Payne Pill

Q: What did the snail say on the turtle's back?
A: "Wheeeeeee!"
If you were at Hollywood Alley last Saturday night (January 18), you probably heard Les Payne Project guitarist James Karnes tell that one. I was, and I did. And I'm glad for it, because I also heard Karnes and drummer/co-vocalist Christopher Pomerenke bang out 45 minutes of delicious, stop-and-start rock dementia. Screech those brakes--no, these guys are not a Doo Rag knockoff. Arizona? Yes. Duo? Yes. Lots of volume? Yes. Oddball stage demeanor? Yes, but trust me--the passing resemblance dissolved upon scrutiny (not that Doo Rag and Les Payne wouldn't make a fine double bill; hell, throw in Sub Pop space rockers godheadSilo and you've got a dreamy triple threat). Where Doo Rag is weird, sorta hillbilly and gloriously sloppy, the Les Payne Project is weird, sorta funky and incredibly tight. Karnes and Pomerenke color within the lines, playing with and off one another with impeccable precision. If I wanted to get Jedi about it, I'd say the two play as one. But I don't, so I'll just say they've jammed together in various Valley rock collectives for four and a half years, hence the apparent psychic link is no mind trick. Most recently, Karnes and Pomerenke were two thirds of Lush Budget. That band broke up just more than a year ago when the bass player moved to Oklahoma--"It was right after the sex-change operation," says Pomerenke--and the two decided to work up some material and make do as a duo. Good move, 'cause their act is the bomb. The music is high-energy, fun-house rock 'n' roll--like looking at a powerful grunge band through a warped mirror. On speed. Wheeeeeee!

So what's the secret to keeping the band's sound so nice, fresh and phat with only two members? Well, they both sing a lot, often at the same time. They don't sing well, necessarily, but with great vigor and personality. Also, Pomerenke uses his drums as instruments instead of just beat-keepers, and, quite simply, Karnes can play the hell out of the guitar. He nimbly frog-hops from fairy-chime harmonics to chugging, gut-punch power chords. Close your eyes and it's tough to believe there's just one of that boy up there.

Furthermore, these dudes are showmen. Clearly an introvert offstage, Karnes unleashes the beast within when he's on the mike. Growl, beast, growl. Two songs into their Hollywood Alley set, Karnes and his partner abruptly laid down their guitar and sticks, respectively, and charged offstage. Up came Jim Knapp, drummer for the opening band, Reuben's Accomplice, for a meandering yet oddly compelling kazoo solo, followed in short order by the return of the Les Payne Project, in new costumes, accompanied by the rest of Reuben's Accomplice, for a kick-out-the-jams version of the Payne song "Deceptionist." Gimmicky? You bet. And I say bring it on. A little eye candy never hurt anyone, and a lot of local bands should take heed: It's called a show, not a recital. Or forget it. Just keep acting like you're on cough syrup and looking like a Buffalo Exchange trade-in casualty. See if I care.

Anyway, beyond the Valley, the band's played (get this) Coolidge, Arizona, at a place called Moonshooter's Cafe. Pomerenke says Reuben's Accomplice gigs in Coolidge often, and both bands were treated like rock gods. "We just rode in on Reuben's coattails and got to play Pearl Jam for a day," he says.

Finally, in case you caught it and/or were wondering, the Les Payne Project's namesake is, in fact, none other than the 78-year-old, self-proclaimed mayor and chief curmudgeon of Nothing, Arizona (pop. 4). Les Payne, cult hero, has been the subject of two New Times profiles and, currently, a national advertising campaign. To the band's credit, the Les Payne Project started gigging this summer under the name Lush Budget Presents the Les Payne Project--that was after the first New Times story but before an Ohio ad firm blatantly ripped off that story and its accompanying photographs to pimp Culligan water filters. Pomerenke says the band will record an eight-track demo in the near future, and plans to send Les an autographed copy and letter of admiration. I'm sure he'll be thrilled, although he won't be getting any royalties from this, either.

--David Holthouse

David Holthouse is now wired.
The Web site is Mothership. The address is The options are myriad (multigenre criticism, archives, rave data, freak links).


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