by Ben Shine
In Indianapolis, musical histories often run deeper than might be obvious. The guy playing music at a local R&B radio station might be one of the most important figures in Indianapolis' hip hop scene. The guy tinkering behind a soundboard at your favorite club may have been in Indiana's only internationally revered punk band. The drummer who seems to play in almost every band that Mark Cutzinger isn't playing in may have spent time touring with Evan Dando.
And, sometimes, those musical histories collide and create a great present, a moment when everyone finally gets to see the band that maybe should have happened years ago.
Almost two weeks ago, that moment happened at the Tonic Ball, smack dab in the middle of 50 different bands' performances. There had been hints on social media about it and in excited text messages, but I wasn't entirely ready for what happened when a special super-group took the stage. It involved four heavyweights of local music over the last four decades:Devon Ashley - Drummed for The Pieces, Mab Lab, The Lemonheads, F.U.Z.Z, Those Young Lions, as well as a session player all over the Midwest.
There's no proper name yet for the project. But the group has some big plans. "Finna shake up the world," says Russell.
At Tonic Ball, they played Tom Petty's "American Girl," LCD Soundsystem's "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" (with a personally special moment for me at exactly the four-minute mark), The Pretenders' "Precious," The Ramones' "Cretin Hop," and Black Flag's "Nervous Breakdown." And they tore through each song with energy and precision, playing some of the edgiest ones of the last half-century. The songs may be agitated, but the quartet seemed to be in a zen-like flow about the whole thing; tight and happy and loving it.
The group is also a reminder that music is better when it's cross-pollinated. Their various bands have played in a lot of genres, but that doesn't seem to make for conflicts. Maybe it's because they're friends, but I think it's also because each of the band members has a passion for good music and a historian's appreciation of rock, pop, soul, rap, funk and just about any other popular music.
Vess is a pal of mine, so when he told me that, for him, the night of Tonic is kind of like a gift to me and my wife, for everything that we try to do for the city, it may have been just friend-talk. But, when the four of them rocked Radio Radio, I felt like I had been given something special, seeing some of my most-talented friends together, like perhaps they should have been all along.