One of the funnest shows I’ve ever played had the potential to be a huge bust.
Champion toured Europe with Comeback Kid in summer 2004. Promises Kept was fresh off the presses and Wake the Dead would be released shortly. Munich had a pretty small scene at the time and the show was in a tiny venue, which is usually fun, but the stage had a really weird setup. It was basically just a series of platforms of varying height set up awkwardly enough so that you couldn’t really move at all. The room was too small to play on the floor, so you had to play on these artsy platforms.
The show was supposed to be a three-band bill, but the opening band canceled. So it was just Champion and CBK. We were all a bit apprehensive about the coming show, expecting a really awkward vibe. As various members of both bands recognized the potential for a less than stellar evening, we started to discuss what we could do to make the night memorable.
We threw out the idea of doing some band-member swapping and maybe some punk rock karaoke, drawing out a list of potential covers that individuals knew. Here’s how the plan played out:
Champion took the stage and played two songs. Following which, Jim said into the mic, “We’ll be right back, CBK is going to play a few songs.” We all handed our guitars/drums/mic to CBK who played two songs. Then they handed our gear back to us and we played two more… then they played two more… We each played four of our own songs (two at a time), then the real fun began.
I don’t remember all of the covers we played, but various members of Champion and CBK morphed a number of makeshift lineups and tons of different people got to sing different covers. Marco from Avocado Booking/Paint the Town Red sang Chain of Strength, Peter from Team Killer sang Pride, by Madball. Our roadie sang Minor Threat… we also did Glue, by SSD; Alone in a Crowd; Gorilla Biscuits; Young Til I Die; another Chain of Strength song; Ready to Fight, by Negative Approach… I believe we were one person short of even doing Damnit by Blink 182!
It was such a memorable night. There weren’t a lot of kids there and the stage was a mess. But that didn’t matter. Every kid in that room had a smile from ear to ear as they piled on and sung along.
I’ve never been one to tout my own bands for greatness or anything, but one thing that I’m really proud of, when looking back at Champion’s legacy, is that we had a knack for turning potential bust situations into incredible memories. It was all about the attitude of; we’re going to put everything we have into this show no matter what the circumstance is and we’re going to make this night memorable.
I see so many bands that blow off smaller shows, or let their disappointment show from the stage and that bums me out. If there’s one kid that paid to see your band, or even made the effort to leave their apartment to come watch you play, you need to check yourself and check your ego at the door and play your heart out. If you want to be a rock star, learn a few more chords and play another style of music.
I can say with complete sincerity that Champion never mailed in one single show, out of the hundreds we played. In fact, some of the smallest shows we played, or in the weirdest venues, were some of the most memorable, Here are a few snapshots:
- At a show in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada we played in front of three kids. The opening band was a stand-up comedian…. who wasn’t funny. We were going off so hard at that show that I broke two tuning pegs off of my guitar, after the headstock ricocheted off of Aram’s forehead. When he regained consciousness, we picked up the song right where he left off (though concussed Aram definitely wasn’t playing the right song…).
- After missing a Ferry to Gothenburg, Sweden and arriving at the venue (a boat) hours after the show ended, Champion and The Promise played to each other and five kids who stuck around after hours, in case we showed up. I remember Aram (who had a wireless) running to the back of the long boat, mid-song, then running back and sliding in on his knees, Marty McFly style. Pretty awesome.
- We played a weird venue in Melbourne, Australia that was the upstairs of a dance club. There were tons of kids there, but the venue was set up so the band was playing behind a railing and down below the crowd. It was a very awkward scene and would be easy for any hardcore band to be discouraged by this set up, but I remember climbing the rail mid-song and stagediving UP to the crowd which stood three feet above us. Jim ran all over that club, popping up in front of random people and screaming in their faces. He even went out onto the catwalk on the other side of the glass wall behind us and above the massive thriving dance club. I almost expected him to pull an Eddie Vedder and swing from the rafters above the clubbers.
These are just a few off the top of my head, but putting 110% into tiny shows in tough situations was definitely not exclusive to us. If you have any fun memories of your band playing wild weird shows, please share them in the comments section. Or if you have good memories of seeing great HC bands kill it in less than ideal situations, please share. Would love to read em!
Thanks to Scott Wade for the photos!
Ojai, California; population: 7,000. Not exactly a thriving metropolis, but in the early 2000s, this little one-horse town was the hotbed for west coast hardcore. The town was synonymous with Carry On, and the southern California hardcore scene’s rise to awesomeness paralleled and symbiotically elevated that band, as the band elevated that scene. And the Ojai Women’s Center was thee venue for that exciting time.
There were other venues; The Chain Reaction in Anaheim, the Living Room in Goleta, Headline Records in Hollywood… but none of those venues quite rivaled what was happening in Ojai.
The Women’s Center was in the middle of nowhere; Ojai was probably a 30 minute drive from the 101, between Santa Barbara and Oxnard. No one was from the town, aside from Graham from Annihilation Time and the young skater kids that were pulled into the HC scene as a direct result of that venue; bands like Beartrap and Built to Break consisted of 13-16 year old kids from the town. But the location was somewhat centralized, as kids from Thousand Oaks to Anaheim called it home.
The first time Champion played there, we played with Whatever it Takes and there were maybe 30 kids there. But, every one of those 30 kids were moving the whole show. Fast parts; 30-man circle pit. Breakdowns; everyone scattered and 30 kids stomped the floor in unison; the Ojai Earthquake. The whole room shook.
Carry On’s “A Life Less Plagued” record release was held at that venue. American Nightmare’s first shows on the West coast were there. Some of Terror’s earliest shows were there. And Champion had a ton of memorable shows there.
The last time we played there was with Bane, 25 Ta Life, Over My Dead Body and more (can’t remember if Terror played that one…). There were easily 500+ kids in this venue that held 300 max. When Bane played, you couldn’t even walk into the room. It was so packed, you had to be floated in.
My favorite Champion set there was maybe our third time. Our van had broken down that morning; we were in Thousand Oaks jumping off cliffs and our transmission blew. It was our first transmission failure (of three!) and we found out before the show that the repairs would cost $2,400. I don’t want to get into exact numbers, but we didn’t have anywhere close to that kind of money.
We called Chris from B9 and he agreed that after the show, we’d figure out how much money we were short and he would float us the money we needed to repair the van. But it was still a depressing situation. We didn’t want to go into more debt beyond the money we owed for merch, not to mention, having to worry about figuring out how to get money wired to us (this was pre-PayPal).
We piled all our gear into the back of Corey Williams’ truck and headed to Ojai. That cloud over our heads was something you can only understand if you you’ve been in a touring band that experienced a breakdown, wreck or van break-in. And it’s not something you want hanging over you as you head to the show that you’ve been looking forward to the most for that tour.
It was definitely a dark feeling. As we watched and pitted for the opening bands we tried to put on a good face and leave the van problems at the door. But that’s a hard thing to do when you’re 1,000 miles from home and don’t know how you’re going to be able to afford gas to get to the next town. We set up our gear that night, still in the worst of moods.
From our opening note that night, the climate change was immediate. 150 kids simultaneously rushed to the front of the stage piling over eachother to get to the mic and to jump off the stage. To that point, it was the craziest reaction we had ever received… by a mile… For 30 minutes, the van and money problems were gone. It was an amazing feeling. While we’ve played many bigger shows since, to this day, that show is in my top favorite sets ever.
After our set, the money problems returned to mind, but the cloud was much might lighter. We were all so stoked on the insanity that had just transpired. Again, I don’t want to get into money numbers, but that night we sold probably 8 times as much merch as we’ve ever sold at another show. We actually made enough to pay for the van repairs and for gas to the next town. What an incredible feeling.
Looking back through my tour photos, I don’t have ANY pictures from this amazing venue… maybe because I was always having so much fun at those shows, I couldn’t be bothered to snap a single picture.. Most of the pictures and flyers from this post are courtesy of the homie, Marlon Moreno. I was also able to dig up some old YouTubes of some memorable sets there. Check them out below.
A few micro stories:
- One time, our roadie Mark Kelly was MIA. No one knew where he was. He wandered into the club at the end of the show. He had broken his finger moshing. I guess he didn’t want to be an inconvenience, so he walked a mile to the hospital to get his finger X-rayed and splinted, then walked back.
- Our drummer Todd once walked straight into the end of an open door, knocking himself unconscious. It was so abrupt and violent that I thought he was faking. Nope, he was out cold.
- When we played with 25 Ta Life, Rick took a Champion hoodie that a girl had bought and returned it, saying it was his girlfriend’s and she couldn’t afford to eat if we didn’t refund her. He then gave the girl a Comin’ Correct tape and her change from the refunded money. Haha Classic.
- Once a girl baked Jim a pie with X’s and hearts. Aram called it “The Straightedge Love Pie.” Jim had it sitting in the front seat and someone, not seeing the pie, flung a water jug into the front seat, smashing the pie. Jim lost it, to a hilarious level. He was so mad that it was impossible not to laugh… which made him even more furious.
- A million Graham stories… the time he realized his parents were wife-swapping (not really..); the time he told us about how he beat up a 13-year old at his work (the skate park); the time he chased some teenage kids who had allegedly squirted him with piss-filled squirt guns; the time he realized (audibly) “Double the tax, that’s the tip!!!” The time Aram convinced him that some indigenous cultures kill people and skin them, filling their carcass with feces, and using it as a poo-filled piñata. To which Graham responded, “That’s barbaric!”
I have way too many good memories of this place to include them all, but feel free to chime in on the comments section if you have any favorite memories or shows from this venue!
General Douglas MacArthur (and Vizzini, in The Princess Bride) once famously said, “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” I, not so famously, learned in Australia a few years ago, to never get involved in a van war with descendants from a prison colony…
In December 2004, Champion toured Australia for the first time. I can’t begin to emphasize how amazing this experience was. We toured with Miles Away from Perth, and Against from Brisbane. All three bands had a van each and a fourth van hauled around all the gear and merch. Greg, the singer of Against, drove the gear van.
This story begins at an undisclosed gas station off the freeway in the middle of a long drive. Someone—I honestly don’t remember who, or from what band—bought some spoiled yogurt and after one bite, realized that this bad yogurt needed to get launched out the window… at one of the other three vans in the caravan. The yogurt was hurled and a four-van all-out war had begun. Any and every food within reach was a potential weapon.
Thus began an epic van battle that lasted beyond the end of this two-week tour and spanning two continents.
Enter the city of Canberra. Jim and I wandered out of the club and down the street. We found a huge plastic bag filled with bread and roles. So naturally, we covered Miles Away’s van in bread. It was a stupid prank, but stupid pranks are sometimes the best form of tour entertainment.
After the show, a giant bread fight broke out. Every kid at that venue was running around trying to pelt each other with bread wads; everyone but Greg, who was dutifully loading our gear into the van. I felt bad that he was loading our gear, so I called a timeout in the bread war and went to help him load. Greg turned to me with a sinister grin and said, “Ay mate… throw this one…” handing me a wad of bread that was too heavy to be just bread. “Nah, I better not,” I replied, weighing this bread-covered rock in my hand, “I just called this truce to come help you load up!”
At that point, I was beaned in the back of the head with a bread-projectile… all bets were off. I turned and asked evenly, “Who threw that?” A somewhat intoxicated show-goer raised his hand slowly, with a sheepish smile on his face. The truce was broken; it was not only my right, but my responsibility to lob this bread-padded stone, right into his jaw. He frowned, hilariously, and raised his hand to massage his sore jaw.
A few days later, someone in Champion found a dead bird and put it in the glove box of the Miles Away van. They found it the next day and gave it back to us at a stop light. The windows were down and one of the MA dudes ran up and tossed it into my lap.
There were other things that happened in that van war, including a roll of toilet paper tied to Miles Away’s van, which made for a pretty amusing few minutes as the roll unraveled to form a good 50 foot tail that survived a few good miles… But the culmination was Melbourne. We played an awesome day-fest with the legendary Mindsnare and a bunch of other bands; maybe 10 in total. It was a warm one; 100+ degrees F.
We arrived at the venue early and Jim was bored, so he dropped a deuce into a glove he found, then smeared it all over the windshield of Greg’s van. The smell was something out of a horror film. The van was parked half a block from the venue, but on this hot mid-summer day, you could smell it from the front of the club. And the flies… apparently, every fly in the city of Melbourne had heard about this windshield turd and they all showed up to party.
Brandon and Jim followed Greg around for a while, waiting for him to head to the van. When he did, he discovered Jim’s present on the windshield. Greg looked at the windshield, looked back at Jim—who was grinning from ear to ear—looked back to the windshield and scooped up a handful of Jim’s feces with his bare hands, then walked over to our van and crammed the handful under our door handle. Jim’s smile faded quickly.
That wasn’t the end of the story though. The score was not settled in Greg’s mind. He bought a raw fish from the street market around the corner and put the cellophane wrapped dead animal in the pocket of his cargo shorts, waiting for the appropriate moment of revenge. We were all terrified by the possibilities.
The fish, which was not well-wrapped, sat in Greg’s pocket all day… On a 100-plus degree day… in a venue that was hotter inside than it was outside… as Greg moshed for nearly every band on that 10-or-so band bill… and played a set with his own band… through all that, the fish sat in that pocket, it’s rancid-smelling oils seeping through the cellophane and permeating into the fabrics of those cargo short pockets.
Back to the fish in a minute. At some point during the show, Greg decided that it would be a fun idea to draw a curly mustache on his own face with a Marks-a-lot pen (you can make out this mustache in the picture below – white “Drug Free” shirt). He later told me that his tour stubble made it impossible to fully clean the drawn-on mustache from his face… so apparently this grown human man had a Marks-a-Lot mustache on his face for a week or so after the tour…
The Melbourne day-fest was the last show of the tour and that night, we all went out for a celebratory Italian dinner. Greg apparently wasn’t within reach of a napkin, so he used his white t-shirt to clean the red tomato sauce from his filthy face… So, this dirty animal had a drawn-on mustache, tomato stains all over his white shirt, human feces remnants behind his fingernails… all the while, smelling like he spent the night in a fish hatchery.
We took pictures after dinner—as all bands do at the end of a tour—and returned to our hostel. Greg was staying with a friend that night, instead of joining us in the hostel. But because we didn’t want to leave our gear in the unsecure vans in downtown Melbourne, we had to load all our possessions into our hostel for the night.
Before bouncing to his friend’s house Greg helped us load the gear up the elevator into the room. He still had the fish in his pocket some 12 hours after buying it. While loading gear, I jumped on an elevator going up, right after he came down. The elevator smelled so much like rotten tuna, that I was certain he had hidden the fish in that elevator. Nope, that was just the leftovers of his essence from spending 20 seconds on the elevator previously…. And it was unbearable.
We thought for sure, that he was going to stash the fish in our room. But after he left, there were no traces of a smell. We were safe for now… A few minutes later someone opened the front door to our room and before taking a step into the hostel hallway, noticed that Greg left a surprise on the floor in front of the door. Nope, not the fish. This Brisbanian monster apparently squatted and dropped a turd right in the hallway… no glove needed. Classy!
The next day, Greg took us to the airport and we left that beautiful country behind. Thankfully, nothing came of the fish in Greg’s pocket… or so we thought…. But remember, I said this war lasted beyond the tour and across two continents.
We were flying home for a few weeks before starting a tour in Boston and had extra merch that was printed in Australia and needed to redistribute some luggage to get under the two-bag-per-person requirements. Chris Wrenn, from Bridge 9, lived in Boston and was kind enough to take Brandon’s cymbals, which we would pick up at the start of the next tour.
Chris was on a different flight than the rest of us and when he transferred at LAX, he had to pick up his bags and take them through customs before setting them to be put on the connecting flight. He later told us that when he set the bags down he smelled something a bit… fishy…. “No… he didn’t…” thought Chris. He unsnapped the cymbal case and popped it open. Out flopped Greg’s fish onto the floor. The putrid smelling carcass instantly stank up the entire airport. As Chris told, instantly, hundreds of airport travelers started to gasp and cough and curse, “What the $#&@ is that smell?!”
Chris kicked the fish behind some other bags and scooted off to his connecting flight, leaving the LAX janitorial staff to deal with the hazmat situation.
Well played Australia…
12.10.13 edit – Against has a new record! Stream it free here: http://againsthc.bandcamp.com/
7.13.15 edit – Bread fight story updated to remove the names of the innocent.