Drowning with the insane Clamper posse
Growing up in Auburn meant that I was exposed early to that bearded men’s fraternity known as E. Clampus Vitus, or, more familiarly, “the Clampers.” From a child’s perspective, they seemed a group dedicated to hard drinkin’ and partyin’, a sort of blue-collar version of the Masons or the Elks. As an adult, I learned that they are one of the most philanthropically active organizations in the area and one that thumbs a nose at the kind of hallowed traditions of other “secret societies,” in part by building up such a tremendous layer of tall tales around their organization and its traditions that it is difficult to separate truth from fiction. It’s probably best to approach anything a Clamper might tell you the same way you would approach a fish story—i.e., by responding with a bigger fish story.
Unfortunately, Casey Underwood’s death is no fish story. Underwood took his own life on July 7 at the age of 26. His friends tell me that he had been diagnosed with cancer, a frightening thought that may have contributed to his action. Some of his friends were Clampers, others were people that he would see at local music shows, and still others were the bands themselves. Last Wednesday at The Distillery, all of these disparate groups gathered together to celebrate the life of Underwood and to benefit his family.
Alternative-rock/punk band Drowning Adam, hip-hop act Who Cares and Fugazi-influenced Fuck the Forrest each ran through sets dedicated to Underwood, with an ever-fluctuating audience that included the young man’s family.
Surprisingly entertaining was the opening set by Who Cares, a rapper with the fast-paced delivery of Eminem and a heavy, rhythmic sound. Coupling that with a jazz saxophonist and electric piano made for a full and interesting musical combination that provided musicality and entertainment. Less effective was Fuck the Forrest, which, although possessing some nice math-rock elements, ultimately didn’t seem skilled enough to quite pull it off.
Drowning Adam’s headlining set was professional, if limited, with frontman Ryan Scoleaset doing a nice job of putting on a manic performance befitting the band’s music. The music itself, though, was limited in scope, and Scoleaset’s vocals also proved to elicit the same criticism. The problem was mainly one of predictability, as alt-rock melodies changed abruptly into hardcore-punk speed and aggression too many times to be convincing. I’m sure the band consciously tries to straddle its two genres, but the alt-rock angle seemed much more convincing.
More impressive was the small but gamely active mosh pit of Clampers during Drowning Adam’s set. Not to be undone by the evening’s morose occasion, the Clampers, looking like refugees from the late-1970s television show The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams (Denver Pyle’s Mad Jack could have narrated the set: “Now, The Distillery is no place for a greenhorn …”), started circling in front of the band early in the set and did not let up. By appearance, the group might have been more at home with bluegrass than with hardcore, but throw a couple of rounds of beer into the mix, and you have Dan Haggerty-style moshing to the memory of young Mr. Underwood. If that’s not a tribute, then I don’t know what is.