Some say that it really isn't happening, that Less Pain Forever (a.k.a. Lush Budget Presents the Les Payne Product) isn't really leaving Arizona, that all this talk about the duo living, recording and touring for perpetuity in a 1983 Chevrolet Southwind RV is just the latest in a series of stunts devised to dupe the more gullible members of the local press. Some even think their "final" Valley show this weekend carries no more finality than the countless other "farewell" gigs local bands announce in June so they don't have to sweat a slow club scene during the mind-searing summer months.
Jeez, the Sand Rubies don't have these sort of credibility problems and they've split and regrouped more times than your average amoeba.
But then again, how can you trust two guys who'd form a Wings tribute band and then refuse to learn all of Linda's keyboard parts? And what other group has arranged to have its members kidnapped during a show or traded singers with someone else during a battle of the bands? And who else has initiated more lugubrious name changes than Prince and Cat Stevens combined?
The answer will be apparent in the coming months, when local music fans find there are no more Less Pain or Les Payne shows -- and it's too bad. For as much as group leaders Chris Pomerenke and James Karnes have bewildered and alienated some folks with their antics, they've delighted the rest of us who've tired of seeing bands play the same set lists so people can have the same conversations over them.
If some Valley idiots came away from a Les Payne show feeling cheated, I suggest they don't deserve a band this good.
As a writer who has been duped by these charlatans on numerous occasions (and unwittingly taken part in a stunt or two), I realize everything I write about Less Pain Forever is naturally suspect. But trust me. These guys are really, really leaving. I have seen the "For Lease" sign outside the compound they've called home for the past six years. I've touched the hem of their RV awning and have drunk one of last beers from the refrigerator inside.
Sitting inside the Southwind reminiscing with Pomerenke and Karnes, you realize what an amazing vehicle the Les Payne RV is. Everything inside of it either folds out into a bed or a spice rack. And the duo will need every inch of space they can get to allow room for a public address system and all their computer and recording equipment. In paring down their possessions, Pomerenke and Karnes are parting ways with their beloved 30-inch TV, countless mannequin heads and five 30-gallon trash bags worth of thrift store stage clothes. Pomerenke swears they will only wear silk pajamas from now on.
"We're gonna stroll out of this mini-castle like two Hefs, sipping champagne. No more beer, either. This is the last time you'll see beer in here," he grimaces, pointing to a couple of Coors Light cans.
With only two shows booked as part of their endless tour, the band's impending odyssey starts to sound as unlikely as an Elvis movie plot -- two drifter musicians travel the country in search of places to play and some nice people to help along the way.
Even if their greatest adventure is yet to be written, what's gone before is certainly not chopped liver. For those of you who missed it, we offer the following recap of the best of Les Payne -- and some of the strangest shows ever to be staged in the Valley.
Trunk Federation CD release Party, January 1997, Hollywood Alley
Les Payne Product's first attempt to upstage the headliner included inviting a series of "special guests" onstage. Among those was a one-man band affectionately known as Fuckin' A.
Pomerenke: "He sat behind the drums, played guitar and sang a song about how he had 'rock 'n' roll in his veins.'"
After Fuckin' A's one-song set, Les Payne returned wearing bloodied butcher smocks and carrying congratulatory bouquets for their guest.
This show also marked the first and only appearance of "Sara, the Les Payne Dancer." Ripping off their smocks to reveal homemade Slayer tee shirts, the Payne boys and Sara devil-danced the night away to the strains of evil metal music, much to the chagrin of a perplexed crowd.
Phunk Junkeez CD release party, October 1998, Bash on Ash
The boys exorcised their megalomaniacal demons by hiring personal valets to hold up full-length mirrors so they could check their look onstage during the entire set. Bogus rappers J.T. Nasty and T.C. Classy (Jeff Bufano and Chris Corak from Reuben's Accomplice) also performed a song with the duo.
Mike Watt Show, Mason Jar, April 1998
The night the guys decided to become faith healers -- a transformation which actually brought the crowd to a hush. One unidentified man in a walker came away healed but another guy with a creepy gold-plated mask and a limp wasn't so lucky.
Karnes: "That was Chris Corak from Reuben's Accomplice. He tied the lower part of his leg up inside a really big pair of pants and had a prosthetic limb tied on. I reached out, pushed him backwards and, as he fell down, the limb just came out of his pants. It scared the audience half to death."
The Frankie Valli Show, December 1998, Nita's Hideaway
No sooner had Pomerenke stopped this gig -- because he was despondent about missing the Frankie Valli show being held at the Celebrity Theatre -- than did a man claiming to be Valli show up to sing "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." The man claiming to be the head Four Season -- he wore a black fright wig and a loud red suit -- was an obvious impostor. Plus, the real Frankie Valli would never have called the Celebrity Theatre "a spinning dump" or run sideways in circles on the floor and screamed like a beached Robert Plant.
Karnes: "We had two guest appearances that night. Elvis came on and sang 'In the Ghetto.' That was Jim Andreas of Trunk Federation making no attempt to actually look like the King except for a birthday boy crown and one of our white jumpsuits. He hated doing that. That was the show that made Trunk Federation give up shtick completely."
Night of 1,000 Props, February 1998, Hollywood Alley
Karnes: "The entire night was structured as a telethon to raise 1,000 props for charity. Everyone who played that night came on at the end of our set to bring up the last 30 remaining props needed for the night to be a success. We had 20 computer monitors, five prosthetic limbs and some wig heads. All the performers appearing that night came onstage to sing 'We Are the World' with us and someone threw a beer bottle at Psycho Gypsy's drummer. All I can remember is him going after the guy brandishing one of the prosthetic limbs."
The Impostor Show, March 1998, Hollywood Alley
A recurring character during Les Payne gigs was their archrival Decepto (played by Shane Caraway), who would continually crash their show and have his evil Girl-Bots beat on the band just long enough for him to sing a malevolent song, usually one filled with foul language and artichoke references. For this show he managed to knock Karnes offstage, steal his clothes and pose as the standing half of Les Payne. Only when Decepto's piercing Paul Lynde vocals received amplification was the ruse uncovered.
Trunk Federation's second CD release party, March 1998, Jackson Hole
In a New Times interview that week, Trunk Federation stated that they were through doing shtick in their live shows. Mildly irritated by this, the still shticky Les Payne began a fake feud with Trunk in the press that threatened to boil over into a genuine one several times leading up to the gig.
Karnes: "During that show we gave Trunk a double dose of shtick. Our set ended with us playing 'Homeward Bound,' which got 'Trunk-cated' by Decepto. He played their condescending road manager, telling us to 'swim away, little guppies.'"
The disgruntled duo took their grievances to the stage before making friendly again and singing David Bowie's "Fashion" with the Trunkers.
New Times Music Showcase, April 1998, Trails
Taking a page from David Letterman's book, the group used some cleverly edited taped footage to fool an unsuspecting showcase crowd.
Karnes: "The premise was we were trading singers, with me going to Reuben's Accomplice and Jeff Bufano joining Les Payne. Our showcases were at the same time and about a good 200 yards or more away. We had TV monitors set up that the crowd was watching. We shot all this video footage the day before of us running up and down Mill Avenue to the other venue, wearing the same clothes we'd wear for the show. All these shots of us running upstairs, shopping at the Gap, going to the movies and then arriving at the gig."
Pomerenke: "It was a fucking amazing idea. I just remember being onstage seeing all these blank faces just staring up and I remember saying, 'Okay, you're never gonna see this again.'"
Dust Devil movie shoot, January 1999, Boston's
The group's motion-picture project, Dust Devil, was never completed and the scenes shot that night did not even include Les Payne.
Karnes: "Our characters in the movie were supposed to be too big to play a place like Boston's. So we filmed a bunch of other people singing instead. I'm sure some people didn't think there was any film in the cameras, and having never seen the footage, I can't even be sure."
Bluebird Show, August 2000, Emerald Lounge
Most people doubted the sincerity of Les Payne's purported "love" for the music of Wings. Mostly because the Lovely Linda, as portrayed by Pomerenke with 5 o' clock shadow, was a lot tougher than the late vegan activist appeared in real life. Witness her cover of "It's a Man's World" or her version of John Lennon's vitriolic anti-Paul rant "How Do You Sleep?"
New Times Music Showcase, May 2001, Mill Cue Club
Les Payne Product changes its name to Less Pain Forever and lets a cover band from Glendale do the set for them. The alternative plan was just as intriguing.
Pomerenke: "We were actually just going to show up with a videotape of our last show and take questions from the audience. Then we thought that New Times might not pay us for honoring the contract. That would've been so cool."
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