This motley crew dragged me—plus Oakland’s Annihilation Time (who opened many of the shows), and a whole gang of Cleveland friends including future Annihilation Time singer Jimmy Rose (who had been in CLE classic bands Puncture Wound and GSMF)—on a fifteen-day kamikaze trek across the southern part of the Golden State (and part of the north as well).
I’m so glad 9 Shocks Terror brought me along. All of us were changed forever by this tour. You see, 9 Shocks introduced me to Los Angeles and I immediately fell in love with this city. Hell, I moved here six months after the tour ended. Now it’s my home—I’ve been here ever since.
So please enjoy my tale of 9 Shocks. And nine sharks. And Sparks? Oh yeah—and a “happy meth elf” named Bolles.
Let’s start with the backstory to the backstory:
As a Clevelander, I was seduced—trapped—by this insidious Rust Belt state of mind that said, Never take a day off work (you’re letting everyone down). Travel is for fancy people (you’re down to earth). You’ll never get out of this town (everyone bounces back). You are trapped (haha).
Well, from living with Tony and working with him on U.S. Rocker I learned this regional defeatism is ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT.
Tony’s been touring for 35 years or something. He’s a total inspiration. Though he’s too humble to admit it, Erba’s been a beacon to a bunch of us for a long time to get out there and kick out the jams!
When Tony offered me a roadie slot I hesitated. This would mean taking time off work (that defeatist voice started murmuring in my ear) but… Well, I couldn’t think of a reason to say no. Everything in life became a bit more urgent right after 9/11.
You gotta live so, screw it, why not? Let’s have some fuckin’ fun.
9 Shocks on this tour was Tony on bass, Lean Steve on vocals, Kevin playing guitar and—sitting in on drums—the one, the only Jim Konya (RIP). (The band’s regular drummer was Wedge, who, like Konya, was a pillar of the scene. Hilarious, indefatigable, impressively knowledgable and a rager of a guy, Wedge would be missed on this excursion.)
Jim Konya… Shit, that long-haired metallion was no doubt going to up the ante on this tour with his madman antics and constant mugging for the crowd and the cameras.
I once saw him play a gig with Schnauzer at the Phantasy where he benched huge weights to the beat of the band’s noisy music. The dude was so badass—he didn’t even need drums to jam! It also foreshadowed mayhem to come…
Another reason I was excited for the tour was because I had become obsessed with the band Sparks. Even going so far as growing a Ron Mael-ish M-M-M-M-M-Moustache. I was growing my hair out too. I dunno why but the Ron look on the first two albums were such an orgasm for me.
Despite being a superfan, there were certain Sparks albums I just could not find in Cleveland. Like Indiscreet—a holy grail for me.
Todd said Amoeba had EVERY Sparks record. What!? I had been to the San Francisco Amoeba, the original. But the L.A. one had just opened and was reported, by Todd, to be fuckin’ HUGE. Whoa.
So yeah. Busting out after 9/11, switching shit up in my life and getting out of town, hanging with Tony and Jim AND scoring the Sparks discography became my reasons for living.
Off I went.
9 Shocks Terror had flown or driven out ahead of me. The internet says the band played Friday, April 5, 2002 in Davis, California at “527 D Street” with 9 Shocks Terror, Gift of Goats, Voetsek, Faces of Death and Ent.
First thing that happens—’cuz you learn early on that with 9 Shocks there’s always some weird glitch—we touch down at LAX… and I can’t hold my head upright. That’s right. Some kind of pressurization to my ear drums results in vertigo and I couldn’t lift my head up off my left should. Geez! Fortunately this never happened before or since.
But here we are. I was the only one with a license (Tony and Konya drove in the band van while I transported everyone else in a support vehicle). So I had to drive.
Imagine this: me, young guy, never been to L.A. before and all of a sudden I’m barreling down the 405 Freeway at 80mph—with my head cocked to one side. Eeeeyahhh! That sucked.
First stop was actually NOT in L.A. county at all. Santa Ana—far away. Being from Ohio we had no idea of distances here and each day our destinations were literally all over the map.
When we finally got off the 405, the streets—well, they still looked like freeways. They were so wide. We were a bunch of rubes, country bumpkins, in Orange County.
Fuckin’ Martin… we walk up to his place and he’s kicked back on the stoop drinkin’ Xocolatl—Aztec chocolate—through an ornate metal straw. “C’mon in, guys.”
I had seen Los Crudos and Limp Wrist. Awesome bands. But spending two days downtime between shows at Martin’s—that was as fun as any Crudos show (which if you’ve been is saying something)! Martin was a homebody daddy bear in training, crafting with construction paper and gossiping with our other “dad,” Tony Erba, while we all watched TV. It felt like a proper punk family.
Seannie has two daddies.
We had gigs in Corona and Pomona during this time. Corona? Pomona? At first I got confused. Were these the same place? Damn was I a newb! Martin amped us up with his chocolate concoction each morning and then we were off, over the (golden) hills and far away.
At each destination we found heaters packed with fans. I realized in short order that:
- “Punks not dead” was more than a slogan—it was the truth! In California at least. We saw mohican-ed and leather-clad punk rockers everywhere. Sometimes you’d even see a punk family—mom, dad, punkette kids—all done up in Vans, boots, flannel, and Manic Panic. In 2002. Twenty years after CBGBs, the Sex Pistols, Black Flag… Crazy.
- 9 Shocks connected with a lot more than just Ohio mutants—the band was, on the DL, one of the biggest bands of the era with no mainstream and almost no underground media coverage whatsoever
- Since we weren’t in the same vehicle with the band, and this was before smartphones and Google Maps, we’d often park and then it was a hunt to find the venue where 9 Shocks was playing. Well, it turns out, you could smell your way there! Yep, the trail of outrageously fragrant SoCal crusties (the smelliest in the world?)—slouched in doorways, begging on the sidewalks, crowding onto cafe tables at local eateries (and driving the locals away quickly)—very rapidly led us to the 9 Shocks Terror gig every time…
Back at Chez Martin, I told our gracious host about my Sparks obsession—he revealed he was also obsessed. As proof he pulls In Outer Space from the top of his stack of wax sitting next to his turntable. Wow!
Except, uhh, I’ve never heard that one. “You’ve never heard Spark plus Jane Wiedlin?!” Martin nearly shrieked. Oh man, yet another era of Sparks I’d never heard of. Turns out that folks—especially Southern Californians—were majorly geeked out on this ’80s era of the band. And now I am too.
Thank you, Martin. I’m still listening to Whomp That Sucker, Angst In My Pants, In Outer Space and Music That You Can Dance To.
I liked staying with Martin but his place was way too small for all of us. I was sleeping in the car each night to have some space and some privacy. I had never done that before—and I was done with that real quick.
Next we moved up north, back to Los Angeles proper—finally!—and shacked up temporarily with Ernie from Lifes Halt and his girlfriend, who were really wonderful, generous people—9 Shocks superfans, basically—in Koreatown.
Back in 2002 Koreatown was not the hip foodie destination it is today. This neighborhood was still seething from the L.A. riots, still on edge after earthquakes had damaged many of the old buildings.
But even the not so great parts of Los Angeles seemed so idyllic.
In Cleveland the bad parts of town looked bad. In L.A., even in the hood people have nice lawns and palm trees. Sure, the bars on the windows were pretty gnarly. But how bad could it be?
We got set straight the first night in Ktown when the police barricaded the streets and two choppers swooped in low with megaphones and spotlights, as the officers went door-to-door looking for their suspect. Gang violence. Trouble in paradise.
[Ironically (or maybe not) I would end up living about two blocks away from where we crashed for almost a decade after I moved to L.A. I guess it’s where the young, the poor, the newbies, the punks—me!—were destined to live.]
I miss Y2K-era Koreatown.
Anyhow, the next day I finally made it to Amoeba! I almost fainted—it was the most incredible record store I had ever seen. It was better than the SF outpost: a giant wide-open hangar filled with LPs and the coolest-looking shop workers I’d ever seen. I ended up seeing a bunch of them at the 9 Shocks gigs so you know they were really into music.
You should’ve seen my haul—this was pre-mp3, pre-iTunes, etc etc and the albums I got were just not available anywhere but L.A., at least at the reasonable prices I got them at.
I picked up Indiscreet by Sparks—yes! a lifelong quest fulfilled—plus all the ’80s Mael Bros. albums Martin recommended. Then there was Quiet Sun by Phil Manzanera’s pre-Roxy Music band. Wow. Incredible to pick up these albums I had only read about.
I also got CD comps of Klaus Nomi and more. I wish I could remember the entire list—my haul filled half my suitcase. I was fine with that. I donated my clothes—who needs shirts and pants when you have Kimono My House?
That afternoon I went to find my old pal Nondor Nevai—he of To Live And Shave In L.A. (TLASILA) and the ultra chaotic Weasel Walter-led To Live And Shave IN L.A. 2 (TLASILA2)—and instead ended up meeting Don Bolles of the Germs, 45 Grave, Celebrity Skin, tweaked out of his mind at he and Nondor’s drug and record den on North Wilton Place.
Now THAT was a trip and a half and you gotta read about it:
It was a fortuitous meeting, as things turned out, because Don became my best friend and mentor for a few years—showed me around Los Angeles and introduced me to everyone on the scene.
Now, retrospectively, after my own terrible experience being wrecked on speed (not related to knowing Don—I did not heed his warnings, unfortunately) I can testify to what a mensch Don is. One of the truly kind people. I’m so lucky we crossed paths.
That night, our 9 Shocks Terror posse finally reached the fabled venue “The Smell.” The internet says this show took place on April 7, 2002 and the bill was 9 Shocks Terror, In Control, Ciril and Out of Vogue.
It was already legendary in that way where you can’t help but being a tiny bit disappointed that it’s a pitch black literal hole in the wall off a forgotten alley in DTLA—an area of town which was abandoned and not in any way upwardly-mobile at the time.
I mean, the venue was okay but it was echo-y and the almost total lack of lights made it impossible to see anything at all.
I never saw Jim Smith, proprietor, friend and face of The Smell these past 15+ years, at this gig. Maybe he was there, I dunno?
However we did see Jeff Rosenberg at the door—the Pink and Brown drummer—who was making waves with the insane Lightning Bolt-like music he and his buddy John Dwyer made. That style was sweeping the D.I.Y. scene around the country and Pink & Brown were among the leaders. Jeff’s a really nice guy too.
Noise Rock and thrash and good people came together at The Smell just like they did in Cleveland at Speak In Tongues, so we instantly felt at ease.
Maybe too at ease. We hung out in the alley and shot the shit with Smell “security guys” Daniel and Frank, who actually remembered me (or said they did) when I moved to L.A. six months later. The $5 I gave each of them that night made me memorable I guess?
We got shit-faced drunk inside The Smell and in that alley. That would never happen now. The Smell had just moved from North Hollywood and they were still figuring things out. Drinking was apparently okay and we took full advantage. Maybe that’s another reason I can’t remember the show, besides the lack of lights.
Coincidentally, this was the last Smell show for eighteen months or more.
I was shocked when I moved to L.A. in the fall of 2002 and The Smell was closed. But they did eventually re-open, and Jim ran it and he’s a great guy and made the place into an institution, and the rest is history.
Did Ciril from Long Beach open for 9 Shocks at The Smell? The singer was a weird one—strung out-looking skinny motherfucker fronting a ferocious hardcore band. Kind of summed up the scuzzy but awesome day we had in Hollywood and DTLA. He opened some of the other shows too.
Like the one at Headline Records on Melrose Ave.—another joint I ended up living around the corner from, later on, after I transitioned to Los Angeles.
I assume that was the date of the show is correct: Saturday, April 13, 2002. Donofthedead, the writer mentions opening act Reagan SS, but I don’t remember them at all. There’s photo proof at the link so maybe we just hadn’t arrived yet.
The review doesn’t mention Ciril, but I swear they opened the show as well. That’s because I remember watching the creepy singer contort himself like an alien insect but it got to be a bit much. We made an error going outside, however—we couldn’t get all the way back in! The record shop was way too small for 9 Shocks. But, hey, that was the charm of the gig.
I think the Headline Records show was a free one. So all the working class punks—guys and girls just like me and our friends in Cleveland—piled in to get some free thrash.
I liked the gang at this show. It was also my first encounter with Latinx punx. I’d seen ’em in documentaries but it really was a thing in Southern California and I thought we Clevelanders—being from similar socio-economic background (read: living independently, originally from lower than middle class backgrounds)—meshed seamlessly with them, despite some linguistic and cultural differences. Really cool.
The punks adored Konya and Tony who were both “on” that night more than ever, which you can see in the video above.
These kids at Headline held 9 Shocks in such reverence and had so much punk and hardcore knowledge yet were so nice while still being, you know, dirtbags just like us.
Immediately afterward, there was another show. Here’s Tony Erba with the lowdown:
[I] remember after Headline gig we drove down the street, literally on the same street, and played a pop punk show I weaseled us onto, like at a teen club, and there was like a thousand or so free monthly music magazines, like BAM or something, and for some reason a pallet of phone books that got torn to bits and thrown all over the club as terrified freshly minted suburban pop punk Warped Tour-types shat in their pants as the bad elements from our other gigs came to that show and wrecked ship. I think Scott Stanner who was in Face Value very early on and who then lived in Venice hooked that one up.
So, was the night over after that? HELL NO! We kept going—partied till dawn at somebody’s house.
I guess thrash really does demolish barriers and connect us all…
Wow was San Diego nice. Now that I live in L.A., San Diego seems kinda small. Back then, coming from Cleveland, San Diego felt just right. And the view from the campus—just incredible. Pine forest overlooking the water. Or maybe I’m imagining that? We spent the day on Coronado so memories are blended here.
The Che Café was some sort of ramshackle campus event space that the punks had taken over at some point in time.
This was one of—if not the—funnest stop on the tour. It was nerdsville central. The 9 Shocks fans were ultra-geeked on the band—perhaps more than even Clevelanders were, which is saying a lot (9 Shocks were local heroes).
The Che Café kids were young and so innocent seeming, in contrast to the hard-bitten, strung-out crusties we saw in the I.E. and at The Smell.
These sweet geeks did something I had never seen before at a 9 Shocks show: they filed in conga line-style wearing shark heads they made or bought. We were like, whaaaat?
And then it hit us—there were nine guys wearing the shark heads at the front of the conga line.
Nine SHARKS Terror! OMG.
These kids were idiots. Geniuses, but also idiots.
The Che Café show was like Jiffy Pop—you know those vintage aluminum tins you put on the stove and then they explode—literally—with popcorn when heated? That’s what happened here. The young punks were literally bouncing off the ceiling in this terrible dripping heat. The kids get extra points for the shark riff thing on the band’s name… what a show! We drove back to Ktown soaked and exhausted.
I can’t remember the order of the final two shows but both were memorable.
One was in Santa Cruz which is, obvious to any Californian, nowhere near L.A. But here we were from Ohio so a four hour drive seemed like not such a big deal.
The drive up Highway 1—the Pacific Coast Highway—was breathtaking. The hills on the side of the road looked like Hobbit mounds suspended over this dangerous coastline. Erba was getting sick of the van so he rode with us. We saw a rainbow at one point. “It’s like a fuckin’ Roger Dean cover,” Erba remarked which was exactly right.
I haven’t mentioned Foster’s Freeze yet but seems like everywhere we went, there was a FF and it became our pre-show “office” where Erba and Konya made calls. Like in Santa Cruz. We basically camped out there.
Now I had been in the music industry in the 1990s, but Tony and Jim were next level. It was Greg Ginn/SST-type shit. Just making things happen by force of will. Jim and to a slightly lesser extent Tony were always arranging new shows and tours and Konya had a zillion records in the works it seemed. They were working the lines continually until gig time. It was a throwback to what I’d read and admired about Black Flag etc etc. And here we were in California surrounded by surfers and hippies and crusties and… oh! Crusties are here! It must be close to show time.
We followed the stink to this little Craftsman bungalow-type house, our venue for the night. The place was jammed. No surprise, the house was tiny and 9 Shocks reputation as THE band to see in April 2002 had been spreading the whole time we were in California.
I was a bit taken aback. The Santa Cruz punks were more like hippie surfers and most had NO SHOES on. Which is, ya know, fine for the beach, or around town if you’re a free spirit.
But as the more traditional, mohawked, combat-booted punks rolled in I kept thinking, Man, I hope those hippies put on some shoes.
9 Shocks let loose. They were beyond ferocious at this point. The shoeless hippies joined in the circle pit in this tiny overstuffed place right alongside the big boot dudes and just went with it. Ouchies times 1,000,000.
So that was a thing.
After the show it was back to Foster’s Freeze. We got this nice photo of us all with special guest Felix Havoc who was tagging along:
One show left to talk about—and it was the most unhinged—the most Mad Max post-apocalyptic. It was like Cleveland/Speak In Tongues mayhem and debauchery and destruction taken to the nth degree and beyond.
Of course this could only happen in the home of “Nardcore”—Oxnard, California
First off, the closer we get to Oxnard the stankier the stench got. And I’m not talking about the usual crusties here. I’m talking manure. Horse shit. Like, we’re from Ohio but this is some ultra-heavy doodie smell here—some real California gold. We’ve got the windows on the rental rolled up tight and the recirc on to no avail. The stench is seriously burning our nostrils.
So that was perhaps a sign.
It’s also getting dark as fuck as we wind our way past the shit-stinking fields ready for spring plantin’ or whatever, and all of a sudden there’s this ultra-high tech office park plopped down in the muck.
Southern California sure is mixed up, we said to one another. ‘Cuz in Ohio, you just don’t see gleaming mirrored tech installations next to farms.
But whatever we’re here. And the low vs. high tech surroundings are just the tip of this iceberg of surreality.
Turns out, the kid hosting the show is using his dad’s company’s HQ building as the venue. Say what what?
Yeah—dad’s under investigation by the Feds, or so the rumor goes, and has fled the area, leaving this posh new facility completely abandoned. Well not completely.
We traipse in through the mahogany and marble foyer and find an end-of-the-world meets Lord Of The Flies situation that I’m still trying to make sense of two decades later.
The interior of this proper corporate headquarters was luxe. And vast—with a three story atrium, Kokuboro desks at every station (that’s probably $3K per desk and there were dozens upon dozens), papers and computers and desk phones strewn all around like a tornado hit it. $2K leather chairs flayed and toppled on the ground. And weights—you know, the kind you lift at the gym?—strewn everywhere.
It seems the promoter dude’s dad-on-the-run had a business importing barbells, dumbbells, weight benches—all your usual gym equipment—from China. And in the pitch blackness, the little punks—real youngins’ by the looks of them—were darting through the formerly fancy offices, chucking dumbbells at each other, laughing when they missed as the weights landed SMASH! and took out a glass wall or mahogany credenza or a fax machine. Total destruction.
Perfect for a 9 Shocks Terror show!
9 Shocks set up in a decidedly less posh corner of the facility—perhaps it was the former mailroom or something? It seems the building had no power (aha! that’s why the lights were off…) and the power could only reach the mailroom from where they tapped it off a neighbor’s circuit box outside.
Well, 9 Shocks Terror started playing and the whole place just went apeshit. Kids were jumping, tumbling, smashing shit with dumbbells.
Erek Kudla, who featured this show in all its mattress-destroying glory back in the day in his zine, So This Is Progress (and more recently via a reprint / flexidisc combo—cool!), lived nearby and remembers things vividly:
[9 Shocks Terror] was my introduction to Ohio Hardcore. Last show of their tour was wild at Pat’s Warehouse. [Many] call it ‘Oxnard’… but it was Ventura. We rode our bicycles there for the show from Oxnard.
I had never heard of 9 Shocks—I was there for Annihilation Time, Holier than Thou and friends. My first impression was the drummer [Konya] looked like Mick Fleetwood and they had an Ohio flag draped over the bass amp so I had no idea was I was in for… Needless to say I was thoroughly blown away.
[Cool trivia:] Across the farm field from the show was the first Skate Street from Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2. This was the first time I saw Jimmy Rose as their roadie. The next time I saw him he was the singer of Annihilation Time. Also, 9 Shocks introduced me to The Stalin with a “Romanticist” cover.
Konya, a la Schnauzer, takes a weight bench and loaded a barbell with a ton of really fuckin’ heavy plates and puts it next to his drum kit. Between songs, Konya would jump over to the bench, get some reps in, get a good pump, scream and flex like a madman, and then count the band off into another insane ripper.
Rinse, repeat. Total Pandemonium.
Of course this had the (desired) effect of making the feral crowd boil over with furious, explosive energy.
A bunch of the most rambunctious punks disappeared for a bit and then re-emerged with… a pile of mattresses?! Well, I guess fitness equipment was not all that was being imported and stored on site.
So now there are dudes—and ladies—in the pit, wrestling with mattresses, wrestling with each other, in the dark, in the manure stink, in this Robocop-meets-Lord Of The Flies corporate HQ wasteland… oh shit! Now the punks have lit a fire…
Finally I see Tony crack a little.
I know him: he’s thinking about the kids’ safety, of course, but he’s also thinking of his vintage instruments and all the equipment they’ve brought, borrowed, and rented.
Sure enough, Erba grabs the mic—”Thanks, Oxnard, you’ve been lovely!” Mic drop.
“TIME TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!!!!” Erba shouts at us roadies.
We grab the instruments and the equipment and rush them outside as flames rise. Punks were pulling each other out of the building. We were driving off, watching the orange glow and billowing smoke in the rearview mirror, when we hear the sirens.
“STEP ON IT!” Tony yells. Vroom vroom. We’re gone…
In my mind, we drove straight to the airport and flew out of there like fugitives on the run. In reality. I think we crashed one last night in Koreatown and had Starbucks (also new-ish at the time) before boarding our flights.
9 Shocks guitarist Kevin Jaworski sums up the experience after all these years:
“What a ridiculous, rowdy, rapturous time. Driving Felix Von Havoc nuts with our adolescent inanity, Jimmy disappearing for most of the night in Seattle, then returning scraped and bloody with no recollection of what happened, schooling punks that were unsympathetic to Jim’s red (i.e., Satanic) slacks in a pickup basketball game outside a house show in Oakland, free food (i.e., buckets of vegan gruel) at the scabies-infested punkhouse somewhere in NorCal (yum), Jimmy “wheezing” food from every single gas station we stopped at, breaking the headstock off of my beloved Flying V at the Gilman show (where their adorable brand of chaos involved silly string and shaving cream) then being leant a guitar for the rest of the tour by a complete stranger (God-as-you-understand-God, bless that human), Mister Rogers samples, and the endless hilariousness provided by Jim Konya. He’s missed. The shows were pretty good, too.”
9 Shocks had done it—we had done it. We’d conquered the West Coast and Southern California.
I was hooked. I was gonna be back. I had a mission.
As I listened to my new Klaus Nomi comp on my CD Walkman on the plane, I heard Klaus sing, “After the fall / we will all be born again.” I day-dreamt about living through the end of the world with 9 Shocks Terror, in Oxnard, with Ron and Russell tucked safely in the overhead compartment, and the new world of adventures that awaited me in Los Angeles…
If you have video, photos, better facts or dates, tales taller than mine, classified information, etc. about the 9 Shocks Terror 2002 California Tour, please contact me. I wanna hear what you got.
[Extra special thanks to the one & only Raphi Gottesman for attempting to copy edit this post. Raphi can drum and play every instrument in seemingly every style, raise a family, survive in Oakland AND wade through my BS spiel swamp? What can’t the man do! If any errors remain they are all mine. Thanks for reading.]
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