Joey "Dirty" Martini, aka Chris Bower, is having a wonderful time.
That's what he keeps saying, anyway, between drinks and short jaunts to The Hangar's dance floor. Then again, this is Martini's sort of place, teeming on all sides with a few of his favorite things: abundant booze, party girls and loud rock 'n' roll.
The Hangar's packed. Bouncers with red shirts and stern glares try to keep order on the dance floor as the increasingly tipsy crowd gets its collective groove on to the sounds of local band KAOS, which does classic-rock covers. And next on the agenda: a "Best Thong" contest.
Waitresses toting trays filled with Jell-O shots -- tonight's drink special -- slowly wind through the noisy crowd. Between the reverb-y din, it's almost impossible to hear Martini, even though he's screaming.
"You see what I told you?" he bellows in his faux-urban accent, which falls somewhere between New Jersey braggart and Bronx pimp. "This is the kind of place me and the boys need to be playing. This is where the party is."
He's being totally serious. As front man for one of young-Asheville's most popular groups, The SexPatriates, Martini and his 11-member punk-funk tribute act are used to filling Stella Blue, Vincent's Ear and even The Orange Peel, where they opened for The Buzzcocks last year. So what could be the appeal of this Holiday Inn lounge so far from the confines of hip downtown?
Apparently, it's the place's very obscurity.
"Do you see anybody standing with their arms crossed, waiting to be impressed?" yells Martini. "Do you see any indie rockers pretending to be too cool to talk to anybody? Do you see anybody here who isn't trying to have a good time? I'm telling you, this is the place for The SexPatriates."
Nothing like the real thing
When most Xpress readers talk about going out to hear live music, they typically mean original material performed by the singer or band that wrote it. But this is in no small part a conceit of living in a city that enjoys both considerable home-town talent and a constant influx of high-profile touring acts.
Which means many self-described local-music lovers turn a deliberately deaf ear to the multitudes of working WNC bands that, however talented they may be, amount to little more than live-action jukeboxes.
Cover bands, however, boast some of the hardest-working musicians around. These people are the hired guns of the local scene, playing three or four shows a week for crowds that may not even remember the band's name by the next morning.
Is that the life Martini really wants for his group? While The SexPatriates are a cover band, they play on the decidedly hipper end of that spectrum. Does he really think The Hangar's AC/DC- and Lynyrd Skynyrd-loving crowd would dig his band's renditions of songs by Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Iggy Pop?
I try to ask him, but he quickly shuts the questions down.
The "Best Thong" contest has just begun.
"No, you've got it all wrong!" Tom Boza emphatically declares when we talk by phone. "We wanted to get away from that [stoner] image -- that's why we changed the spelling of the band's name to Kronik with two 'K's. We're chronic musicians -- incurable performers and music lovers -- not chronic dope smokers and drug addicts."
Still, it's hard to believe that a band clever enough to send out its promotional kit in a pizza box marked "Extra Cheese" isn't using its name -- "chronic" being a euphemism for pot -- to rope in extra fans.
"Sure, sure," Boza concedes. "It doesn't hurt. But we always tell the crowds that -- just to be safe -- if they have any illegal drugs, they should bring them up to the stage so that we can dispose of them properly."
At this, he explodes in laughter.
The stereotypical cover act is a gaggle of ungracefully aging men with long hair and beer guts rocking out to songs they should have long since outgrown. In the case of Kronik, though, at least one part of that equation isn't true. When Boza's not playing drums or helping manage his band, he works as a barber, an occupation that generally frowns upon overgrown locks.
My first experience with Kronik came during last spring's WestFest. There they seemingly hijacked the down time between the music-and-arts festival's official performances by playing at top volume from the porch of their rehearsal house on Haywood Street, just across from the event's main stage.
"We were just being neighborly," recalls Boza. "We asked the organizers if we could play while the other bands set up, and they said they didn't mind. We thought it would be a nice way of welcoming everybody to West Asheville."
Kronik is an interesting case. Though most members are men in or beyond their 40s, the band's repertoire is full of relatively modern radio rock.
A typical Kronik set might include "Figured You Out" (by Nickelback), "She Hates Me" (Puddle of Mudd) or even a slower number like "Arms Wide Open" (Creed), all integrated with classic fare by Judas Priest, Blackfoot or ZZ Top. This mix is something Boza describes as a "business decision" -- a way to remain competitive in an increasingly crowded local-bar scene.
"We wanted to play the newer songs for the younger crowds," explains Boza. "There are plenty of other cover groups that play classic rock, and that's fine, but with this band, we wanted to do something a little newer and a little heavier."
Band members' own hearts, though, dwell elsewhere. Boza and his confederates grew up listening to groups like Santana, and they still find ways of working the occasional classic-rock tune -- say, by Bob Dylan or Joe Walsh -- into their set.
But more and more, Boza admits, the members of Kronik find themselves playing what their audience would rather hear.