Monday nights in downtown Fargo are not exactly notorious for being chock full of non-stop good times. This is especially true when it comes to a good punk show.
When I got a phone call in late August from a member of the Oakland-based band Human Baggage my instincts told me that I should probably tell them to spend the night driving through to Montana.
I instinctively ignored my instincts and had a show for them booked in the basement of the VFW building in downtown Fargo within a couple days.
Off to an early a late start
10 p.m.: I arrived at the VFW approximately 30 minutes before show time to help set up the PA that I’d borrowed from local band Ceiling Walker. We worked together to scrounge up extension cords, lights and speakers that were lying around the basement’s main room and adjacent storage space.
10:15 p.m.: Professionals we were not, but with a little work the stage, or rather dance hall floor, was ready and set for the night’s festivities. It was only a matter of playing the waiting game to find out if any would show up.
10:45 p.m.: About 10 people were mingling in the basement casually sipping on $3.25 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, while another 10 huddled outside with cigarettes in hand, as Ceiling Walker made final adjustments before commencing the night’s festivities.
Let the show begin
11:00 to 11:30 p.m.: Ceiling Walker pounded through their brand of heavy and intricate hardcore. Fiery riffs led into melodic interludes with anguished yelling interspersed throughout. Guitarist Clint Kliewer and drummer James Dravitz exuded a noted awkwardness between songs though the minimal stage banter was about to be starkly contrasted by the next act, locals 19XX.
11:50 p.m. to 12:20 a.m. About an hour prior to the beginning of their set, I walked by 19XX guitarist Chris Martini teaching some songs to fill-in bassist James Osborne. The direness of the situation was explained moments before their first song. Vocalist Justin Bohmer explained that Osborne had taken on duties as tonight’s bass player about three hours before the show.
Nevertheless the four-piece, joined by drummer Matt Novak, launched into a hilariously unrehearsed cover of Judas Priests’ “Breakin’ the Law.” The song ended about 90 seconds later.
From there, the group attempted to tackle covers of other Fargo punk bands, some of which were former and current endeavors of 19XX members. After taking a seat in bar stools that were dragged on-stage to “bring things down a little,” Martini and Bohmer performed “Taco Bells are everywhere,” a duet consisting of lyrical imagery from the movie “Demolition Man.” Osborne stood idle the whole time unaware of what chords were being played.
By this time the crowd of about 25 was laughing louder than the band was playing.
“This song is about ‘Demolition Man’ too,” Martini said, “and that’s ‘t-o-o,’ as in ‘also.’”
Following the second song about “Demolition Man,” a microphone stand flew across the room spilling a full beer in the process. Bohmer ran to pick it up and then rushed back to the front to finish their closing song, another attempt at “Breakin’ the Law.”
Please direct your attention to the main stage dance floor
In good spirits, the crowd dispersed as Human Baggage prepared to play the final set of the night.
In talking to drummer Jaime Clark on the phone, she struck me as a becoming individual. Her politeness was one of the main factors in motivating me to get the show booked. As a local promoter for underground punk shows since 2006, I have dealt with bands who seemed ungrateful and acted as if playing Fargo was a waste of their time. Human Baggage was not one of these bands.
12:40 to 1:15 a.m.: The crowd was instantly enthralled from the first moments of Human Baggage’s set. Clark and guitarist Nick Wortham craft a unique blend of punk and avant-garde elements leaning heavily toward no wave.
The duo’s male and female vocals worked separately and together to create an abrasive presence. The pounding drums kept an anxious rhythm while the caustic guitar carried the melody.
Members of the audience yelled for more songs at the end of their set at which time the band divulged that they had played all seven or eight songs that they knew. People descended on their merchandise table shortly thereafter to purchase t-shirts and cassettes.
1:25 to 1:35 a.m.: In another group effort, we worked to dispose of the empty beer cans that littered the space and returned the stage and sound equipment to their respective places.
On my way out, I talked to bartender Paul Evans who worked in the basement that night. He was apologetic that more people hadn’t shown up but I assured him that the band had and would be taken care of.
I raced up the steps and out into the back alley where some show attendees lingered as Human Baggage loaded their equipment into their van. It was discussed earlier that they wouldn’t mind spending the night in town and I offered them the basement of my house.
The Monday night in Fargo turned out better than I expected, and as I walked down the alley to The Empire for last call, I knew it wasn’t over yet.