Halloween in Burlington presents plenty of options -- almost too many. Far too old to trick or treat, and too sensible to want my name on a police blotter, I nevertheless hoped this year would be special. So when I found out that mock-rockers Led Loco were set to play two concerts this weekend -- a costume party as well as a club date -- I decided to throw caution to the wind and join 'em.
Led Loco is a ridiculously over-the-top cover band that drunkenly bashes through songs by AC/DC and Led Zeppelin. Claiming to be Australian and eternally on the "final night" of their farewell tour, these long-haired, beer-swilling miscreants attract audiences who come as much for the spectacle as for the music. Like the Ramones before them, the Loco boys all share the same surname -- in their case, "Rock." Their gigs have taken on almost mythic proportions, with good-natured but intense audience participation a major part of the experience. Loco give as good as they get, however; if you want to rock with these shaggy freaks, expect anything.
The first show is to take place at The Box -- a Pine Street art collective not unlike Andy Warhol's legendary Factory, but probably more wholesome. Seems a few of the artists and musicians who rent the facility are moving out, leaving the remaining crew light on November rent. A quick phone call to an Aussie mansion of ill repute and voila! -- Led Loco to the rescue! With a little cajoling and the promise of fresh meat, the band agreed to play the Oct. 30 costume/rent party, giving Burlington hipsters another chance to experience their devastating rock. And after the Box event, why not go all the way with a no-holds-barred Nectar's assault on Halloween proper?
The club gig seemed like a can't-miss experience -- especially since it included a "Limo Ride with Loco" contest. I felt prepared to go the distance with these guys and take whatever comes along. Signing my sanity away for the whole weekend seemed perfectly reasonable for Halloween, so, accompanied by a Polaroid (!) camera and an utter lack of common sense, I dove in. What follows is a recounting of my shocking, rocking weekend.
PHASE ONE: THE BOX, SATURDAY
9 p.m. Well, Ween isn't playing, but at least there's a keg... Maybe this won't be so bad.
The Box is a two-floor warehouse-type space, well suited for a "monster" gala. Downstairs, Halloween streamers hang low from the immense ceilings; upstairs there's a makeshift stage, complete with moody lighting, fog machine and '60s-style psych-rock film projections. No partiers here yet, but DJ Jason Cooley is setting up his station and drinking a Miller Genuine Draft -- which, he informs me, is "the champagne of beers." I don't dispute his claim.
10 p.m. Remember the film Andy Warhol's Frankenstein? Well, it was actually called Flesh for Frankenstein, but never mind that now. The point is that it's playing on a TV screen in the corner by the keg. I watched it many times as a kid -- far more than was probably good for me. It's somehow comforting to know that the Technicolor blood, severed limbs and full frontal nudity that fascinated me when I was a child still makes me giddy.
The goddamn keg was apparently rolled around in the backseat of a car for an hour. Unpasteurized Hefeweizen, it's now a bit, well, gooey. Yet some really tall kid dressed as post-Coventry tour scum is gulping down the swill like there's no tomorrow, so I figure, what the hell? He's wearing a Grateful Dead tie-dye, a cardboard sign advertising "nuggets" and sludge-caked boots. He's so convincing that I almost tell him to get a job.
10:30 p.m. No bands playing yet, but Swale, Sweet Ass Pussy (What's an ass pussy? Someone here must know) Pooloop and the mighty Loco are lined up to perform. Like a twit, I'm hanging out by the DJ booth, where Cooley's dressed up as Lou Reed. I can't tell if he's giving me dirty looks, 'cause he's wearing dark glasses. I assume he is: Lou hates the fucking press. At least he's playing "Welcome to the Jungle."
A space cowboy in a silver suit, at least three werewolves, and your standard-issue Dracula stroll by, while what I assume to be the Swiss Miss Girl is hanging around a table, eating chips with Zorro. Look, it's local indie-rocker Colin Clary dressed up as some sort of bee-type creature. I'm not in costume. I'm wearing what I always wear: black. This Prince of Darkness thing is a year-round gig.
11:30 p.m. God, what's happening? Death's here talking to the Wonder-bread Man. Swale just played the definitive version of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" with the fog machine working overtime. Even with nobody dressed as George W. Bush, the lyrics ring true on this Devil's Night. I'm busy snapping Polaroids and stashing 'em in a secret spot to develop.
I think I hear Sweet Ass Pussy playing upstairs, but I'm downstairs and can't get through the crowd very well. Blast my blurry vision! Loco are finally on. My God, they're in musical "costume" as the Velvet Underground... Led Loco -- Australia's ministers of macho -- are playing "Sister Ray!" OK, I can handle the Sox winning the Series, but this is unnatural. Gulp, gulp.
1 a.m. Man, this place has filled up. I'm mumbling my way through a conversation with a World War I soldier when I remember my Polaroids. Unfortunately, some jerk has made off with most of 'em. May zombies eat your fucking brains! Thank God my "assistant" has been taking digital shots. I gotta get out of here, keep something in reserve for tomorrow. I mean, there's a limo ride to consider. Who knows what could happen?
PHASE TWO: NECTAR'S, SUNDAY
10 p.m. Nectar's is decked out in cobwebs and the patrons are ready to rock. The costumes aren't quite as creative as those I saw last night, but two ladies dressed as felines, who somehow know my name, offer me kitty treats. I swore off catnip years ago, and politely inform them I'm on duty.
Loco triumphantly take the stage in their usual attire: Union Jack capes and codpieces, sweaty headbands and arrogant strut. Why does an Australian act fly the colors of Britannia? I suppose we'll never know. The mike is hot and emits a short squeal. "Save the feedback for after the performance," grunts guitarist/vocalist Reginald Rock. As the band then blasts into a crushing version of Zeppelin's "Rock & Roll," I lean into the nearest table for support.
11 p.m. Reginald, in a fit of cock-rock passion, breaks a string on his beloved Fender Tornado. I see him eyeing me -- he knows I've got guitar hero history... Next thing I know, I'm crouched on the floor by the soundboard trying to figure out how the hell the ball end of the string got stuck in the bridge. I bring the axe back to the stage, explaining the problem as best I can. The sweaty rocker takes the guitar, gives it a good whack and hands it back to me like I was an errant schoolboy. Still, I can't figure out these archaic tuning pegs, so I hand the instrument to soundman Tim Marcus -- he's even more of a tech geek than I. A half-hour later, Marcus finally gets the job done. I am vindicated.
11:45 p.m. "No really -- thanks for, ah, nothing," Reginald exclaims, taunting the crowd. Guitarist Nigelton takes the bait. "Yeah, like we're done, you assholes -- are you ready or not? The band tear through a couple more tunes, and then the time finally arrives. Loco are selecting the "King and Queen of Halloween" and the prize is enough to fill any soul with dread as well as anticipation. "Who's ready to take a ride with us," asks Reginald, menacingly. A limousine, provided by Magic Hat Brewing, waits outside to scoop the hapless winners into a blast of vehicular debauchery.
The first lucky soul is some beast dressed as Reginald Rock -- he's got the wig, the guitar and tight trousers. "Very handsome man, very handsome indeed," quips lead guitarist Nigelton. These randy boys can't seem to decide on their queen, so they pick two: a reanimated prom corpse and a sweetly innocent bubble-bather. We all make a dash out of the club and I soon find myself inside the limo's cavernous, coffin-like interior. The door closes and we're off into the night. I don't even bother to get the names of the winners -- after this ride, they probably won't want to be mentioned in print.
There are at least eight of us inside this sucker, not including the driver, who is treating his charges with polite reservation. "So you guys are from Down Under?" he asks. "I've got something down under," Reginald responds, looking at the bubble-bath girl while swilling beer from a champagne glass. I can't tell where we're going -- the windows are dark and the lights are low. I snap a few shots of the contest winners, but I can barely see what I'm shooting. The limo reeks of sweat and booze, and I'm beginning to get nervous. What if we just keep going? I left my friend outside the club, and it all happened so fast, I didn't get a chance to explain the situation. Now I'm at the mercy of the rabid mongooses in Loco, and, judging from the look in their eyes, it's feeding time.
It's all in fun, but the drunken leers and scary lighting make for an experience that feels a little bit like one of those Haunted House rides at the fair. I try to think on my feet. The Polaroid camera has some heft. If things get ugly, I can always use it to crack skulls.
"Are we playing fucking Col-Chester?" Nigelton asks sarcastically as we make another mysterious turn. "No, man, it's Nectar's stadium, you tosser," Ian Rock answers with some annoyance.
"Is this really your farewell tour?" asks Living Dead Girl nervously. "It's our seventh fucking farewell tour," Nigelton responds with a mixture of pride and irritation.
"We're not gonna go back to the hotel yet," Reginald tells the ladies. "We've got another set. But afterwards, we'll have a row!" Luckily, Loco are aware that they've gotta get back on stage, and as the limo pulls up to the front of the club again, I plan my escape. I can't handle much more of this -- my eyes are bloodshot, my skin waxy, and I'm blathering like a fool. The whole thing couldn't have lasted more than 15 minutes, but I'm completely discombobulated.
Hastily shoving my gear back into the bag, I slip off unnoticed, spilling out into the chill evening and the familiar comfort of Main Street, ready to re-enter reality. Next year, I think I'll just rent a scary movie.