Take the Bait

Our correspondent hooks a whopper in the Atlantic Northeast

The cliffs rise bleak and black in thick fog and the Atlantic roars in from the Arctic and smashes skyward in periodic explosions of foam. It's a twilit 3 in the afternoon on the outskirts of St. John's, Newfoundland, and the negative 12 wind chill slices through my jeans like I'm wearing fishnets. I'm out on these battered rocks of my own volition (though SF Weekly was kind enough to spot me airfare) and, I might mention, the first music journalist to make such a journey (beating the others by a scant two hours). I'm talking with Ray Pollack, a lanky, tattooed guy in thermals with an aquamarine flattop. At age 29, and seemingly impervious to the cold, he's the frontman of the Wellingtons, and, without a doubt, one of the founding fathers of "Newficore."

"We all fished once. So they tell us." He grins a mouth of busted scrimshaw and passes me the quart of beer. His knuckles are thrashed from riffs, not nets. Ice crystals have formed inside the bottle. "We all used to get up at 4 in the morning and head out to sea, whether it was snowing or not. Now we're bored as shit. And on the dole. Now we don't get up till noon." He laughs a geyser of steam as we turn back toward his station wagon, a rusted-through '79 Chevy with a faux-wood dash covered in punk rock stickers. I blow into my hands as we roar down the gravel toward town. Pollack lowers his window in a sudden freezer-blast, then plunks in a Flipper cassette. "There ain't no more fish anyway thanks to the corporate pricks down in Halifax." Not to mention the corporate pricks in my own country. As we pull into the cracked-shell lot of the Weary Mariner Hotel, I see the two shiny rental Fords next to mine. The only three cars in the lot. In the lobby I learn that Eric from Spin and Robert from the Voice are here, and that Olivia from Geffen and big Dave from Rolling Stone will be here in time for the show that kicks off the North American "Codhead" Tour. Newficore -- the angry wail of a bleak and battered Northeast -- has been netted and hauled over the transom of Corporate Rock's fishing boat. The message, in case you haven't already figured it out, is straight out of Moby Dick: Thar she blows! And by the time you read this, this whale of a show will have breached, no doubt thrashing and pissed, in our Bay Area waters.

Newficore -- a coinage attributed to Pollack's "asshole" cousin Bob in Ottawa -- can be traced back to three proto-seminal bands in the mid-'80s: the In-Seines, Scrod, and Ryp Ryder.

Pollack headed the In-Seines, an X-Ray Specs-influenced, power-ska post-pop-punk outfit, along with his former lover Tuna Blue on vocals and pipes (as in bag-). An overweight vegan radical alcoholic -- one of very few in these parts -- Blue died mysteriously by choking on a goosefish bone after a particularly rowdy gig over in Corner Brook; her legacy, and some say her pipes, can still be heard all the way up in Battle Harbor, Labrador. The stocky Gil triplets -- Lefty, Andy, and Randy -- comprised Scrod, a proto-grunge sludgefest power-trio. Either Andy or Randy (there is some vociferous dispute among the locals) is currently doing a 10-year stint down in Glace Bay for allegedly deep-sixing close to 25 vessels in the winter storms of '92 as part of an insurance scam. Ryp Ryder, a New York Dolls-styled glam outfit headed up by Crag MacDonald and Grand Johnny Banks, wrote the undersea single that started the whole scene, "I Ain't Gonna Fuck Mrs. Paul." All three bands recorded in Johnny's (deaf) grandmother's cellar in nearby Mount Pearl on a "borrowed" reel-to-reel, living off pickled turnips and herring, pissing icicles between takes in a hole in the dirt behind a tree. All put out their singles on Crag's legendary Lobster Pot records, which he still runs when he's not in the hospital. From these three bands, along with the influx of friends and younger siblings, and the howling winter winds of a fishing town's recession, Newficore was born, and over the years, in what might seem a stifling isolation, the sound has matured into a rigorous and angry genre as austere and durable as the chartreuse lichen that thrives on these barren, ocean-bound rocks.

I skid my Ford through driving snow down to an abandoned cold storage warehouse out on the wharves known as "The Freezer." A business formerly owned by Pollack's uncles -- a relic of a time when jobs, like the cod, were, if not abundant, at least available -- it is now the all-ages home of Newficore. Inside, the furnace barely works -- there's a prevalent numbness in the air. My breath plumes -- and the place, after years of disuse, still reeks of fish. I'm here to see the Wellingtons along with Slack Haddock, Gill Net, and a new band with a big buzz: Trawler, headed by Crag's 18-year-old sister, Reedy. Aside from me and the other journalists, a camera crew, and a few too many grinning A&R idiots, there are 25 or so bait-and-tackle-pierced, sickly looking teens milling around in the requisite Newficore attire: thermals and bright yellow oilskin coveralls. Many of them live here in the Freezer, in a free-form, anarchic co-op lifestyle that reminds one of schooling fish -- that certain safety is found only in numbers. These kids brew their own vodka, cook their own oatmeal, microwave their own fish sticks, which they offer up with a quaint sneer to jaded city-slickers like myself. I pass on the hors d'oeuvres, but take a mug of the vodka. Ka-boom!

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