Night Crawler

Nearly 40 people mill around outside the Chameleon, smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap booze with Snapple Peach Iced Tea out of brown paper bags. An uncharacteristically warm mist creates fuzzy coronas around the yellow streetlights overhead and makes the pavement stink, but no one really gives a shit. These people don't represent the Mission's new breed of weekend warrior. They don't "chatter amongst their friends," they talk, balk, and bellow; they guffaw, rather than titter; they swill beer, not martinis. The uniform is familiar and doggedly all-purpose -- thick-rimmed glasses, black Ben Davis, flat-soled trainers, house-made haircuts, button-down shirts stolen from unsuspecting gas-station attendants living in Oregon. No one present will admit that he lives in the Mission anymore ("It was a cool place once, but now ..."). Everyone has fled the encroaching creperies, taking their dogs, Super 8 cameras, and beer-can installations to lower Bernal Heights, China Basin, outer HP, lower Potrero, and the Dog Patch. Still, the Chameleon is considered home by many, and "I haven't been down for a while" means nine days, tops.

It's early yet, but the homey (read: cramped) little barroom is already packed and stifling. Regulars in attendance: the guy who yells "Free Bird" regardless of what is being played; the white guy with a wild crown of dreads who always looks very solemn until around midnight, when he begins grinning insanely; the very pretty dark-haired woman who is not a drag queen, but could be if she wanted; and the bald guy reading philosophy in the corner. A thick bank of cigarette smoke obscures the glittering stars that hang from the ceiling year round, and everyone's face glistens with a layer of sweat, all of which renders deodorant longevity moot.

Onstage, I.C.U. -- a trio of attractive, slightly demented "lab technicians" -- produce an impressive concoction of ambient music styled for the garage (a rhythmic frenzy of stand-up bass giving backbone to a melange of outrageous samples, inexplicable scratches, and whalelike theremin noise). An unusual bill for the Chameleon, with its peeling rust-colored walls and black velvet poster art, but the audience seems interested, even impressed (aside from the unrelenting requests for "Free Bird").

"They are really loud and pretty weird," says Frankie Chermak. "That's all that matters." Of course, Chermak and the rest of the sardine-packed house are not here to see I.C.U. They have come in droves (doorman Dustin Donaldson claims that he's never seen it more crowded) to see the reunion of Thegoddamnbest. According to rumors, Thegoddamnbest have not played a live show in over a year, but their fast-paced, somewhat libelous career inspired a documentary, which will debut tonight, here.

The room is buzzing. According to a bio, the band hails from somewhere in the Midwest, but at least half of the people in the crowd claim to know one or more of its members (singers Angus and Trevor, and the rhythm section comprised of four guys named Tim). Others claim to know the rockumentary's ambiguous director(s), but in spite of much investigation, her/his/their identities remain unclear. The most common response to inquiry being: "I saw (him/her/them) in the club earlier. (He/she/they) are probably up front making sure everything's set." (The film's credits name Sadie Shaw as director of photography, but this is still unconfirmed.)

"It's all a big conspiracy, a hoax, a fraud, a complete fabrication generated to bewilder the rabble," says a highly perceptive Shawn Yeaworth. "They've probably never even rehearsed together."

The lights dim and the opening titles for The Only Thing They Understand come up. It's your standard story of rock 'n' roll mayhem, à la This Is Spinal Tap but with less budget. Flashes of pale, stoned/drunk/disdainful musicians wearing dark sunglasses fill the screen. (Women in the audience squeal; men hoot appreciatively and wave their fists.) Poet/activist Bucky Sinister appears on-screen to talk about childhood experiences with members of Thegoddamnbest. Artist Frank Kozik speaks emphatically about the band's energy and his initial willingness to roadie for them -- his involvement came to an end in Kansas City when 800 skinheads started to "freak out" because the band pulled an all-too typical no-show. Shauna, a tasty leopard-skin-clad groupie, rhapsodizes over her desire to sleep with the entire band. AC/DC pounds away in the background. (There are catcalls from the crowd.) A guy named Mike leads the film crew on a tour of what is left of his parents' house after Thegoddamnbest spent the night. One of the Tims gives a dissertation on the delights of free drugs and copious chicks. (More crowd appreciation.) Some priceless footage of the band wearing sunglasses, looking fucked-up, follows. Strangely, they resemble certain members of the Clarke Nova, Revolver, and the Champs. (The crowd cheers.) Stan Silver, a sleazy A&R guy from Imago Records who looks suspiciously like Jello Biafra, talks about the necessity of bad boys in rock 'n' roll. Todd Cote and Kevin Wortis, of Rave Management, discuss outrageous expenditures spent on bailing the boys out of jail. The A&R guy makes extravagant promises to the band. Trevor and Angus have a little falling out. (Fans shout, "I love you, Angus!") Jay Jawolski and Amy Solomon of the Chameleon talk about the band trashing their bathroom and hitting some guy in the face with Tim's guitar. Both bookers agree that they would have the group back, regardless. Dave Kaplan, the Kilowatt's no-nonsense booker, does not feel so kindly. Not only did Thegoddamnbest show up "tweaked out of their minds" with underage girls, but they also fucked up the house equipment, left a 64-ounce olive jar filled with urine in the dressing room (apparently Thegoddamnbest share something in common with the Meices), and threw dry ice in the urinals, which caused a pissy cloud to permeate the club for days. Suffice it to say, Kaplan would not have the band back at his club, which is probably why he is in attendance tonight at the Chameleon.

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