Photos and words by Zach Nellis
(Last month) I hit the road for Philadelphia and Maryland with the band denzell. Despite the fact that we were only gone for two full days the trip seemed more like weird week long adventure with these guys who I am lucky enough to call my friends. After missing out on the previous summers week long tour due to some unpaid internship malarky, I jumped at the first chance to spend a weekend drinking beer in small basements and sleeping on couches.
I got the okay from my parents to borrow the SUV for the weekend, and that along with Frank’s car would be just enough space to fit all the bodies, equipment, merch, and book bags that would be necessary for the weekend. The trip would be kicked off driving through the night on Thursday to get to Burger Theater in Philly, which was owned by our friends in the band Buster. From Philadelphia we would set sail for Wheaton, Maryland for a show at the BXTR BLDG with some new and old friends.
Cars began to get packed around 11pm on Thursday night outside of the Brown House (where most of denzell resides). After a few rounds of the fair one (rock,paper,scissors) to determine who would get shot gun in each car we finally made our way down the street to the gas station to fill up. In classic denzell manner we had to make a pit stop back at the Brown House so Frank could pee. As he walked into the house he was followed by a few other zells who decided it would probably just be best if they tried to pee as well, so they went on the side of the house to save time. We finally hit the road for Philadelphia around midnight, and after only one pit stop we made it to the Burger Theater stoop around 5am just as Jeff (Buster’s drummer) was getting ready to head to work. As soon as the cars were unpacked everyone crashed pretty hard for a few hours, except for Phil who went straight for the Burger Theater PS2, sifting through their collection of old games for a little while. The next morning we bumbled around the streets for a few hours until we found some breakfast and a little park to eat it in before the zell’s made their way back to the house so they could practice. While they ran through their set a few times, Krevin (another friend of denzell along for the ride) and I decided to skate around the area for a little. We found our way to Grey’s Ferry Park which was a pretty cool little all cement park under a bridge but also found a few spots in the streets along the way. By the time we got back the zells were done practicing and it was time for the pre show beer run. This night of the zell tour would be sponsored by Hamm’s thanks to Roman who pointed out that it was something like $13 for a 30 rack, which we could manage to squeeze into our budget.
By the time the Burger Theater was stocked up some other bands started rolling in. The bill consisted of Buster, Prime Homeless Time, denzell, Ryan Jones and the End of Time, and Fuck. Once everybody had a few Hamm’s in them people started making their way to the long narrow basement of Burger Theater. Buster, having home field advantage, had the honor of kicking off the night playing a few tunes off their latest release, it’s in my backpack. These dudes play some perfectly messy/noisy pop punk that comes together with their strange lyrics that leave you wondering what the hell they are talking about. Next, Prime Homeless Time took the stage for his solo keyboard act. From the second he laid his fingers on those keys the Burger Theater basement turned into a wacky carnival ride. He pelted out some awesome vocals over tunes that sounded like they were coming from a sick and twisted carousel ride. Prime Homeless Time finished up his quick but impressionable set and the zells began tuning up for their first show of the weekend. It wasn’t until all the zells were all in the basement equipped with their instruments that I realized just how narrow the Burger Theater basement was. Despite the crammed stage, denzell still delivered an awesome set. No matter how small of an area they are playing in the zells can always find room to move around and have a good time while they’re performing. What still baffles me though is that even with all of their chaos on stage, the zells still manage to bring all of their individual sounds together to produce some amazing music. Its easy enough to describe their music as pop punk but to be honest they all write stuff for the band and all take turns playing different instruments and singing, so every song has its own unique sound.
After denzell’s set, Ryan Jones and the End of Time took the stage with Prime Homeless Time drumming for them. Ryan Jones, a Philly native, played some pretty cool psychedelic punk type music with a little saxophone thrown in there. It wasn’t until I went back and listed to him later that I realized he has some pretty cool lyrics, that I unfortunately just wasn’t able to hear in the Burger Theater basement, but you’ll have that with pretty much any basement show. The night was brought to a close by Fuck…And to be honest I’m not really even to sure how to begin to describe Fuck. All the members of the band took to the stage wearing various masks, which made it seem almost more like an art project than a show, but it was still everything I hoped it would be. They played a bunch of noise rock with some crazy synthesizers and a tambourine, while passing around a bunch of joints on stage. Im not even sure if they actually finished their set or just finished smoking and decided they had enough, but nonetheless, Fuck was dope and is kind of just one of those things you have to witness with your own eyes/earholes.
Once the scheduled music had finished for the night people just chilled and drank and had a good time. Our friend Krevin popped open his laptop at one point and played some of his dirty beats that he produces as, Wai-el. Eventually some people stepped up to the mic and laid down a few bars which was pretty cool, props to the big dude who spat for like 2-3 minutes, that was dope. Once everyone was too drunk to try to rap the house died down a little, I ended up crashing on some couch that looked more like the back seat of a van that was plopped down in the entry way of the house, and woke up feeling shitty about it because Roman definitely called dibs on it earlier, sorry Broman.
After a few hours of sleep and some coffee, we all realized that we were going to have to leave for Maryland earlier than we were expecting if we wanted to have enough time there to chill before the show. So after another couple rounds of the fair one to see who was sitting shot gun in which car, we were on our way to Wheaton, Maryland. The drive wasn’t bad at all but we got there and met up with denzell’s previous drummer, Luke McGowan, who is now living just outside of DC. Luke and his girlfriend were nice enough to let us into their apartment just long enough for us to destroy their bathroom (Julie, Im truly sorry for that) before they took us on a little tour of their neighborhood. After a nice whole foods picnic on the top of another friend’s awesome apartment building, we realized we were running late. We got back to our car and split for the BAXTER BLDG which was only about 20 minutes aways, and were the first ones to show up. Once everything was unloaded into the BAXTER BLDG garage, half of the zells went off on an adventure to find more beer while the rest of us hung out with some of the other bands that were beginning to show up.
Our good friend Luke McGowan kicked off the night of music with a solo set. This was the first time I had heard Luke perform since he moved to DC, and it was awesome to hear him not only play some of his old songs that he use to perform with denzell but also some entirely new stuff he had been working on. I envy this dudes creativity, musical talent, and work ethic. He is one of those people that seems to constantly be creating something new or has some cool project he’s working on. His extended version of Au Claire de la Lune (a song he once performed with the zells) was amazing, and made me realize how much I missed his song writing. Once Luke finished up, DoubleMotorcycle (formerly SeaKnuckle) took the stage. I think its safe to say that these dudes stole the show. From the first song to the last, they had the crowd moving around and having a good time. They’re music was aggressive and loud and spastic but came together to sound perfect. They had catchy guitar riffs with enthusiastic and passionate lyrics. You could tell that the three dudes were having fun on stage and were feeding off the crowd because they set seemed to get better as they went on. They danced around a bunch of home made pyramids that they had set up all over stage and were legitimately funny with their between song banter.
Once DoubleMotorcycle finished up and amazing set, the zells were up next. I was glad to see that the dudes were hyped up after watching DoubleMotorcycle destroy their set, and were ready to play. Going from playing in a small crammed basement one night to a nice spacious two car garage was pretty awesome too. The dudes had room to move around on stage and for the first time in a long while, and you could hear the vocals loud and clear. I was personally pumped to hear Tyler’s new song, NBC Sitcoms. I had heard it ran through a few times during practices and the night before at Burger Theater, but this was honestly the first time I had really heard the lyrics come through and it seemed to bring everything around full circle. This sad but catchy song, sung by the drummer who also takes turn playing lead guitar only helps to show you the diversity amongst the zells. Once the zells took their turns passing around instruments and loosing their glasses/hats from excessive dancing, it was BRNDA’s turn. This band had performed with the zells in Pittsburgh a while back so I kind of knew what to expect, but was blown away by their set. They were the perfect way to end the weekend micro-dose of touring with the zells. Their very clean sounding punk tunes are accompanied by some messy vocals which seems to keep them perfectly balanced.
Once the night of music was finally over we hung out for a while and chilled with everyone. A good old fashioned game of sky ball even started in the driveway. Luckily for us, the zells had played with a pretty cool band called the Tomato Dodgers a while back in Pittsburgh and one of their members, Asher, was there and graciously offered to let us crash with him and his house full of musical misfits at the Void. Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect because we arrived at the house just as a potluck had finished so we were welcome to help ourselves to some left overs as we all began claiming couches throughout the mansion of a house that is the Void. We all made our way out to the back porch for one last cig before bed where we were lucky enough to hear about some awesome masked hip hop producer who left a gold spray painted VHS at the Void a few weeks back after their Halloween party. Of course the Void had multiple old televisions on their back deck like any cool punk house should, so Asher threw the tape in and blew our minds with an awesome hour long trippy visual tape scored with some dope hip hop beats n’ such. As we all watched with our mouth hanging wide open, Asher continued to explain that they just found this tape while cleaning up after their party that just had a note on it saying “You are the Hero, Please Watch”. So of course they watched all of it and did some research and finally found an artist by the name of A N T I H E R O who makes all of these amazing visual videos and beats.
With our minds now fully blown from a weekend of awesome music and now this crazy mysterious art project of a producer, we made our way back to our respective couches. Some of the other residents of the Void had been filtering back in, including one who brought his pet snake out and passed it around. As we gave the snake back and all got cozy on our couches Asher dropped one last piece of mind blowing info on us which was the fact that they had actually lost a full grown snake in the house not that long ago…and still haven’t found it. In any other situation we all probably would have just not slept all night fearing that one of us would wake up with a giant snake coiled around us, but everyone was just to beat to remain scared for more than 10 minutes before falling asleep. Luckily we all woke up the next day snake free, and went and celebrated by stuffing our faces full of Burger King before saying our good byes to the Voiders and hitting the road for home.
This weekend was awesome, but it wouldn’t have been awesome if it weren’t for all of these other amazing people that helped partake in it. So I would just like to say thank you to the zells for letting me tag along for the ride and thanks to everyone else we encountered along the way. ummm yeah I think thats it.
denzell – denzell.bandcamp.com
Buster – heybuster.bandcamp.com
Prime Homeless Time – primehomelesstime.bandcamp.com
Ryan Jones and the End of Time – ryanjones.bandcamp.com
Fuck – I really don’t know…these guys are mysterious AF
Luke McGowan –lukemmcgowan.bandcamp.com
DoubleMotorcycle (FKA SeaKnuckle) – seaknuckle.bandcamp.com
BRNDA – brendadc.bandcamp.com
A N T I H E R O – soundcloud.com/vhsparadise