Finally, the great cranky Christ is waked from its sabbatical, given the royal archeological treatment. For those of legal drinking age in the fair State of Georgia, the ‘90s were a deep-throated beer and bourbon funnel with a few unwanted lap dances thrown in for brunch time trophy talk. That Athens’ Harvey Milk just so happened to be playing when most of the carnage unfolded was the luck of the draw; some people just lead Goddamned charmed lives. Now Chunklet’s Henry Owings has somehow managed to compile an exhaustive collection of the band’s most compelling performances on a DVD for those of that were blinded by blackout when the sparks flew.
Named for a gay San Francisco politician and comprised of three guys who could have become caricatures of their selves, Creston Spiers, Stephen Tanner and Pauly Trudeau—later “drum dork” Kyle Spence—woke flannel choked crowds with a sound that ran with few and walked with even fewer. Creston was created solely to karaoke any song Billy Gibbons ever belted out, but his delivery dragged on into near torturous realms. Left drunk and alone, in front of the television while the Sorrow and the Pity plays over and over again is about as close as one might get to an analogue. Pauly: He pummeled his kit; skins were skinned; cymbals smashed; kick drum crushed by a five-ton foot. Tanner? That fucker bobbed and bounced and shook his skinny ass; bass slung low, shit-eating grin kept behind an omnipresent five-day growth.
All of the above is presented in fine form, and in some of Atlanta’s most esteemed halls: Dottie’s, BLT’s, Grooveyard, The Point. Dottie’s, the sole survivor, regrouped as Lenny’s, the rest were either bulldozed to make more space for “loft” apartments, coffee houses or suburban chain restaurants. Harvey Milk sped up as dive bar mortality rate rose; with Kyle Spence on the throne, Tanner upped the boogie. Creston acquiesced; in navy blue onesie, he wrecked through some of the heaviest honky tonk’d rock ‘n’ roll not heard since the Little Band from Texas unleashed Fandango! The counterpoint is tremendous. What was once La Brea paced was now the quickest horse out of the gates. Potency remained; it only transmogrified, sprinting through complex and engaging arrangements peppered with Creston’s trademark salt: lyrics built around the engine of non sequitur—Cormac McCarthy and methamphetamine separated by six degrees, powered solely by the irrational, the unwanted. He delivered them like he was trying to pass a football out of his ass. Tanner and Paul—Tanner and Spence—broke up the space around his tirades; there were often casualties.
Sitting at a Grooveyard table, dead drunk, hunched into a chair, watching as two half-empty Mickey’s danced over the side to smash upon the floor without a sound. Harvey Milk were slamming through “Smile”; it’s included on this DVD, brought back to me in an impossibly bright light that feels like every single one of my ‘90s blackouts delineated in painstaking detail. A year later, there’s a performance of “All the Live Long Day,” complete with sledgehammer. One of the Milk’s finest moments, Creston unearths railroad workman angst of biblical proportion and hammers it into nothingness. Three years later there’s “Anita Languished in Solitary Splendor, Jabbing Needles Into Her Buttocks,” jetting beyond the awkwardness of its title, fleet of foot and at the mercy of Kyle Spence whose impeccable timing and taste strut, smash, and sprint through every random rhythmic pattern that presented itself to Bonzo’s booze addled brain. A full nine years later we’ve come full circle. Pauly’s back behind the kit; Creston and Tanner to stage left and right: new songs, good Goddamned old sound.
Harvey Milk: not many listened to them. Their shows—at least the ones I was at—were sparsely attended. Their longevity is as inspiring as it is surprising. No one expected them to last as long as they did, much less reform. For those that came late to the party, Anthem will be a scolding revelation. For those that stayed too late, it’s a salient reminder of giving praise where praise is due, at home in this puppet show land, where everything has got God’s hand up its ass.
Harvey Milk’s Anthem is available on DVD now.
Although I’d take him to task for over-romanticizing the Atlanta rock club scene, thank you, Stewart Voegtlin.