One day in 2010 I rediscovered a Gruntruck CD I have owned forever.
A quick “where are they now” search on the Internet showed that Ben McMillan the lead singer had died a couple years before that – in 2008. How tragic; he was only two years older than me. Finding the disc and reading the obit reminded me of the time I saw the band in their element, and a unique moment of acceptance I experienced during that show.
I saw Gruntruck with my wife and friends at the Crocodile Cafe; the actual date of the show is lost to history.
I only recall that it was a Saturday night, probably in 1994. I don’t remember much about the opening band, only that there was one, that their brass section was unbearably screechy, and that the club was mostly empty during their set. But as the night got later (and the interior hotter) the facility started to fill up. When Gruntruck finally came on stage, the house was packed wall to wall. The energy level was very high, and the first note was like an explosion. It was almost too loud to enjoy. Almost. With the first song Gruntruck established their rule over the crowd by playing tight and embracing the energy already coming from the floor. For the rest of the show, band and audience were one.
The mosh pit started early around me, with the crowd moving back and forth as a single organism. Not big on that kind of thing, I steered my way towards the edge of the crowd while my wife and friends hung onto the stage front. I ended up near the band’s friends and girlfriends, to the left of the stage. A couple minutes later a girl in a floppy hat lit up a joint and took a big drag. She raised her chin, exhaled slowly, turned to me, and offered it up; I respectfully declined. Without missing a beat she smiled, grabbed something out of her pocket, and offered me a piece of gum instead; I gratefully accepted.
It was the best piece of gum I have ever chewed.
From that point on the show carried a different vibe. This wasn’t just a show; this was a band and an audience who were connecting like regular people. For an hour we were all just like each other. The only difference seemed to be the surface on which we stood – stage or floor. While the show’s set list is lost on me now, the show’s experience is still with me to this day. That night I felt connected with a crowd of people who were easily 8 – 10 years younger. I felt that – even though I was not a pot smoker – I was still able to find common ground with others to the sound of ear-shattering grunge. And most of all, I felt part of a local music scene more than I ever had – before or since.