It was August 23rd. I remember being anxious as all hell- I would be starting my first semester at American University and college in general in about a day or two. I brought the person I was dating with me at the time in part because I thought they’d enjoy the music, in part because my nerves were on the guitarist from U2. Scared stiff, a good show, seeing a band I knew one or two songs by, seemed better than any of the therapy that had yet to halt the endless internal banging of my brain against my skull as it tried to escape the mysterious future. I did not want to be a college student; I wanted to be a concert-goer and nothing else for one more night.
Then, entering line, someone below deck began to play “Saturday Night” by The Misfits. As in literally playing their guitar and drums in what I assumed to be a sound-check. My companion hadn’t a clue as to why I began to hum as I did, loudly and maybe a little off-key. See, even in the DC scene, it’s rare for anyone to acknowledge Post-Danzig Misfits, the one that was more thrash than actual punk. Hearing what was a private and insanely guilty pleasure of mine with zero warning prior had ushered an impulsive but sincere response from within. It wasn’t planned, and this would go on to describe the remainder of the night precisely.
The band that had played the Misfits ditty and going on first was “Teen MortgageÛ. A local band, I had never heard of them, so I therefore didn’t know what to expect. I remember the room being noisier than anything I had ever heard, my ears being served by the heckling quips between show neighbors, with bounds of “Hey did you buy their vinyl why yes of course I didÛ, “I hope they play this song live which song that song oh I love that songÛ, and, unceremoniously, “hey help me wipe off this x I need a beer” all preserving a fucking wall of the most rancorous ASMR ever. Minutes of this assault followed until I caught sight of the beefiest Dave Grohl impersonator I had ever seen sauntering to the drum kit, his presence not even putting a dent into the noise pollution surrounding him. Fumbling with the hi-hat for a bit, he then picked up some drumsticks, swallowed his gum, and stretched before thunder. The man, who I figured to be the drummer, showered his drums with exact fills, hot-tempered but peppered with a hidden masterful sense of rhythm that constructed a song out of sheer percussion and nothing else. It was as if a Molotov cocktail had exploded and he had absorbed the ferocity of the blast, channeling it into the drumsticks. The False Grohl wasn’t doing an impersonation of the Foo Fighter anymore, but flailing along to a very good impression of a hurricane. The crowd has quieted at this point, and a minute through the swelter brought entrance to the guitarist, a blond youth with piles upon piles of pedals. I saw no bassist, and assumed that their sound might be closer to the White Stripes than any other band.
“What a waste,” I thought to myself, “that drummer could do so much more than that.Û
The guitarist started banging on his guitar. His down-stroke borrowed a thump from his percussive buddy, and from there he span into chugging, muttering curses when his tongue waddled past his mouth as he forced a blues scale down the neck of his guitar. The amp was wailing and crying, and the room was a traffic accident. No sooner after this turd riff did the guitarist spring up to his mic and counted off, his brow coating his eyes in black, that unadulterated, pure fucking punk triumphed through the hiccup. The floor bristled to the rage on stage; my head immediately began to rock with the beat, a duet of carnage breaking my nerves and hanging my head the splinters. Teen Mortgage didn’t give one flying fuck as the room shifted into hyperspace and the paint on the walls peeled, tore off, and disintegrated. The sheer speed of it all confused me at first, and I might have pissed off a few people because I assumed there’d be moshing. Here’s a video of the crew at DC9 with me rocking my bean-covered all around to the right, past the shoulder at the edge of the screen:
When the set had finished, Teen Mortgage had found themselves a new fan. And so would the bands following.