Begin railway metaphor. Over a seven-year run, the band rolled through several make-or-break junctures that could easily have derailed the Stickmen Express. Of course, the train did ultimately collapse the trestle bridge and plunge into the cold river of public indifference. But early on, with a cantankerous locomotive coupled to hopper cars spilling over with the bituminous coal of our fragile egos, we picked up a big head of steam coming out of the first few whistle stops. Okay, enough with the clickety-clack.
Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the most seminal of those backyard shows. The date was December 5, 1992. All these years later, to my thinking, it doesn’t get any more “classic stickmen” than “December 5.”
Our first concert with Don had gone down five weeks earlier – to enthusiastic cheers – in Victor’s living room (let’s not split hairs, but Don was actually in the bedroom). I’ve said before that if that Halloween Show had been booed or laughed at, we’d have slunk back to the garage permanently. Well, actually, we were laughed at, but in a good way: we had played mostly comedic material.
For the followup, we dared to take the stage with our “real” songs. Segments of the audience were clearly expecting a repeat of Halloween, and kept shouting out requests like “Evil Old Man with One Eye,” but by and large, our more serious fare got a warm welcome.
I particularly remember one listener expressing astonishment at the sheer number of “real” songs played, and the honest-to-goodness guitar solos that went with them. To all of which I could only reply, “Thanks, Mom!”
Of course, amongst weighty debuts like “Better Off Alone,” “Trials and Tribulations,” and first-ever REM cover “It’s The End of the World as We Know it” (my personal favorite version), there were still plenty of laughs, especially between songs, with numerous puzzling stories from Matt, and a brief Christmas skit by the whole band.
Toward the end, as we began to run out material, we dusted off a few comedy numbers (including the first-ever live performance of “Fire Hazard Christmas”) which also went down well. We played until our hands were freezing and we were almost out of songs, but the audience kept shouting for more. Finally it started to rain, and Victor and I unplugged our guitars and literally ran away.