Pain means pleasure for Primal Urge, Chico’s most outrageous tattoo parlor
Most nights, the Airport Bar & Grill is your typical sports bar, serving up pub grub and pints to the pool-playing, TV-watching crowd. Last month, on Friday the 13th, that all changed. For the evening, at least, the all-ages venue was overrun with tattooed, pierced, heavy-metal-loving freaks.
Primal Urge, a tattoo shop on East Avenue, sponsored the event, so the appearance of the crowd was no surprise to them. In fact, it was welcome.
At 7 p.m., the show began. Metal bands—including locals Kunst Conspiracy and Dead in Adam—set up outside and were accompanied by fire dancers. During the music, a body mod sideshow drew the attention of the painfully curious.
Heath McKinney was the first victim. However, in his mind, victim might not be the right word. He sat quietly while Mary Wood—aka Hole-E-Mary—and the other Primal Urge piercers pushed needle after needle into his exposed skin. Up the arms, into spirals, 192 needles in all.
“I’m a cutter,” McKinney said later, after the needles had been removed. He showed off a mass of scars on his arm from self-inflicted wounds. “I enjoy the pain.”
It’s safe to say he wasn’t the only one. Others seeking permanent reminders of the evening—in the form of brandings—were up next, followed by the event’s highlight. The suspension show would feature two brave souls who would allow hooks to be driven into their skin and used to hoist them off the ground.
Primal Urge hasn’t always been located on East Avenue, and its events haven’t always been held at the airport. Back in August and September, when the shop was still on Cohasset Road near Dairy Queen, Wood held her first suspension shows. More than 500 people showed up for the second show, and Primal Urge was promptly kicked out. Wood, a friendly woman of 43 covered from head to foot with ink and metal, then found her current digs, which offers little space for crowds of any magnitude. She was chosen to be the booker at the Airport Bar & Grill soon after, so perhaps the freakshows won’t be considered so out-of-place there for much longer. There’s already an event scheduled for June 1.
“It’s the only venue in town that is all-ages and has a bar,” she said. “It’s a really valuable venue—parking is endless; crowd control is easy.
“I push everything right to the end,” she said of booking shows. “They look forward to seeing what I’ll come up with next.”
When Wood opened Primal Urge in Chico a year and a half ago, her plan was to offer something different.
“I don’t want to have just the same old tattoo parlor,” she said from behind the counter of her East Avenue shop. From the looks of things—sterile hospital-style beds, bright lights—one could wonder what she means by that. But looking at the menu options, her penchant for pain becomes more clear.
Tattoos. Piercings. UV tattoos. Tattoo removal. Branding. Cutting. Mass piercing. Flesh suspension.
You’d be hard-pressed to find many of these offerings in tattoo parlors in big cities, let alone in little Chico. It appears, however, from the hundreds of people who have flooded into the Airport Bar & Grill for Primal Urge’s two shows there, that there is a market for it here, and it includes everyone from high school to the middle aged.“A lot of people are scared of UV tattooing,” said Wood, who has a UV tattoo on her face that is completely invisible in daylight. “But the ink is made by PETA, and PETA would never hurt an animal. UV ink is actually safer than regular tattoo ink, which isn’t FDA approved.”
UV ink is relatively new in the world of tattooing—it’s only been around for about six years. It requires that the artist hold a black light, and the ink doesn’t blend the way regular tattoo ink does.
The same thing goes for branding and cutting. Cutting is extremely inexact because it relies on the individual’s ability to scar. Intricate designs, therefore, are out.
Branding, Wood explained, cannot be done with much detail either. During the Friday the 13th show she branded two members of Reno band Visible Darkness. The first, the band’s manager, got a heart on his wrist. The second, the lead singer, wanted twin brass knuckles on both shoulder blades. After applying a stencil with the design’s outline, Wood pressed down on the skin with a hot metal applicator.
“I just did a branding on an 18-year-old girl—she got paw prints on her stomach,” Wood said. “She didn’t want color. I thought that was really cool.”
It turns out that, like McKinney, many cutters seek out other ways to inflict pain. Branding seems to be a popular alternative.
“It’s a way to relieve pain and frustration in a safer environment,” Wood said of branding. “A lot of them stop cutting because they find some release, but it’s not so violent and dangerous.”As for release, suspension seems to be the hardest of the hardcore—it is said to create a calm over the person suspended that can last weeks or even months.
“I did suspension back in the ‘80s. I was so impressed by the elasticity of the skin,” said Wood, who studied anatomy and has taken therapy classes to give her a strong knowledge of the limits she can push the human body to.
“The pain is pretty intense. It puts you into a euphoric state of mind and serves as a release from stress and anxiety.”
Casara Prouty, a novice piercer at Primal Urge, was suspended for the first time at the Airport Bar & Grill show. She was pierced twice in the back, between her shoulder blades, once in each knee and once in each calf with large hooks. She was then hoisted up in what they call a lotus position—in a Zen pose. Her boyfriend, Michael Minor, who goes by the name Brodie, was hung by his chest and stomach next to her, in a resurrection pose.
The 19-year-old pink-haired Prouty, once in the air, was swung around in circles—a smile on her face the entire time.
“It was so amazing. I can’t even explain how it felt,” Prouty said later. “I was in another world. I actually saw a video, and there were a lot of people making a lot of noise, and I couldn’t hear any of them.”
She said afterward that she couldn’t wait to do it again.
“People tend to fall into a state of peaceful awe when there’s a suspension,” Wood said of the observers. “They feel the energy for sure.”