Business Dad"), a misanthropic and homophobic tyrant who performs such songs as "Get a Haircut," "My Son's a Gay," and "When I Say Woman I'm Talking to You." (His bandmates include "Drunk Dad," "Classy Dad," "Golf Dad," and occasionally "Sperm-Donor Dad," who fills in when another member can't perform.)

Their lightning-quick sets last less than a coffee break because most of their hilarious songs feature just one or two lines of lyrics. It usually takes longer for them to set up than it does for the show.

Fathers Day is not the only goofy gig Avery's got going. He's also a member of the a cappella duo The Best Friends; the improv troupe Catorce; a solo performance project and "open diary" called Hi My Name Is Ryan; the Chris Farley-esque talk show Grand Avenue Tonight!; an absurd electronica band called Night Wolf; noise rock group Iggy Pop; and twisted vaudeville-style showcase Uncle Sku's Clubhouse, where he plays the slow-witted and deformed man-child Caspar the Kid. He also draws and paints.

Ryan Avery's an alt-cultural renaissance man and the clown prince of the downtown Phoenix art scene, performing at any of the numerous venues dotting Grand Avenue or Roosevelt Row. He's rarely paid, forcing him to scrape by with a part-time job at Zoës Kitchen.

Being divided amongst so many projects, one has to wonder if any of it is watchable, outside of a train wreck sort of way.

If the crowd tonight at the Trunk Space is any indication, yes, it is. But could this stuff play outside the tiny spots dotting the arts district?

After the Fathers Day show, Avery's collecting compliments from friends and fans when he's approached by Dirty Dan, guitarist and vocalist for local hardcore band George Moshington. They're willing to give up half an upcoming set opening up for punk legends Good Riddance at the Brickhouse Theater so Avery and company can get funky in a venue many times the size of the Trunk Space.

"So what if I could get you guys into the Good Riddance show, would you come play?" he asks Avery.

"Hell yes!" Avery exclaims. "Dude, we would love to play the Brickhouse."

It's the perfect capper to a phenomenal week for Avery. He just landed a killer show. And approximately 72 hours prior, he got the official word that he'd be going on his mission for the Mormon Church.

In addition to being an outrageous performance artist, Avery's also a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, eagerly awaiting an August 23 departure from the Valley to spread the gospel according to Joseph Smith.

Avery's arguably the hippest Mormon since alt-rocker Brandon Flowers of The Killers, or even Napoleon Dynamite himself, Jon Heder.

The latter comparison seems especially apt considering that, just like the goofy indie film hero, Avery's king of his own world. He doesn't wear moon boots or dance to Jamiroquai, but he and his friends have their own particular brand of humor, fashion, music, and art. And if anyone doesn't get them, then too bad.

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