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Bass Drum Of Death, Borderline, London

  • Written by  Steven Velentzas

It's Wednesday evening and I'm trying to find what I'm looking for which would also turn out to be the theme for the evening. I've resorted to using my GPS to find Borderline as it's my first time at the venue, nestled in between a network of congested one-way streets and hidden behind a ton of construction in central London. I park up Cliff, my don't-steal-me-bike, lock 'em up and head into the subterranean venue once located. 

I descend into Borderline's bowels just a few moments after doors open. A quick frisk by security and I make my way through the horseshoe shaped space between the sound booth and the stage to the bar, where I nab a beyond perfectly poured pint from a genial barmaid. Things are misleadingly looking great. Back at the stage I dump my stuff and chuck my ear plugs in. The opening act's performance is pretty deflated but they stick to their set times, more than I can say for the headliner. During their performance John Bass Drum Of Death (Lead Vocals/Guitar) pops out of the Green Room putting his hood up seemingly to avoid the limelight, the paparazzi must be hounding him again. Since it's still pretty sparse pit side I take a chance and make my way over to him, never miss an opportunity to see about grabbing a few words after their set. 'Hey John' I say, 'I'm a fan writing a few words about the show tonight, I was hoping I could bend your ear with some questions before or after your set? 'Sure, maybe' he squeezes by and out checking his phone and sliding into his patented leather biker jacket promptly making his way up the stairs and out the door. 'Was it my breath or something?' I say to no one in particular.

To be fair there is zero reception in the basement and I muse momentarily thinking on the auction I've bid upon earlier in the evening for a Destroy All Monsters t-shirt circa 1982. John on the other hand, I'm sure, had more pressing matters to attend to. Eric (tour percussion) and Jim (tour guitarist) are floating around the venue but I figured I'd track them down after the set for some facetime based on the chilly reception I'd just received from John. I get back to my nook as people start to pour in. Periodically the boys come on stage to set their kit up at a snail's pace. John tunes up this beasty looking blue retro guitar with a rust speckled chrome pick guard. I'm standing at floor level and he's at stage level and I find myself, well...face at crotch level. I notice his fly's down and decide to lean in close (get your head out of the gutter) and whisper 'yo my dude, your fly is down'. He looks down, gives 'the horns' saying 'rock and roll' sticking out his tongue, zips up and leaves the stage. Eric brings out his snare and various cymbals along with some drinks as he sets up. Jim carries out his guitar and pedal board, but still no music, it's just after 9 (start time was 8:50, this matters because there's also a 10pm curfew in effect). Finally the guys come out and start playing some music.

Their set is okay, they've got the look that a garage punk 2-ish piece should have. The back up guitarist with his unkempt guitar headstock, strings going everywhere, sporting a pair of Brogues (odd choice). Drummer in a singlet sweating with knees going to shoulders as they work the double bass pedals. John sings from behind hair combed in front of his face in a moth eaten Budweiser knock off T that reads Bahamas, King of Beaches. Each track came out like juiced lighting and had a healthy helping of punchiness. That being said during their setup Eric passes their tour manager a pre-fab setlist he fished out of a bag, it's later handed back and replaced from where it's kept, the replica lists are then littered about the stage. Throughout their set I'm hearing music in the sense that at McDonald's I'm eating food. The performance feels processed, bit of a mechanical vibe if I'm honest. It's weird that they should be going through the motions as the last tour was years ago (4-5). Watching the guys shuffle around the stage I felt like a dog being faked out by a game of toss, confused by the first few fake-outs, but ultimately losing interest quickly. There's none of the unhinged beauty in the performance that comes off the albums, it's all Just Business, tame. I've had to brace myself against the stage with my leg and foot a few times during the set but you can tell the crowd's hearts weren't in it. A pit never forms and most attempts at crowd surfing implode with bodies draped in Fidlar shirts making their way underfoot.

At about 9:30 during a song Eric holds up his phone to the guys (9:30 the cracked screen reads), I guess they're running out of time? They hurry through a few more songs, and announce it's their last song. They of course return for an encore of one whole song and it's now 10 to 10. Eric leaves the drum-kit jumps into the crowd before being tossed back on stage and exits. Their tour manager comes around and starts to tear their kit apart, I grab his attention for a setlist, he hands over Eric's. I mention I'm writing a review and I'd love to get 5 minutes of John's time for 2-3 questions. 'Sure mate, we're tearing down but if you wait at the bar we'll be about in 30 minutes'. 'Done' I say, the break'll give me a few minutes to shape this review into something malleable.

Eric walks out and meets up with some friends. Hey Man', I say, 'I'm wondering if I could grab a few words with you for a review I'm writing?' 'Sorry' he says, 'it's our policy that we don't give interviews but I'll talk to John for you and let him know you're waiting'.  Without pressing it I say 'cool, thanks' but as he leaves I'm left wondering why his lips are sealed, was this the same caution to the wind dude that was jumping into the crowd minutes ago? I've never had trouble getting a drummer to talk. Their tour manager comes by a few times, I'm leaning against a wall waiting for the heads up. The time passes as a couple of food bloggers strike up a conversation with me and before I know it I'm elbow deep in topics like sourdough starter and French New Wave. Jim floats by with a harem of several ladies.

'Yo man, righteous work on the guitar tonight', 'Thanks' he says. 'What was it you were mouthing to me when I was asking you to-bring it-' I say. 'I was saying, are you ready for it?' 'Shit, I thought you were asking if I was safe?' we laugh. I ask him how he's doing for a drink and if I can ask a few questions over a pint but he stops me with raised hand and says he can't comment on anything involving the band, double shut out, weird, we shake hands and part. Finally their tour manager swings back around to talk to Jim and sees me there, 'didn't know you were still here mate, can I get your e-mail address? John's already left to meet some friends.' Fuck You makes its way to my lips but not out of my mouth. Know that irrational urge to kill when you feel someone step on your shoe heels, twice? I was feeling that at this moment. 'You didn't know I was here, you asked me to wait here for 30 minutes and you walked by me a at least twice to talk to Eric who was right next to me.' 'I'm really sorry, John's left', This, is a lie. In fact at that very moment I see John walk by the doors leading backstage. 'Could I get your e-mail address, we can try over e-mail' 'Naw man, you know what, I think I've got everything I need.' I say and bail out the joint.

This experience, with their tour manager and their performance in general, has left me less than satisfied, feeling ripped off and lied to with an overall bad taste in my mouth, sorta like the fast food chain mentioned earlier. Bass Drum Of Death's performance was a disservice to their fanbase.  With 4 albums, one of them out last year, not even being able to fulfill your set times of an hour isn't saying much. Making my way to Borderline tonight I did end up finding the venue eventually but I'm not sure I found what I was looking for. I left feeling more lost than when I'd arrived.

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