by Joseph Hess
I'd rather have my bottom lip pulled up over my forehead than try to park in Jamaica Plain. The tiny neighborhood in Boston feels gridlocked with huge houses smashed shoulder to shoulder. Imagine my relief when, after arriving at a house of music nerds, a special spot was hollowed out for little ol' Spelling Bee.
I harshly rattled the front door and shouted "POLICE!" then let myself in. My bandmate (and RFT clubs editor) Mabel Suen and I were met with nervous laughter. I pushed through the crowd to thank our pal Rory who hooked up four touring bands from four cities in less than a day's notice. We were feeling embarrassed but gracious, as our unwitting response to an obvious pig in punk's clothing forced our show from one basement to the next.
Mabel pulled up our back-and-forth with "Joe Sly" on her phone, and I promised we'd re-enact the script on mic. By the time I dragged my drums through a dense kitchen and past a crowded staircase, I was too nervous for jokes. Mabel and I were covered with many 20- to 30-year-olds and reacted with whatever the hell we do for the next twenty minutes. Sets are always sweat, blurry faces and ringing ears for me. We pushed our gear out as quickly as we entered and made way for Speedy Ortiz, a danceable ripper of an indie-rock band from western Massachusetts.
March 23, 2013, passed by with no hitch. We spent the next day watching Spring Breakers and preparing for our second show in Boston, a "legitimate" show at a dimly lit dive bar. Mabel and I received almost double in donations and merchandise sales on day one than day two. The bar has to make its overhead, and that sound guy who insisted on letting a microphone feed back for the duration of our set had to be paid, ya' know?
You see, those awful and noisy bands that sound nothing like your favorite groups have to live in musty basements and dusty warehouses. More often than not, artists who stray from the pack are forced to eschew typical avenues to find success. If you think that's a shame, go see a band you don't like. That's not going to happen, is it? After all, music is an acquired taste, and if it's not easy to swallow, why take a swig?
As a regular contributor here at RFT Music, I'm granted the voice to help others and profile bands that might pass right under the radar. I crudely take the title of "writer," and my editor filters out nonsense so that you may receive news and knowledge. When I'm involved in a story that goes viral and witness the collective telephone game of misreporting, I'm able to speak up.
So where does that leave Joe Sly and Boston's music scene? My hope is that our collective look in their direction doesn't cause a violent, messy reaction. When I posted Spelling Bee's tour schedule, we received several e-mails asking for details. Considering recent crackdowns on peaceful assemblies and house shows in Boston, all who were involved agreed to keep things private. No one considered that local law enforcement would reach out to touring bands for info.
On the Internet, no one knows if you're a dog or a pig. Facebook-scanning was evident when Boston police started cracking down on shows in the Allston neighborhood more than six months ago. When we were contacted by potential showgoers, we happily provided relevant details. I did look twice at Joe Sly's e-mail, but I mistook him for some awkward kid and tried not to judge. In St. Louis, punks and noise rarely mesh, so I wanted to help.
On March 22, my unnamed and very likeable friend, let's call him Z-Man, received a cordial visit from local police. I received a frantic message thereafter:
they gave me a verbal warning. took down all my info. and even said "so if a band is coming all the way from st. louis on tour, itd be a shame for them to get all their equipment confiscated before playing a show at a venue the next night, right?" so they knew about you playing tomorrow. they knew all the acts. its totally fucked.
I called Z-Man to follow up on details and he confessed that the officers were smiling and teasing. They bragged about fake profiles on Facebook and Gmail. Fearing the worst, I had Z-Man recount the details of the police's verbal warning, and their evidence matched my specific message to Joe Sly.
"They looked so proud of themselves," Z-Man says.
The police should be proud that this generated drama, caused the show to move and likely helped bring more people than ever to weird-ass rock music. Mabel capped and pasted together Sly's messages and shared the image through her private Facebook page. Sadie Dupuis of the wonderful Speedy Ortiz spread the picture through Twitter. Without her, Joe Sly would have stayed an inside joke. Now we all get to beat this horse to death and suck some laughs until we're fat and sick.
The joke is on the Boston police, but I have to admit that I'd love to send the unwitting cop who made Joe Sly a gift basket. My band, one I admit isn't meant for mass consumption, has received more exposure than ever, and I enjoyed a surreal moment last night when "Spelling Bee" appeared on MSNBC. Our greatest victory came in the form of TV talker Chris Hayes saying the words "noise band" on national television.
This gross spread over Joe Sly makes me muse on two things: 1. I would feel just awful if Joe Sly were a real punk and Mabel and I were, as my friend Rob put it, "INTERNET BULLIES." 2. If Spelling Bee were a likeable rock band rather than an abrasive and noisy punk duo, our music might have gone as viral as pissing green beer and DIY concerts.
I hope this story makes more artists and patrons consider subversive sounds and illegitimate venues. Maybe Joe Sly will shine light on an industry that siphons quality for monetary quantity. After all, when young minds can't be profited from, old heads can't make a living.
See also: -Ten Bands You Never Would Have Thought Used to Be Good -The Ten Biggest Concert Buzzkills: An Illustrated Guide -The 15 Most Ridiculous Band Promo Photos Ever -The Ten Worst Music Tattoos Ever