Wisconsin Death Trip

(Liner notes from the various artists compilation album Gimme The Keys, the band is Lexington (aka Lexington Devils), the tune “Wisconsin Death Trip”, 1987)

I can remember the first time I heard “Wisconsin Death Trip”.  The band was playing in a biker\bar in an industrial stretch of Anaheim—you know, all parking lots and dumpsters and broken glass.  The club was an immense pool hall, really, row after row of billiards tables surrounded by bikers and their women, punks trying to look like junkies and junkies like punks, old hippies with beads and bellies, barmaids with them perfect asses.  Typical rock’n’roll environment.  Lexington was playing to an indifferent crowd, the crowd being those who stuck around the stage long enough for them to do a song.  They had a bunch of loyal, even fanatical fans who squealed and yelled to everything they did, especially the tight little Replacements-like numbers:  verse, chorus, verse, lead, chorus, Thank you, “Singapore Sling”, “Mama Wants Her Baby Back”—good songs, don’t get me wrong, damn good songs.  But the band looked so weird.  I dunno.  Not so much the way they were dressed—Frank in that James Dean / Monterey Pop Jimi outfit and that trashed little Les Paul in his giant Mexican hands; Derek like Keith Moon might have looked like if he had played for Gene Vincent, with those giant sticks he launch off his ride, actually hitting and hurting people;  Eric, beautiful, serene, stoned, even if he weren’t, fingers snaking across the frets bloozin’, jazzin’, rockin’ it—and Lex, that crazed rasping voice belied by the almost pretty face El Greco’d in the shitty bar lighting, body twisting, rolling, writhing, staggering—drunk off his ass, pounding his head on the mike stand, laughing laughing laughing, the pretty pink scarf draped besodden round his neck billowing in the breeze blown by Derek’s giant floor fan.  Frank is in the middle of some bloozy rock shuffle (“Lord of the Highway”) and it is an audience favorite, they’re digging it at the pool tables, shaking their cues to the beat, when he starts strangling his guitar, I mean choking it, trying to kill it, you can hear its feedback screams over everything, and he doesn’t stop and it just screams and screams and Eric just digs it and nods to Derek who brings it down, way down, all closed high hat and rim shot, and Lex struggles to his feet, kicks one of the toms laying around across the stage, and just stares at Frank, watching, studying, waiting, catching a breath.  Frank’s playing with the guitar now, moving it around in front of the amp, making funny feedback noises.  Eric stops, Derek taps out a quiet blooz on his shut high hat, its jagged shattered edges sticking out in all directions.  It goes on like that for a while, seconds, minutes, this electric squeal and garbage can tapping.  The audience doesn’t get it, a few applaud, some hoot, a big drunk biker yells something unintelligible.  The band stands there.  The breeze from the fan blows Lex’s scarf.  It quivers a little, barely alive.  Frank pulls his fingers off the guitar’s neck.  The feedback expires.  The stick taps arhythmically, slowly, even more slowly.  The bar is hushed.  Billiard balls clack.  That biker mumbles.  A lady with beautiful legs is walking round by the bar, looking antsy.  People hit furtively from the joint being passed around.  What a weird way to end a set.

I remember the next few seconds in slow motion.  Frank bolts upright and turns on us, some freaked out “Foxy Lady” triplet riff distorted beyond belief explodes out of his amp and then the whole band follows, punctuated by Derek’s tom tom blasts and it’s a freakin’ Motorhead/Hendrix/Zeppelin hurricane, Lex is screaming and it goes on like that for a minute or two, the audience rockin” out or just staring frozen wondering what the fuck has just happened when it stops just–like–that except for Derek’s out of time descending roll skin-crackingly loud and it hangs there, just for a minute, then BOOMP BOOMP BOOMP BAM and what’s this?  Weird guitar, soaring, building on an incredible bass line that just goes on higher with an almost intolerable suspense, drums one two three four five six one two three four five six and Lex on the floor writhing and hurting, first almost in a whisper “Saw your face in the paper…” oblivious to us, to everything but the band, “You know you looked so fine” the vocal melody alien, fragile as a child’s noodling on the piano, or a fragment of a birdsong, recorded and slowed down a hundred times.  Frank is chording now, big guitar chunks smashed together, following the bass line, then leading it, then staggering away crazily into feedback then back into he melody again, Derek’s drums grow louder, Lex is walking across the stage, bumping into Frank, away from Eric, tripping on chords, kicking aside pieces of drums and empty cans, yelling into the microphone, yelling at someone in the song, , then screaming this curdling blues howl into the cacophony of drums, guitar and bass blasting this twisted “Dazed and Confused” riff till the remains lay scattered about the stage and the band asks for a beer for Lex.  “He looks thirsty.  Come on.”  The crowd stood silent for a moment, and then screamed.

The Lexington Devils

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