The teen punk trio, which consists entirely of 16-year-old Central High sophomores, was so popular with administrators that its weekend all-ages gigs at the Mason Jar and Nile Theater were regularly plugged over the intercom as part of the school's morning announcements.
The band (which mercifully goes by its acronym, ADS) was also encouraged to pass out its fliers on campus, and had played at a pep rally in the school gym, with the administration's blessing. Even spiky-haired, lip-ring-wearing bassist/vocalist Anthony Barasco's stage garb -- a Central High track suit -- was a gift from the school's assistant principal.
But high school authority and punk rock make uneasy bedfellows, and this was one marriage destined for rancor and name-calling.
On Thursday, October 4, Central High hosted the Statewide Student Government Conference, a gathering of 1,000 students from around the state. A member of Central's student council, who'd seen ADS rock the Jar, asked the band to play a 30-minute set that morning.
The band members knew the drill: They had to submit written lyrics to school officials. And Barasco voluntarily cleaned up the content of his songs, which even his own father, Drew Barasco (who is also the band's manager and its greatest champion), concedes "can be a little on the crude side." Anthony also knew that he would have to refrain from his usual habit of stripping down to his boxer shorts by the end of the set.
Even with these minor compromises, school administrators had to know what they were getting with ADS. Not only had the band already played on campus, but Anthony says at least five teachers at the school own copies of the band's debut CD, White Trash Punk, a nine-song set with such heartfelt anthems as "Jenny Crackpipe," "Cyber Whore," "Wife Beater" and "Grade-A-Granny" (sample lyric, from the song "Flamin Pitts": "So I said, 'What's up girl? I thought you were a slut'/She slapped me in the face and she told me to go fuck myself").
If the band was willing to play ball with school officials, one of its most ardent supporters was not. The band's friend and schoolmate Matt Lacey had made a habit of jumping onstage at their gigs, and he wasn't going to be impeded by the school-auditorium setting.
"He made a movie called Manbo Prison Style," Anthony says. "It's pretty funny, and it's just about this retarded character called Tom Manbo. So he asked me to write a song for the movie, which I did. So he usually dances onstage when we play that song.
"We didn't play 'Manbo' [at the conference], but he dressed up as Manbo and jumped up on the stage and did some pretty crazy dances that he usually doesn't do."
"A male stripper would have been proud," says Drew Barasco, a former drummer who logged many hours at the Mason Jar himself in the '80s with his band The Living Edge.
Hitting the stage as ADS kicked into its third song, Lacey/Manbo tore off his windbreaker and started rubbing it back and forth between his legs. He dangled a wooden sword in front of his crotch, did pushups on the floor, and when approached by the school's antsy security guard, flipped her the bird.
The crowd of student-government leaders had been stage-diving from the first crack of drummer Ryan Moore's snare, but Lacey's antics really sent them over the top.
"All these strait-laced kids were standing on their chairs, jumping up and down, and screaming and yelling," Drew says. "It wasn't any big surprise to anyone. It was just a shock to the school."
The school's security officer dragged Lacey off the stage, while administrators closed the curtains and shut off the mikes, leaving a confused Anthony and guitarist Matt Pruett standing in front of the curtains.
For Anthony, the episode would be purely comical if not for the way school officials turned on his band. He says the band -- which agreed to play for free because of the exposure the gig would provide -- had printed up 1,000 fliers for the occasion, and after Lacey's abbreviated bump-and-grind, assistant principal Rob Barnes (who the band has taken to calling "Deputy Barnes") grabbed the fliers out of Pruett's hand and tossed them in the trash can. They also say he banned them from playing at the school and threatened them with administrative action. Barnes did not return Soundcheck's phone calls.
"He told me that he's holding the band responsible for their friend's actions," Drew Barasco says. "This is like having a streaker race across the court during a basketball game, and blaming the players for it.
"He was severely embarrassed. I mean, every school in the state now thinks Central is wacked, because this guy jumped onstage."
While it's tempting for the band's incensed fans to view the Central High debacle as a free-speech issue, it's unlikely that James Madison regarded the First Amendment as constitutional protection to sing a tune called "Jenny Crackpipe" at a school assembly.
If anything, the school's administration had been remarkably supportive of the band over the previous six months, particularly considering ADS' reflexively anti-authority stance.
Where the school appears moronic is the way it suspended all logic when an embarrassing incident happened. School administrators knew what to expect from an ADS show. They'd seen the band play, they knew what their songs were about, and they knew the rabid impulses they stirred in their fans. To become irate with the band over something it didn't do, and couldn't control, reeks of the kind of draconian thinking that has long made teenagers want to rebel against school authority.
Lacey, the real center of the controversy, was suspended for eight days, for what the school termed "obscene dancing," and was awaiting an expulsion hearing at press time.
"They sell drugs at that school, they have gang violence at that school, and that doesn't result in expulsion," Drew Barasco says. "But better not dirty dance in front of the stage, or they'll kick you out permanently."
In true punk fashion, though, Lacey remains defiant and proud about the chaos he created. Anthony says Lacey recently handed him a flier he'd made. It reads: "Wanted: Tom Manbo. Crime: Obscene Dancing. If Seen: Contact Deputy Barnes."
Tempe Calling: Legendary ex-Clash front man Joe Strummer will give fans an exciting preview of his Thursday, October 18, show at Cajun House with an in-store appearance at Zia Record Exchange in Tempe earlier that night, from 6 to 8 p.m. He's expected to sign autographs and allow longtime worshippers to touch the hem of his garment.
Nihil and Void: Local aggro-industrial favorites Nihil will be celebrating the release of their second CD on Slipdisc Records with a Saturday, October 20, show at the Bash on Ash. Opening the show will be the wildly theatric doom merchants of Victims in Ecstasy.
Blues and Politics: The Thursday, October 18, performance by the Mingus Big Band at Scottsdale Center for the Arts renews a special Valley connection that exists with the late jazz bassist/composer. An ailing Mingus played the final shows of his celebrated career at the Doubletree in Phoenix only two years before his 1979 death. The Big Band -- which recently backed up Mingus fan Elvis Costello in New York -- was formed in 1991 by Mingus' widow, Sue, to provide a creative format for musicians to tackle the master's imposing body of work.
Disaster Coverage: Rolling Stone magazine's recent special issue devoted to the September 11 terrorist hijackings produced some intriguing first-person accounts (MTV graybeard Kurt Loder's narrow escape from the Lower Manhattan avalanche of rubble), much simplistic, if well-intended, philosophizing and a few narcissistic notes (Old 97's front man Rhett Miller, in providing a harrowing account of his morning, could not resist mentioning the "beautiful" song he was writing in the World Trade Center plaza only days earlier). Along the way, the issue name-checks local heroes Jimmy Eat World in a piece looking at how the tragedy has affected the release of songs with potentially disturbing titles, pointing out that the Mesa quartet recently changed the name of its single (and title song of its DreamWorks debut album) "Bleed American" to the less menacing "American."