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Shackled at both my wrists and ankles, I was punished for my alleged escape from the depths of hell. The red-faced, snub-nosed demons reprimanded me for my insolence with a swath of creative insults, and forceful smacks from their paddles and rods. They went on to explain that I’d suffer this same torture for all eternity. I explained to them that I rather enjoyed the spankings, and my ‘escape,’ as they described it, was actually a temporary rescue from my mates back on earth who desperately needed a drummer for a gig. Wearing only sneers on their faces, they each raised their weapon of choice, readying to strike. With a mischievous grin, I waited hotly with anticipation.

“Please, understand this is going to feel better for me than you,” I told them slyly.

Unfortunately, the strikes never came, and neither did I. Instead, I was once again sucked up from the pit of hell in a flash. A hole opened in the middle of the earth opened and spit me out so high in the air I was sure I was never coming back down, and I nearly didn’t. Slowly, at first, I started to fall back to earth, but quickly gained an incredible amount of speed as I rocketed back to the ground. Before plowing back into the dirt, I suddenly stopped in midair, though I continued to spiral in place wildly. The sky came into view, then the ground, then someone’s backyard, then a house, and then the sky again. Hovering 50 feet above a sprawling backyard, I could see a large dirt area and a wooded deck next to it, complete with a stage and musical equipment. Immediately I knew I had been summoned back to earth for another show, just as Dee had foretold. Again, just as I was making some new friends and accepting my damnation (with great pleasure, I might add), my friends brought my back to earth to suffer with some the living.

From on high I continued to spin out of control in every direction, screaming as loud as I could for help, but nobody below could hear me. Nobody except the threesome standing onstage, equipment in their hands. Each of them stared wide-eyed at the sky, giant smiles on their faces.

“There he is!” Dee exclaimed with excitement.

“Get me down!” I screamed, my feet flipping forward over my head.

“We don’t know how!” James shouted up at me.

“We used some witches at this party to conjure you back,” Brandon explained. “Hold on…let me finish the spell.”

The group huddled together, looking down at something in Brandon’s hand. Even from high above I could make out what I thought was a small flame, followed by smoke. Then Brandon raised his hand on high. A freshly rolled joint was burning between his fingertips.

“An offering for the goddess of resurrection,” Brandon said aloud, finishing the spell.

The spiraling stopped right away, and I started to fall down to earth feet first. The boys in French Mouth came to greet me with hugs as I touched down onstage, but each pulled away as fast as they approached.

“Might want to take a look at yourself,” James told me flatly.

Next to the stage was a fully stocked outdoor bar, covered by a wooded awning. A large, cracked mirror hung against the far side wall and I could make out my terrifying features. Most of my face was sunken in, skin darkened with decay and very clearly thinning. My clothing, a white tank-top and my favorite pair of pink swim-trunks, hung loosely on my wasting body. Across my skin there were patches of flesh that were either missing, or in the process of decaying. Despite this horrendous look, though, the few people in the backyard didn’t seem to notice at all. They passed us by and even gave us smiles and waves. A few even told me they loved my makeup.

Stunned, I asked Dee, “Where are we exactly?”

“This is Dog Haus!” Dee clamored.

The large-scale property, which was really two (or maybe three) properties combined into one, is a DIY venue in the heart of the San Fernando Valley known as Dog Haus. On the property there are several living quarters, a sprawling back patio with a wooded deck and stage, and an even larger dirt area with a faux Stonehenge and a bonfire pit sitting next to each other (yes, you read that correctly). French Mouth was called in as a last-minute addition to the bill, which meant we were at the mercy of all the other bands and their ever-changing demands regarding placement in the set. One band, who was traveling from Seattle, had absolutely no equipment, but did not make this known until hours after the show. They could get their own gear, but then they would have to play later, they explained rather matter-of-factly. Another band stated defiantly that their guitarist would be arriving late, so they could not play any earlier than fourth in the set. On top of all this, the drums needed to be back-lined. Seeing how I was dead (or undead?) and really had no say, the Frenchies voluntold my drum set, and so there it was onstage ready for every banger to defile her.

“Every band can borrow our gear if they want,” Dee announced to the group of young musicians. “I don’t care when we play. Put us any place and we’ll do our jobs.”

It was evident that the professionalism, organization, and dedication to word was not part of the Dog Haus as it was with the Heels of Metal group we played with just the other week. Of course, this was to be expected at any backyard/DIY show - it’s simply par for the course - still, I lamented this fact as my old age has dwindled my capacity for bullshit and disorganization. Nevertheless, my twin brother and I were born and raised on backyard shows, having played dozens in our teenage years. Give us an empty patio space, a PA system, and enough locals to fill the space, and we’ll take care of the rest. No matter our time slot, we’ll get the job done and get it done well.

After an hour or so, the crowd at Dog Haus started to form. Entering through the adjacent property, attendees filtered through a hole in the fence one by one. There was so much color-haired, painted faces, costumes, and plenty of flamboyant clothing that I wasn’t sure who was part of a band and who wasn’t. The classic clown make-up has clearly made a comeback with this generation, as I watched several young adults donning white paint with red lips and multi-colored eyeshadow. Even beneath the makeup and baggy clothing, I could feel the naivety of youth peaking through their facades. The audience was vastly different than those at our last gig, and I was extremely excited to introduce French Mouth to a new crowd.

Dee and the gang escorted me to the green room, which was really only a living room turned into a studio. Musical equipment lined the walls, and random band members filed in and out, some passing us and waving, others keeping to themselves because that’s what LA bands do. 

“He looks pretty dead,” James said curtly. 

Dee inspected my face and flicked a tab of skin that was hanging from my cheek. “I don’t know,” he said as he tried to press the tab of skin down. “I think he fits right in with all the other goons here.”

Sure enough, Dee was correct. Amid the growing crowd of a hundred or so people, nearly a quarter had their faces painted. Back in my day, you’d call these freaks (a term I use endearingly because I am one myself) jugaloos. These days they just consider is basic clown makeup. Whatever it’s considered, I thoroughly enjoyed the pageantry, and it allowed me to waltz among party somewhat unnoticed.

The first group, a Seattle-based single artist (with a backup band) named Alex Vile, started the show nearly an hour later than they were supposed to so a crowd could form. This was expected, especially for a backyard show. Not a problem at a venue, but at a backyard show with pigs waiting to shut that shit down at any moment, it’s not ok to eat into other group’s sets because you want your thirty minutes of SoCal glory. That said, the Seattle based band was solid, well-polished, and also playing on our equipment, which also sounded damn good. They were kind enough, thanking us for our hospitality, but also quick to leave immediately after their set concluded, citing a flight they had to catch the next morning, which was interesting because this was the same group who stated they’d have to play later if they could not borrow our equipment. Some type of paradox, but nothing a dead man wants to ponder.

Next up was a solo artist by the name of Sarah Dean Cokeland. Ninety pounds or so of blonde fury, she took the stage with nothing but a microphone, an acoustic guitar, and some very striking melodies and lyrics. Only nineteen and originally from the East Coast, she sang of her wild upbringing, which included the use of ketamine, alcohol abuse, and a sick comical fascination with death. It was odd, but captivating. I was obviously not the demographic, but the young members of the audience swooned over her, some of them even chanting lyrics to her songs. Shoutout to Ms. Cokeland for stepping up and doing the damn thing – keep up the strangeness!

The third act was up, so it was time for French Mouth to turn the stage into ground zero. The booze and drugs were flowing heartily while the smell of ganja permeated the surrounding area. The crowd was as sauced as were, and the tension in the air was palpable. Dog Haus filled out quite nicely since the show started, and the young faces standing around the wooded deck were staring longingly. They freaks had come to watch live music, sure, but it was also evident that they wanted to feel something – something they could take home and remember for a long while until they finally found peace to sleep.

Nobody knew what was about to ensue, except for the French Mouth crew.

As always, French Mouth, backed by a dead drumming section, blew up the stage the only way we know how. The venue may have changed, and the crowd along with it, but French Mouth forever remains the same. The energy we produced enraptured the young audience immediately, drawing them in from the very first song. Bodies rushed through the hole in the fence and raced to the stage as Dee belted his infamous screeching pitch. 

“Don’t be stupid,” Dee told the audience in a way only he can deliver. “You paid to be here, so let’s all enjoy it!”

As if challenged by Dee’s words, the crowd circled the stage. There was now a standoff between French Mouth and the mass of bodies before us. They watched the show intently while Dee moved about the wooded deck, shoving the mic into unassuming faces, skipping rope with cables, and connecting eyes with anybody who dared to meet his (if Dee looks at you, he’s talking to you!).

It’s a trip watching my brother perform from onstage. As he moves about, the audience moves with him, attention swinging in his direction, as if part of the same organism. Some turned their heads while others literally followed him around in anticipation of his next move. All of this happening while the musical section – James, Brandon, and I – continually right the musical ship that we were all riding. It dawned on me during this show that French Mouth is no longer a band (we never really were), but rather performance art. When you come see a us play, you are not watching a band, you are watching a performance where quite literally anything can happen. One show is NEVER like the next, something we pride ourselves on, and the conviction we play with is only matched by our skills as musicians, something we very much respect. We also respect our audience, no matter if we are playing alongside a talented dance company, or playing for a batch of lost, confused young adults who are still trying to figure out their lives in the midst of a mad world that only seems to be going even crazier.

The set erupted in volcanic fashion, so we decided to finish it with a few wildcards: two new songs that are currently scheduled to be demo-ed this summer. The reception was far greater than we expected. We clearly made an impression.

The rest of the night I felt like I was floating high above the backyard again, yet my two feet never left the ground. I was proud of our performance and let the high that comes after guide me through the rest of the night.

The night continued with the fourth band, a group we’ve played with before in San Diego. This Pomona based group, the same who stated they could only play late, decided to shout out the entire bill but gave French Mouth a bit of a lightly barbed comment;. I couldn’t tell you the reason for this move, but I cannot blame them. French Mouth has a way of rubbing off for the good and the bad but I can say we’ve played with said group before and received each other well. Hope to see y'all again - If not, perhaps we’re too cool for you anyway.

Crossing I’s Dotting T’s closed out the night with a fantastic grunge-filled set straight out of the early 90’s. It was during this set that the host of Dog Haus opened the jacuzzi that sat adjacent to the stage (dangerously close to the soundboard). The French Mouth crew and some newly made friends stripped and climbed right in, enjoying the steam of the bubbling water. Watching the band from the side stage, I mainly admired the drummer, who made my set sing like no other. Sharing drum sets can be scary, you really don’t know who the hell is banging your set, but homegirl in Crossing I’s Dotting T’s blessed my kit beyond belief.

Subdued by the pressure jets and bubbles, it felt like I was sitting in a large, boiling pot, like a plump dumpling floating in water. I took a moment to shut my eyes as the last song started. It was then that the host of Dog Haus raced into the backyard shouting: “Cops are here!”

The classic house-show fail had occurred, as it always does. People raced for the exit as the last song ended. Some show-goers vaulted themselves over sidewalls, while others found hiding places inside the home. I wasn’t fearful of the cops, I was dead after all, but I still had no desire to face them for whatever reason. Dee, James, and Brandon exited the jacuzzi hastily. I attempted to do the same, but as soon I stood up, I realized that the entire lower half of my body was gone. Boiled to the bone, my skeletal legs glowed beneath the multi-colored lights.

“Come on,” I cried.

Brandon shook his head and said, “It’s almost midnight. Time for you to go back. Part of the spell.”

Shaking my head, I immediately remembered the whips and spanks waiting for me back in hell. I didn’t feel so sad anymore, though I was already longing to play another gig on earth.

Dee waved at me and said with a straight face, “We’ll get ya back, buddy. Just sit tight with the devil, ya?”

Shrinking in the jazcuzzi, first to my waist, then my chest, and then my neck. I forced a smile and shouted as loud as I could, “Vaya con dios!”

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