Music News

Truck Ruckus

Friday, February 7, 2003

Time: 7:30 p.m. Thought Crime

There's no vantage point in central Phoenix as illuminating as the one-story rooftop above Thought Crime, a communal art space on Central Avenue just north of Roosevelt. "The DEA is stationed in that building. You've got the transvestite bar there, the crack dealers there, the bail bondsman over here and you've got Channel 12 News hovering there," says John Logan, lead singer-songwriter of the MadCaPs and a Thought Crime resident, as he surveys the view. "And you've got us."

The odd thing about the MadCaPs is how much the band does seem to belong to this disenfranchised locality. Where the community might still shun a guy in a dress six sizes too small, it squeals with delight for a band playing music from the bed of a pickup truck. Most gawkers don't know the group's name or repertoire, yet they high-five them like conquering heroes.

An earlier '90s incarnation with a more conventional spelling did things the conventional way and burned out. "The bottom line is we've got to be having fun," Logan says. "Do as others don't' has always been my personal credo. What can we do that no one else is? And the truck idea, which I'd seen done once for St. Paddy's Day in Tucson, seemed like a good one." Logan and friends borrowed a truck and a generator and, literally, hit the road the following month.

On the first Friday of each month, the MadCaPs hit venues guerrilla-style, becoming that day's truly unofficial "house" band. They visit six to eight galleries a night, playing for hundreds of people. The 'CaPs' biggest audience to date remains its set after the Flaming Lips/Beck double-bill at Gammage Auditorium last November. Positioned between the Lips' and Beck's tour buses, the 'CaPs held a CaPtive audience of thousands filing out of the hall, including the Flaming Lips themselves.

"They were watching us in the parking lot," says bassist Christina Nuñez. "And when John goes, We'd like to thank the Flaming Lips and Beck for opening up for us tonight,' the drummer for Flaming Lips is like, Yeah!' Later, they said they could hear us from backstage. John was inside the show with a cell phone and he came out during Beck's encores. As soon as people started coming out, we counted off the first song. No one fucked with us."

Fear of the unknown makes this venture more exciting than a bar soiree. There's always the concern this could be the night they get hassled by authorities, ignite someone's road rage or get a flat tire. This is also the first "First Friday" on which Logan's oldest friend and the band's newest guitarist Kevin Henderson is along for the ride. To date, the cops have been super-supportive, coming to the group's aid once when a highway patrol car ran their license after an impromptu gig at a Circle K. After local police informed them, "It's all right, they do this every month," the perplexed patrolmen followed the MadCaPs before getting on the bullhorn and requesting "I Shot the Sheriff." Take that, Joe!

8 p.m. Still at Thought Crime. The traditional "opening ceremony" unfolds without incident, but drummer Troy Maskell later tells of a neighbor on the other side of Central who was more than slightly mad over the MadCaPs. "She circulated this complaint around her building about that ominous place known as Thought Crime' where she called us noise terrorists,'" he chortles.

8:35 p.m. The Paisley Violin parking lot. Although the band arrives at each destination playing an original surf instrumental, any allusions to beach rock cease once Logan hops from the truck and sets up the mike stand on the street (where the group is safe to perform sans permit). Their actual set diverges in style from the Velvets to prog-rock to spacier sounds. "Anything goes but everything must go," says Logan. The dedicated ones who've nicknamed themselves "Madheads" follow the group from venue to venue and risk carbon monoxide poisoning. The truck keeps running to power the generator, which has its own fumes. "At least we're not using a diesel truck tonight," says drummer Maskell. Regardless, Nuñez, who played violin before taking up bass last year, says the truck is still her favorite venue. "Nobody's telling us You need to do this' or Be here at this time.' And I like it when people get pissed off when they're stuck behind us. It's like being in a Mexican restaurant and the mariachis come up to your table."

9:15 p.m. Monorchid Gallery. Here, the 'CaPs enjoy their most dramatic setting of the night thanks to the adjacent walls with recessed lamps. Within minutes, their sound sets off a nearby Ford Bronco's car alarm. But like something out of Pleasantville, its owner is actually happy to move it. Three ladies, whose cars are blocked, wait patiently for them to finish. After a caustic "Ballad of a Thin Man," the band is off to chase down a couple through an alley with that surf music again. The couple is nonplussed but not displeased since the volume is nowhere near the eardrum-shattering frequencies of your average beat siren.

9:32 p.m. Modified Arts. "Hello, Phoenix, we're from Ohio," lies Logan as the band rips into "Squaresville." The MadCaPs unload their space rock material for the all-ages crowd at Modified and, after 10 minutes of hovering overhead, a police helicopter finally favors the MadCaPs with a searchlight from above. The band gets to leave when it's tired of the audience. Logan announces, Christopher Columbus style, "We're off to claim Holga's!"

9:53 p.m. The Mainstay. A takeover of Holga's airspace seems premature, as Fatigo is still playing and band etiquette must prevail. The 'CaPs backtrack to a relatively new art space a block away. The inebriated clientele is easy to mistake for a frat house on this half-lit street. A totally lit reveler is accosting the band, wanting to bum rush (emphasis on bum) the show. He's wearing a blue cup on one ear and a red one on the other, presumably to hear in 3D. Logan is polite but eventually surrenders the mike and subjects everyone to the same harangue he's had to listen to unamplified since the 'CaPs arrived.

10:20 p.m. Holga's Art Gallery. Irony of ironies, local oddities the Curse of the Pink Hearse are setting up on Holga's sidewalk across the street when the 'CaPs return. "I played with Curse two, three years ago," says Logan. "It was in the first incarnation of the Hearse where we got Marco to put down the bass. He never tuned his bass. There was always so much drama behind that band." After only one MadCaPs song, the Hearse plays on.

10:40 p.m. Still at Holga's. I've lost the MadCaPs! Having done the chivalrous thing and letting a young lady use the rest room before me has put my sorry ass a good 10 minutes behind the 'CaPs caravan. Word on the street says they went to the Bikini Lounge, but instead they're at the Willow House getting the first negative reaction of the night. Says Henderson, "Some crusty old guy in a blue flannel shirt came out and was getting in John's face saying, I got kids asleep, I'm talking to the manager.'"

11:35 p.m. Bikini Lounge parking lot. Nothing much is happening at the Paper Heart and 3CarPileup. With all this downtime comes a loss of momentum and fume fatigue. Nuñez, who's been wearing a coat over her groovy skirted self for the past four stops, is noticeably chilled. There's a blown speaker in Henderson's amp. After much "should we play or should we go now" discussion, the band begins as a trio. By midnight, Henderson's back and playing a fuzzy and low lead guitar. What started out as a last blast before Miller time turns into a showcase for the band's entire set, played on a near-deserted Grand Avenue with a strange backdrop some outreach group's marquee directly opposite them screams "Teen Challenge." Handfuls of curious people venture outside the packed Bikini Lounge. A fiftysomething couple in cowboy hats makes an unscheduled SUV stop. The band's power over the elderly has not gone unnoticed, and Logan later expresses a desire to take the truck to Sun City. "Those people smile, but they won't buy any merch. They'll just go home, fall asleep and die," I argue. But secretly, I think Logan believes he can turn the cast of Cocoon into repeat customers, if the carbon monoxide doesn't get them before osteoporosis does.

12:55 a.m. Splitsville. All in all, it is a good night for the MadCaPs. Invariably, at least three other musicians come up to them to talk about how much fun it must be to play on a truck. Since Let It Be, everyone's fantasized about playing music where it don't belong. "This is pushing the barrier of what entertainment and playing at a venue is," says Logan. "I know a lot of people will think, Oh, the truck, that's your thing.' But I say the more, the merrier. If you're not bringing a scene up, you're bringing it down."