Onstage at this outdoor show are the Impossible Ones, a band spraying some of the best punk rock/pop this city has seen in ages.
Spike-topped singer Squeal resembles Pete Shelly, if he had worn Buddy Holly specs during the Love Bites days. Tenderly tattooed over bits of baby fat, Squeal is your punk-rock little brother, a puppy dog power chorder with the voice of a seventh-grade choirboy. Bassist Gentleman John understands the whole Paul Siminon thing; he's the only earnest-faced guy in the bunch. Jeffro Lane has this unlikely drumming style that just looks, well, impossible. Sometimes it sounds that way. Guitarist Pisano Berrardo, 21, is well beyond his years in punk guitar hero wisdom.
The year-old Impossible Ones are a kidlike band of guys in their early to mid-20s who have done their homework, learned their history lessons well. They've learned, if you will, the ways of the masters, just like a proper rock 'n' roll band should. And it's not because they resemble some bastard brat of '77ers like the Boys, 999 or even the Vibrators, but because they inject juice into the collapsed vein of punk.
For one thing, there's loads and loads of sloppiness. So much sloppiness, in fact, that one wonders if the whole show could capsize at any moment. But that's the way rock 'n' roll should be. Beer must fly, bottles must break, chords must be played as if they'll never be played again. No matter if 10 or 300 people are there to witness. The Impossible Ones understand this.
Mind you, the Impossible Ones are not a great band. Yet, at this point, they don't have to be. They overstep shortcomings with genuine exuberance, a spirit that goes beyond getting all the chords in the correct order. Becoming a great band is only part of the process, the end reward for a collected experience. The lapel pins, leopard-print vests, rhombus-shaped sunglasses and skinny ties are all part of the posture. Take the spirit away and all you're left with is posture. And posturing is the theme running through much of the burgeoning local punk-rock scene.
And after all this, the group's songs still manage to bounce between the walls of your skull; band members falling down, missed beats, detuned guitars are simply part of the beer blast. All part of the tongue-in-cheekiness, the sheer sense of wanton energy, the glory of the musical blunder.
That's why, in my opinion, the Impossible Ones are, hands down, the best punk-rock band in town.
Besides, what's not to adore about a band that offers a rousing version of the Undertones' "Get Over You"?
Casa Impossible Ones is a mission-style, spray stucco beast in the cinderblocks of east Tempe. Ornamented with a brown lawn, falling chain-link, stray beer cans and a dirt-tinted sofa that sits on the front porch, the house complements the neighborhood's brutal architecture perfectly. Interior walls sport an American flag bearing John Wayne's stoic mug; Chevy car parts hang gallerylike; a bull's head sits here, beer company signs there, animal-print lampshades on thrift-store bases; a rent-to-own couch from the 1980s on which sits the most recent issue of punk journal Hitlist. The temperature inside must exceed 100. The air conditioner is busted.
How punk rock.
Out on the front-porch couch, with beers in hand, Jeffro and Squeal approach the Impossible Ones' yarn. With the exception of guitarist Pisano, they have all played with other local bands.
"We would just get together and get all shit-faced and try and figure out where we were gonna practice," the bubbly-mouthed Jeffro recalls between slugs of Bud. "It consisted of getting drunk and a lot of hopeful shit until we got it together."
Drummer Jeffro stands, lifts his shirt and reveals a tattoo that covers the whole of his back. It's an Elvis crucifix, not even skinny Elvis, but fat Elvis, done in bold strokes with lots of color. On his chest is a Grateful Deadish skull centered in a sapphire-colored butterfly. His arms are completely sleeved in tats. A shock of yellow in his short, greased spikes looks like squirts of mustard. Jeffro arrived here two years ago from Milwaukee, where he was employed as a die-caster.
"We just sit around and get drunk and put all our energy and heart into writing some halfway cool songs," he says. "And then we hear these bands that sound like they were recorded in a Dumpster and they got a record release and they are going on tour. We can play our instruments and write halfway decent songs, but about everything else we are kinda like newborns."
While it might appear easy living for a punk band in a hazy world of crap-fisted indie labels that appear to be doling out recording budgets to any sweaty snot-nose with a Flipside in his back pocket, the Impossible Ones wallow in that land of manager-and-label-free hell where the phone simply refuses to ring. The two rely on fatigued band axioms to loose their frustrations. But who can blame them? These are the things that provide ample fodder for rock shtick. That and their various day jobs as fork-lift drivers and restaurant workers.
"There's all these bands that get signed on all these labels and hook up all these tours," continues Jeffro, his voice slicked with a Milwaukee twang. "To me they just fucking suck. I think we're more concerned about writing good songs over the promotional and marketing aspect of it. We are concerned about writing good songs.
"And there is a lot of people that claim to be street punk," he continues, his voice rising to conceal resentment. "I get so fed up with that working-class street punk band shit where they all sing about that sort of stuff. I grew up in Wisconsin, and when I graduated high school my old man said, 'Do you wanna go to college?' and I said, 'Yeah.' He goes, 'All right, go get a job in a factory, that'll pay your tuition.' I worked third shift in a factory and tried to go to college during the day and, of course, it didn't work out. That's the way I saw my old man do it, so that's the way I thought I was supposed to do it. I poured liquid metal in a machine for five fucking years making die casts."
"I would never work that hard," cracks Squeal.
Jeffro continues: "Then you got all these guys going [imitates a punk bruiser-type voice], 'We are working class, we drink beer, we spit on sidewalks!' Shit, and we don't even have any of that content in our music or in any of our songs. There are two all-male punk bands in this town that I really hate. We have to see them on a regular basis, so it's probably not printworthy. But the two bands have little indie deals and they both tour and I can't stand either one of them. Now you have all these people going, 'Oh, dude, I just got this New York Dolls tee shirt on eBay.' All of a sudden everybody's all fuckin' going, 'Let's wear tight leather pants and claim to be a rock 'n' roll band,' when like two years ago they were playing crusty hard-core with dreadlocks."
Both Squeal and Jeffro accurately describe themselves as "lazy" with "social problems" and "medically diagnosed schizo-brain fucking things going wrong." It's no surprise, then, that the phone won't ring. When you see the band's members out at clubs, they just shuffle along awkwardly, clearly self-conscious of their own social qualms.
"Nobody knows how to talk to nobody," says Jeffro, in all sincerity. "We just sit around and bitch about how come everybody else is doing something and we're not."
"We always kind of bitched like, 'Ah, no one gives us any respect,'" chimes in Squeal. "But we are pretty lazy."
Singer Squeal, the man responsible for a good 90 percent of the group's songs, grew up in Tucson, attended Christian school and discovered punk rock in church when he was 13. He wore trench coats and a Mohawk to high school long before -- or long after, depending on where you place your rock reference points -- such things were fashionable. He managed to escape school without getting beat up. He "got punched in the head a few times but never got beat up."
Squeal came up through a NOFX-type pop punk group called Those Meddling Kids before bringing together the Impossible Ones. Thus far, the band has opened shows for B Movie Rats, Dee Dee Ramone and Agent Orange, among others.
"I think when we first started, it was more like, 'Let's just go have fun and get all fucked up,'" says Squeal. "People's straps are breaking, strings are breaking. Then we started to try and get more serious. Maybe only have two or three [beers] before we play."
The band recently completed its first collection of demos and hope to tour and make records. Ultimately, they figure it's either rock 'n' roll stardom or driving fork lifts.
The evening is alive with wafts of barbecues and the chirping of children on a nearby elementary school playground. A woman strolls by in the street pulled along by a big ugly dog. A faded Mach 1 with turbo action tires sits across the street. Some homes on the street have windows covered with American flags and tin foil.
Another beer can arches from the Impossibles' porch and drops onto the brown lawn. The oppressive sun starts to fade, giving the neighborhood a needed burnt orange fuzziness. "Pleasant Valley Sunday" circa 2000.
"I don't mind living out here," says Jeffro. "I mean, it's a lot less expensive than living close to the campus. We can rehearse here and nobody complains. It's a real blue-collar area, and we fit right in."
The Impossible Ones are scheduled to perform on Friday, June 30, at Hollywood Alley in Mesa, with Grave Danger, and Über Alice. Showtime is 9 p.m.