EASTON, PA—Oddly enough, when I found out my New Jerseyan hometown heroes The Atomic Bitchwax were doing a show at the School Of Rock in Easton, Pennsylvania, right across the border, I knew exactly where the spot was. I’d never been to the School Of Rock before, and so far as I know, it doesn’t put on gigs like the one in Hackettstown, but it was just a couple weeks before I’d been to the Crayola factory with my niece, right next door. The School Of Rock’s practice room had been reserved for the Bitchwax, for a TV taping, and since I was lucky enough to be invited, I was happy to make the trip.
The pilot show was hosted by longtime Aquarian contributor “Undercover” Steve Truglio, the master of ceremonies behind the My Show podcast and also known as Fake111, whose photos have graced these pages and Clutch releases like Jam Room and Robot Hive/Exodus, as well as some of the many live records the band has done. Looking to expand his My Show into videographic realms, he devised a format based somewhat on the model of VH-1’s That Metal Show, but geared more toward heavy rock and underground prog. Hence The Atomic Bitchwax.
So my wife and I drove down to Easton on a Sunday afternoon for it, and following a late and 60 percent liquid lunch at Porter’s Pub—whose name I mention specifically only to note the quality of their product, beer menu and presentation—we headed over to the School Of Rock in time to catch the start of the taping. The band was outside the building when we got there, bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella, and inside and in a high-ceilinged practice space, a rotating lineup of School Of Rock students was running through a mini-set of classic rock covers to serve as a sound and video check.
Bless their hearts, the kids nailed “Whole Lotta Love” and “Break On Through (To The Other Side),” down to the prominent keys of the latter and the ultra-swaggering guitar solo of the former. It was hard not to smile at some of the stage moves, but thinking back to the awkward lump of humanity I was at that age and remain today, I don’t think I ever would’ve had the fortitude to do what they were doing in front of a group—a small group, but still—of strangers, let alone TV cameras. I haven’t done it in a while at this point, but last time I got on a stage, I still had to have a few cocktails in me first. So kudos to the childrens. Stay in school.
Most of them split when their songs were done, but a couple hung around to catch the Bitchwax, who went about the business of setting up their gear before a brief introductory interview segment was filmed. Kosnik, who’s the only original member, talked about some of the band’s beginnings, and his own roots in Godspeed, who were signed to Atlantic in the mid-’90s along with Core, from whence Ryan comes. That too was brought up, as was Pantella’s tenure in Raging Slab, which I’ve always been curious to get the drummer’s perspective on in-depth, since there was so little going on in New York by way of heavy and Southern rock in the new/no wave ’80s and early ’90s.
The nature of the format was prohibitive of an hour-long chat on any given subject, but served as a decent lead-in for the couple songs The Atomic Bitchwax played. I’d preemptively had the first-album instrumental “Stork” stuck in my head for the entire previous day—no point in trying to avoid it—and sure enough, they lead off with it as they did opening for Kyuss in December and Karma To Burn in September. “Stork” gave way to “Shitkicker,” also from the self-titled, and “The Destroyer” from III, both of which the band tore through with their characteristic penchant for speed and winding riffs.
It was more of a relaxed atmosphere than a proper gig. Counting the two camera operators, there were 11 people in the room, but they still gave a more than decent showing of what they’re all about at this point in their career, and as relaxed as they look playing, and as much as Kosnik and Ryan toss smiles back and forth the whole time, like they’re in on a gag the rest of the world doesn’t get, their chops have never been a joke. With Ryan and Pantella, Kosnik has assembled the most consistent Bitchwax lineup to date, and the fact that they unleashed single-track, 42-minute The Local Fuzz last year, distilling their sound to the essential jams and riff-barrage that it’s born from, only proves it.
The Local Fuzz was the subject of a second, shorter interview. Rather than bring the chairs back, the band remained standing (Ryan, I believe, was tuning his guitar) and Kosnik discussed how the album was put together from a series of compiled riffs that gradually became the lone instrumental piece that appears on the record. Shortly, they played side A from the album, Kosnik having promised it would be “25 riffs in about 20 minutes.” It was, and I don’t think anything has ever so clearly demonstrated the precision behind what The Atomic Bitchwax does as “The Local Fuzz.” It’s not a record you want to listen to every day—unless you’re looking to O.D. on “riff”—but continually fascinating in both its own sound and the left turn it was from the poppier TAB4, which marked the band’s return to Tee Pee Records in 2009. Anyway, they ruled, and spliced in some of the end of “The Local Fuzz”—essentially skipping another 20 minutes of the song—to act as a finale. It was good fun.
Some drum-chat ensued with Pantella, who talked about the kit he was playing on, as well as his own preferences for drums and Riotgod’s next trip to Europe, and then Kosnik talked a bit about the School Of Rock facility, and when it got awkward, the band hit into their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” and wrapped the set with another short instrumental to bookend “Stork” and, one can only imagine, serve as a lead-out while the credits roll. There wasn’t much fanfare when it was over, but those of us who’d sat in the foldout seats for roughly the prior two hours applauded and made various sounds of approval, and before long, my wife and I were making our way on the sidewalk past the gift-shop window boasting of the world’s largest Crayola crayon, back to the car and subsequently out of Easton. As Kosnik had joked when they were finished playing, we all made it home in time to catch Family Guy.
Which is about all you can ask of a Sunday evening.
The Atomic Bitchwax’s The Local Fuzz is available on Tee Pee Records. For more, check out theatomicbitchwax.com.