w/ Memphis Radio Kings, DJ Dann Gallucci
Sunset Tavern, Thurs Sept 13, $5
Shy of giving John Doe head in a beat-up pickup truck on a back road in Bakersfield, I can't imagine a fantasy more satisfying than this. I'm huddled in the West Section Line's ramshackle practice space, wiping sweat from my eyes while the terrifyingly loud strains of the band's unclassifiably strange music smashes against my skull. Imagine My Bloody Valentine as a classic country band. No, think of the Old 97's without the cute puns. Aww, just imagine Glen Campbell on a killing spree and you're getting close.
Whatever this sound is, it's forcing my mouth into a lunatic grin. The boys look happy too, laying into their instruments like they're trying to draw blood. Hell, for a band just risen from the grave, they sound better than ever.
The West Section Line doesn't really exist. The band that released the now-legendary CD The Man Downstairs on RX Remedy in 1996 broke up just two years later when Ben Savior, the lead singer and lyricist, moved to New York City to pursue a career on Wall Street. For three years, devoted fans have had only a frustratingly abbreviated discography (which also includes an admittedly "sub-par" Sub Pop single and a five-song demo CD that's as rare as a hen's tooth) with which to comfort themselves. So when the sudden announcement came whispering down the lane that Savior was briefly back in town and that the band would resurrect for a final show at the Sunset, I felt compelled to stalk the boys to their hidden lair.
After practice, the entire lineup (Ben Savior, vocals; Chris Quinn, lead guitar; Evan Foster, lead guitar; Jason Reavis, drums; Greg Stumph, bass; and Nick Contento, Hammond organ) hunker down into a booth at Cyclops to share secrets, starting with the story of the band's enigmatic name. "It's the name of my grandparents' rural route in Ohio," Savior says, sipping at a near-beer.
The black-clad Savior has a piercing gaze that belies his freakish intellect. It's not hard to imagine how he finessed Quinn into forming the first incarnation of the band. "Chris and I met in high school. But WSL started when I came back from New York [in 1993] with these sloppily recorded tapes, and handed them to him." Quinn, a lanky fellow whose slide guitar defines WSL's haunting sound, nods vigorously.
Savior continues, "We were reading the same books and watching the same movies. Like John Rechy's City of Night, and Midnight Cowboy. I'm also really influenced by how popular hetero-culture represents queer culture. Like Cruising, which was roasted when it came out, but I fucking love that movie." Savior doesn't seem to notice that this unlikely admission nearly causes me to spray a mouthful of beer at him, and he continues. "I was listening to a lot of Gun Club and Hank Williams. I used to have a huge drug habit too, and all that's in there. Every single one of those songs is basically a tragedy."
Quinn and Reavis (who is instantly recognizable from countless other Seattle bands) both rise. "The thing is not to overexplain it," Quinn adds. "If you listen to it and it moves you then that's fucking beautiful, and that's what it's all about." Then he and Reavis, who are not ashamed to admit they are fans of the Black Crowes, rush out to catch the Crowes' set at Bumbershoot.
With our numbers reduced, I'm emboldened enough to probe at the band's dissolution. Savior doesn't flinch: "Our record came out and we didn't tour to support it, which was admittedly a mistake. If you don't... accelerate, things can only fall apart. I had put together a deal to do a solo record. But those solo tracks were the basis for what became the next WSL five-song EP, with Evan [who replaced Quinn on guitar for the recording]." Foster, looking like a child star who grew up to rob convenience stores, seems to thrum with excitement at the mention of the EP. "The hardest thing about my move to New York," Savior continues, "was that when Chris and I began to move in different directions, Evan and I began to develop the same kind of connection that Chris and I had. Which is why it's so amazing to have them together on the same stage."
Foster chimes in. "When I got involved it became quickly apparent that this was excellent shit and that it had to be done.... And that's why the show is going to happen." Greg Stumph, WSL's typically quiet bass player, nods meaningfully.
Savior leans toward me. "But I don't want this opportunity to be a sentimental freak-show. I want it to be an event. Hell, the older I get, the more everything starts to resemble weddings and funerals." Characteristically conjuring up conflicting images of open caskets and caught bouquets, Savior has voiced the reason that--come Hell or high water--I'll be up front paying my respects.