When I saw Local H was coming to Newport to play at the Thompson House on their Anti-Folk Revival Tour in Drop-D with Filter and Helmet, I knew I had to go.
I circled the date in my mind (8/13/14) and salivated at the thought I might actually get to see one of my favorite bands live.
That might sound crazy, but I never thought I’d get the opportunity to actually hear Local H live. The band–always a power duo and always fronted by Scott Lucas–had dropped their first album in 1995, and I didn’t know how long Lucas was going to keep at it .
I was especially concerned because Lucas had suffered a damaged vocal cord while on tour in Russia after a mugging the previous year.
To call Local H a ’90s grunge relic would be doing Lucas and his band a disservice, because his sound has evolved and matured over time.
However, most people know Local H for their single “Bound for the Floor”, a song off the 1996 album As Good as Dead with a catchy riff. The song helped the record go gold and climbed the mainstream rock charts and the alt rock charts.
The band was poised to top their performance in 1998 when they released Pack up the Cats, a seamless concept album that displayed how far the band had come in a short time.
Sonically, Pack up the Cats was more polished–the bass popped, the distortion was soaked in energy, and Joe Daniels’ drums pounded out in frenzy. It was post-grunge Cheap Trick: pop rock, served hard.
However, Local H’s label–Island Records–was in the midst of a merger, and when the merger occurred the album was put on the back burner.
The album’s story about a self-absorbed rock star making it big and going bust took a tragically ironic turn. It could just as well have been about a two man band from tiny Zion, Illinois getting dumped on by a record label (maybe?).
But Lucas survived, changing drummers twice. He’s released eight studio albums total (not including EPs and two albums consisting totally of cover songs), including Whatever Happened to PJ Soles?–an album about a mid-life crisis in ode to the actor–and Hallelujah I’m a Bum–a record about the 2012 election and economic desperation.
Only one thing gave me pause about the Thompson House show: the poster said those in attendance had to be 21 or older. I was 19.
Nevertheless, my best friend’s sister had a friend who’d played at the Thompson House before. I had a way in, and a group to go with.
When we arrived at the Thompson House I was surprised that we didn’t have any trouble getting into the red brick mansion that sits in the shadow of Newport on the Levee.
We paid our $20 and were prompted to put on bracelets indicating we were underage.
In fact, we weren’t even the youngest people there. Although most of the people in attendance were in their 20s or 30s there was one kid who couldn’t have been any older than 13 with his dad. Both were decked out in black Local H T-shirts. The kid put on a show by playing a drum kit that happened to be in the front of the house.
The Thompson House has a gutted feel to it. Its inner spaces are kept clear for crowds, save for a couple bars with limited seating space towards the front of the house and the back of the house. It’s safe to say things were probably very different when John Thompson was born here in 1860. Thompson’s claim to fame is the Thompson submachine gun, made famous by gun-toting gangsters and U.S. servicemen in World War II.
There are a few rooms to mill about in, but the main attraction is the stage area in the rear of the house. Here, Local H put on a show.
It began simply. “Hey everybody. We’re Local H,” Scott Lucas said matter of factly. And then he and his new drummer, Ryan Harding, launched into their set list.
Once they started, they didn’t stop. It began with the energetic “All Right (Oh Yeah)”, then it hopped into the blitz of “Heavy Metal Bakesale”. Unexpectedly, the Chicago power duo launched into a cover of Lorde’s hit pop song “Team”. Lucas did the song justice, while keeping true to form.
From there, they bounced between the desperation of “Another February” and favorites like “Bound for the Floor”. They nearly played songs from all of their albums, including Hey Killer, which was still several months away from release at the time.
All the while, scantily clad women passed through the darkened room offering shots while onlookers from above leaned over balcony railing with beers in hand. Basically, it felt like a frat mansion if there were such a thing.
To me it was euphoria. Watching Lucas work his footpedals, switching between his bass pickups so he could play both guitar and bass at the same time was a revelation. Even better, the band retained the same sound they record in studio. Local H was back at it.
After the show, I got to meet Harding and Lucas at their merch table. I abstained from asking questions about lyrics and song titles so as not to risk sounding desperate. Instead, I complimented the set list. I bought Local H’s new EP, asked for an autograph and was satisfied. We stuck around late into the night to see Filter and Helmet play (talk about a ’90s reunion).
When my friend Paul spotted Local H packing up, he suggested we go get a picture. We approached Lucas, and asked if he’d take a picture. At first declined. Disheartened, I thanked him anyway.
Then, with newfound energy, Lucas said “No, come here. Get over here.”
Instead, Lucas came to me and wrapped his arm around my shoulder, reached for the phone and tried to rattled off a few selfies. He’d probably had a drink or two by then, but was still amicable.
He’d grown out his mane again like he had back in ’96. There were some silver hairs in it now though. “The old guy still freaking has it,” I thought.