The Complainiacs try out a new bassist, but is he punk enough to get you pissed?

On a recent Monday night, I'm inside the downtown art collective The Firehouse, where The Complaniacs drummer Matt Spastic lives. The band is auditioning a new bass player in Spastic's bedroom. A few Firehouse regulars poke their heads in, grab beers from the mini-fridge, and watch the bleached blond, tatted-up Spastic go to town on his drums like Animal from The Muppets. I'm the only one wearing earplugs.

Call me a wimp, but I don't know how everybody else's ears aren't bleeding. The first song the band launches into is "Killed by CubScouts," an upbeat and deafening number with speed-building guitar lines. The lyrics, screamed out by guitarist/vocalist Jim Nauseum — who rocks shoulder-length, reddish-brownish hair — are absolutely unapologetic. (The second verse goes like this: "Rock 'n' roll will give you the HEP-C/Then your brain starts to bleed.") The minute-and-a-half song isn't difficult to play, but it's not easy either, especially due to its frantic nature. This new bass guy, named Nathan, who might as well be wearing just underwear because there's barely any seat to his threadbare jeans, nails the tune in the second take. Spastic and Nauseum look at each other and smile. They crack open more Coors Light beer cans.

The Complainiacs' standard operating procedure is to play ear-raping, jet engine-loud punk rock in an F-U style. But more than the music, the band rocks the punk image mold set by groups like the Sex Pistols and Minor Threat, which basically means, "If you don't like us, then leave." And though The Complainiacs have matured just a bit — the band's sole focus used to be to clear any room they played — they still don't really give a shit about what you think. Because, as Spastic puts it, "Disgust isn't such a bad emotion."

Bring earplugs: The Complainiacs are loud and drunk.
Mike Johnson
Bring earplugs: The Complainiacs are loud and drunk.

The Complainiacs have been pissing people off regularly since 2003, when Spastic and Nauseum formed the band while each lived at the old Thought Crime artist collective. "Early on, our goal was to run people out of venues. Be really noisy and write things that people couldn't possibly dance to," says Spastic, who admits that in the early days, the band encouraged hecklers to come to the shows to further pooh-pooh the concert-going experience. But the sonic blitzkrieg yielded my favorite part about the band: odd time signatures. Most of the songs are in 4/4 time, but The Complainiacs sometimes incorporate 3/4 or even 7/4 time into their blistering sound.

Back in Spastic's room, Nathan the bass player is trying his hand at "Etc.," a song with some of these obscure changes and weird repetitions. As I'm listening to the tune, I take note of Spastic's room, a pretty small space that, believe or not, has hosted shows for local and out-of-town bands. The place, to be honest, is an absolute freaking disaster. I've had to compete for sitting space on a couch along with empty cans of Milwaukee's Best, dubbed tapes of The Descendents and Butthole Surfers, and the book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, which I later discover is the object that's been digging into my back for the past half-hour. I will give Spastic the benefit of the doubt because he's in the process of moving out, but it's basically looked like this every time I've been here.

After only one take of "Etc.," Nathan, who sports his four-string bass ax below the waist, again picks up the music as if he's written the stuff. It's obvious that he's talented enough to be in this band, but I wonder if he has the right type of punkitude to fit in with The Complainiacs. Then, as if he's reading my mind or something, Nathan says, in between drinks from his 40-ounce of Budweiser: "That was fun. Now that I'm getting a buzz, I can get more into the groove." Then he goes on to tell a story about how, during a recent performance at Holgas by his band Rapeworm, he got really drunk, called somebody a faggot on the mic, and fought somebody else in the crowd. Spastic's blue eyes light up and he says, "Well, so far you're fitting right in. We piss people off all of the time."

And it's true. For whatever reason, The Complainiacs know how to push the deepest and most vulnerable buttons within people. There was the time when, after a seven-hour drinking binge, they played a set that apparently didn't even resemble music. When they realized that they were too sauced to play, each band member started kicking and wrecking their gear. Some of the soundman's stuff was ruined in the process.

More recently, a beer bottle-wielding audience member cracked Jon Dissed, the band's bass player of three years, over the skull during a gig at Bruno Mali's, on Seventh Avenue and Osborn Road. Long story short: The Complaniacs knew everybody in the audience, so various friends came to their defense and beat the crap out of the guy. Spastic even got some licks in of his own, hitting the dude in the back of the head "probably 10 times or so" with his drumsticks. Once the battered guy was dragged out of the place, the band — including Dissed with his gaping head wound — finished the set. Spastic says, "When all was said and done, I noticed that my sticks were splattered with blood. I don't know if it was from the perpetrator's head or Jon dripping on them." (Six months later, the band ran into the assaulter, and discovered he's this cool guy named Rocky from local rock group Skinwalkers. They are all now friends.)

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3 comments
fuckface
fuckface

So, in this article, beating people up and calling people faggots is "cool," "punk," and "edgy." Great job, New Times. 

Jackie Cruz
Jackie Cruz

It's nice to see a band that still has the good old fashioned rock and roll/punk attitude. I am so sick of seeing these sappy, bland indie/folk kids getting written up for boring music that all sounds the same. As a huge punk fan I would love to see music like this make a comeback but I know that may be wishful thinking. Until them good luck to these young lads and thanks for bringing the punkiness back to the music!

 
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