To boldly go
Sacramento is home to some of the world’s strangest Star Trek tribute bands. But don’t trust us; ask the folks in No Kill I and Warp 11.
Borg Kitty is malfunctioning. Once a normal, happy cat, she was caught and assimilated by the aggressive race of cyborgs that combs space enslaving other species in the psychic prison of the Borg’s group mind. The miniature black battle gear looks quite smart on her, but assimilation has not been kind to Borg Kitty’s tiny feline brain.
Whenever Borg Kitty moves, her head-mounted laser causes a red dot to skitter across the ground in front of her. Borg Kitty sees the dot and then flips out and tries to pounce on it, but the dot moves away while she is in motion. Borg Kitty is going into full meltdown mode, her head swooping around in violent circles.
Sentient observers, seeing Borg Kitty’s spooky dance, are filled with conflicting emotions. Captain Kirk walks up and laughs at Borg Kitty, as he slugs from his beer. He has what appears to be a blond rabbit’s pelt, nearly the same color as his Federation shirt, spirit-gummed to his otherwise bald head. He takes a second look at Borg Kitty and has a change of heart. “Oh no!” he moans, stumbling away.
Off Kirk goes, greeting friends and admirers, shaking hands with the men and kissing the women. “Thanks for coming. I’m so glad you’re here.” Then, he’s kissing the men. “I love you, man.” It will be hours before Kirk takes the stage, and he’s already pretty buzzed. “Whenever I put on the Federation uniform, I feel drunk … with power!” he says.
This, the crowd in the parking lot knows, is promising.
Marooned in this hot, humid, backwater town on an insignificant planet, the Klingon Capt. pInluH approaches the cluster of puny humans who are taking in the action. The captain is nearly 7 feet tall, his left arm is amputated at the elbow—lost in what must have been one glorious battle—and his gut hangs pendulously over his belt. He’s an aging warrior, but he’s bad news to be sure. He swaggers up to the earthlings, humans and some Vulcans, steadily swigging from cans of Old Milwaukee.
pInluH queries, “Are you ready to rock?”
The crowd is pensive. The Vulcans just stare at the spiny carapace of his forehead. Some smirk.
“I said,” he bellows, “are you ready to rock?” More smirks.
“I do not believe you are ready to rock,” pInluH says with a huff, and then he strides off.
At a sidewalk table nearby, documentary filmmaker Roger Nygard is taking in the scene with a childlike look of delight on his face.
Everywhere in the parking lot of Capitol Garage, people are sporting Vulcan ears and wearing Federation shirts of red and blue. It looks like a Star Trek convention, but one where the rowdies in costume scared off the “normal” Trekkies. Many of these folks are having laughs at the expense of a confused cat that’s been dressed up like a Borg and has a laser pointer strapped to its head.
A young woman is wearing a T-shirt that says, “Federation Academy Drop-Out,” but she put the stencil on the wrong way, and the letters are all backward. Her partner’s shirt reads, “Federation Man-Tribble Love Alliance,” in black magic marker. Another young man has his homemade shirt marked with the slogan “Gorn Porn,” in part a reference to the more or less man-sized, bi-pedal lizard that once did battle with Kirk for the amusement of the god-like race of aliens called the Metrons.
Nygard and his film crew are in Sacramento for the weekend, wrapping up shooting for their next documentary film, Trekkies 2, a sequel to their 1999 cult hit Trekkies, which chronicles the strange and obsessive world of Star Trek fandom across the United States. In the 37 years since the original Star Trek series aired on network television, the multi-billion-dollar franchise has grown into an international pop-culture phenomenon on par with Elvis. And though the original series is off the air—having lasted only until 1969, well before many of its fans were even born—four spin-off series and 10 major motion pictures have been consumed greedily by millions of devotees around the world.
Nygard’s first film captured many of the more offbeat homages to all things Trek: from the Florida dentist who, along with his entire staff, dresses in a Star Fleet uniform while working on patients, to the Arkansas woman who wore her uniform as a juror during the Whitewater trial.
The new film is billed as a look at international Trekdom, and it visits places as far flung as Italy, Serbia and Brazil to see how the Star Trek cult has translated abroad.
But Nygard and crew decided to return to domestic Trekdom one more time, to explore an unusual phenomenon that they didn’t know about when the first movie was being made: Star Trek tribute bands, an anomaly that seems to be centered in Sacramento.
“For some reason, Sacramento is the center of the universe when it comes to Star Trek bands,” he explains. It is a distinction that won the city a prominent spot in the Trekkies 2 documentary due out next summer. “I see the film ending like this: London, Paris, Munich,” Nygard says, counting on his fingers, “then Sacramento.”
Perhaps some meteorite-borne spore has infected people’s minds here, or, similarly, perhaps we are especially vulnerable to the effects of cheap beer and UHF television. But people in Sacramento love to play in and pay money to see Star Trek bands. “I really don’t know why,” admits Nygard. “But I think it starts with No Kill I.”
The message was sent by an intelligent silicon-based life form called the Horta to an SS Enterprise landing party that had come to investigate some mysterious murders on the mining planet of Janus 6. It read, “No Kill I.”
“That particular episode was called ‘The Devil in the Dark,’” explains the hard-drinking Abe Lincoln, a.k.a. Mike Banana, a.k.a. Mike Cinciripino, a guitar player for what must be the longest-running (almost certainly the strangest and most dangerous) Star Trek tribute band in the world. Onstage, Abe sports the expected black stovepipe hat and bushy beard along with a pair of dark, 1970s-style sunglasses and a mass of gold chains. “But the message ‘No Kill I’ was very ambiguous,” Abe continues in the accent of a New Jersey mobster. “Did it mean, ‘Don’t kill me,’ or ‘I won’t kill you?’ They just didn’t know.”
(If you are confused by the sudden appearance of Abe Lincoln in this story, please see Star Trek episode No. 77, “The Savage Curtain,” in which Lincoln joins forces with the crew of the Enterprise to battle history’s worst villains, including Genghis Khan.)
No Kill I, the Sacramento punk band, has a small but devoted following that has been showing up to witness the band’s alcohol-fueled sci-fi weirdness for the past decade. Tonight, No Kill I is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with a special concert that is being filmed for the Trekkies 2 documentary.
This show sold out—130 tickets—long before the first opening band took the stage. No Kill I, as a treat to its friends and fans, bought about $150 worth of cheap beer and liquor and distributed it freely in the parking lot before the show. Even for those who couldn’t get a ticket, there were plenty of opportunities to mug for the documentary cameras and knock back a tranya (space hooch) or two with the captain.
Shortly after Trekkies hit the theaters in 1999, Nygard said he was contacted by the Gorn. “I got this letter, which looked like it was scrawled by a 12-year-old boy. It said, ‘We should have been in your movie! We are weirder than anything you’ve ever seen.’”
The Gorn is Dave Smith, No Kill I’s bass holder (not bass player, he insists), who also sometimes plays as the Mugatu—another Trek alien that looks like a white-furred yeti with a horn in the middle of his forehead and fins on his back.
The Gorn and Abe are joined by lead singer Capt. Kirk, who goes by Ed Hunter when not in his bunny-fur toupee. The rhythm section is rounded out by able punk drummer science officer Mr. Spock (Mike Kellogg). Additional guitar duties are by the lovely Yeoman Rand (Karen Simmons) with the lovely but taller and deeper-voiced Sheman Rand (a.k.a. Nurse Chapel, a.k.a. Dave Downey) joining in on keyboards. They are known for frenetic punk rock mixed with a large dose of drunken mayhem that has gotten them banned for life—twice—from Old Ironsides for their obnoxious stage antics and for breaking stuff. Somebody almost always gets hurt at their shows, usually Kirk.
Their songs often have an adolescent sense of humor: “Gorn! / Can’t kill Kirk / Gorn! / Green fucking jerk!” The lyrics are also all, roughly, rooted in the cosmology of the original Star Trek series: “I tamed the wild Mugatu / Taught him to play bass / Landed on the Nazi world / And crushed the master race … T is for Tiberius / Damnit Bones, I’m serious.”
Just like the original series, No Kill I has spawned spinoffs. At the Trekkies 2 show, No Kill I will be joined by sister bands No Kill I: The Next Generation and the Vallejo-based No Kill I: Deep Space Nine, both created solely for the purpose of opening for No Kill I.
The special show also has attracted Stovokor, a Portland-based Klingon metal outfit fronted by the aforementioned one-armed warrior Capt. pInluH. Stovokor is the Klingon equivalent of Valhalla, and, aside from the entire band churning out its aggressive rock in elaborate Klingon costumes and makeup, the singer belts out his lyrics in the made-up language of Klingon. Stovokor brought with it Klingon karaoke artist Kaolin, whose most popular number is an absurd Klingon version of “Cherokee Nation.”
Not present at the Capitol Garage is Warp 11, yet another Sacramento Star Trek band, which will be filmed at its own special concert tomorrow evening at the nightclub Harlow’s.
Though No Kill I has thrashed about in an obscure corner of Sacramento’s punk scene for a decade, Warp 11 has taken the same idea, polished it with radio-ready modern-rock hooks and a savvy marketing machine and, in two years, made itself into Sacramento’s most commercially successful Star Trek band, much to the amusement, and annoyance, of the No Kill I camp.
Inside the Capitol Garage, after the devastation wrought by Capt. pInluH and his band of marauding Klingons, No Kill I: Deep Space Nine takes the stage. It’s a small bass-drums-and-guitar combo, and its outfits aren’t nearly as elaborate as those of the other bands; bass player and vocalist Mike Leon is wearing a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine uniform shirt, and the guitar player wears only a Klingon mask. What they lack in Trek pageantry, they attempt to make up for with enthusiasm and jokes.
“What do you call a Vulcan with green eyes?” Leon asks. “Stoned.”
He passes an open hand over his head, the universal sign language for “over your head.”
“You’d have to understand Vulcan physiology, I guess.”
“OK, OK. What do you get you get when you cross a Vulcan security officer with a gangster rapper? Tuvac Shakur!” Ba-dum-bump.
Those who get the joke laugh in spite of themselves. It’s completely dorky but funny given the context. Then No Kill I: Deep Space Nine are off on a breakneck set of Bay Area-style 1990s punk rock with Trek lyrics.
“Join me in a Vulcan mind meld! / I want to do it with you!”
Next up is the sprawling combo of No Kill I: The Next Generation. Capt. Jean-Luc Picard on vocals, android Science Officer Data on guitar, Cmdr. Riker on bass, some Romulan on accordion, Chief Engineer O’Brien on drums and Security Officer Worf on, of all things, saxophone.
They have practiced only once for this show, but they get the audience hooked immediately. It helps that many of the chords are basically lifted from old songs that everybody already knows. When they launch into their theme: “No Kill I / We’re the next generation,” the tune is instantly recognizable as the chorus from the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen.”
They play “Ten Forward,” a rocking tribute to the Enterprise crew’s favorite watering hole, and in between the songs, they perform skits in character. Picard tries to take some R&R on the ship’s holodeck (“Computer, run porn program”), only to be interrupted by obsequious Security Officer Worf. “Every time I start to enjoy myself, Worf comes along to bust my groove,” he grouses in a faux English accent. The sax player, Joel Goulet, does a spot-on imitation of Worf actor Michael Dorn’s rumbling voice. “Captain? Permission to play, sexxxyyyyy.”
They end their set with what must be a 10-minute sing-along to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
“Cardasian / Cardasian / Cardasian get off my turf / You’ve been flying around in the neutral zone / Cardasian get off my turf!”
And the sing-along part of it is strictly enforced. “We’re not going to stop playing until we see everybody singing,” Picard warns, and he seems to mean it. The band plays and points directly at audience members too shy or too aloof to join in. At one point, it seems as though everybody in the building really is singing, and the band mercifully ends the song. The band clearly is having a good time. Most of the people in the audience are friends or bandmates from the plethora of other groups in which these musicians play.
In many ways, the whole Star Trek band phenomenon is the mutant offspring of a closely knit, almost inbred Midtown punk scene. It is a collection of people who all play in two, three or four bands at any given time, all of which share members with several other bands, many of them “gimmick bands.”
“There’s really nothing else to do in Sacramento. You just kind of get drunk with your friends and try and think of the dumbest band you can come up with,” explains O’Brien, whose real name is Jay Baker.
“Like the ‘Ice Bucket Heads,’” Goulet/Worf interjects. “We wore ice buckets for hats. We only played one show.”
For gimmick bands and more straightforward acts alike, many of the Midtown bands seem to have no real commercial motivation. They don’t promote themselves; they don’t take it too seriously. “It’s what we do for fun,” Worf says. “Some people go bowling. We play in bands.”
Or, as the hard-drinkin’ Lincoln would say, “You got to do something while you’re sitting around waiting for your liver to explode.”
Still, with the arrival of the Trekkies film crew, the No Kill I: The Next Generation members are at least a little tempted to play out more often, perhaps even to tour. “The Trekkies 2 people said we should try to play conventions. They said they’d love us in Germany,” explains O’Brien. Everyone around the table giggles. “They told us that they’d love us so much in Germany that we’d all get blow jobs,” Riker, a.k.a. Dave Ninja adds, laughing. “They really emphasized that.”
By the time the flagship band, No Kill I, gets to the stage, several of the crew are seriously drunk, which is as it should be: The crowd is here to see Kirk and crew run amok as much as it is interested in the music or the Star Trek kitsch that the band is wrapped up in. Kirk, in full Shatner-mind is glaring at the audience and getting into shoving matches with anyone near the stage. The Gorn has changed into his Mugatu suit, soon sopping wet from the beers he recklessly slams at the end of every song.
Their set is pure frenetic hardcore: drums pounding one-two, one-two, one-two; and distorted guitars attacking much faster.
“On a five-year mission,” Kirk snarls into the microphone.
“No Kill I,” the crowd shouts back.
“To the center of a green-skinned girl.”
“No Kill I.” On each syllable, the audience members wave their hands, middle fingers spread in the Vulcan “live long and prosper” sign, in time with the music.
“Travelin’ time and space for thrills.”
“No Kill I.”
“Got my phaser set on … KILL!”
After a few songs, the dilithium-powered punk onslaught will give way to something much more chaotic and weird, something uniquely No Kill I.
Nygard thinks all of the bands should try the Star Trek- and science-fiction-convention circuit and perhaps even consider the particular enticements of visiting Germany.“Any of them, if they went overseas, people over there would love them. They could be like Cheap Trick in Japan,” Nygard claims. But of all of Sacramento’s Star Trek bands, nobody seems as anxious to hit the big time as Warp 11.
The next night at Harlow’s, Warp 11 is introduced by Channel 3’s Pamela Wu, who refers to them as “Sacramento’s own Star Trek band.” The TV station will show a clip of the show that night and again the next morning. Only days before, San Francisco station KPIX did a segment on the band. That followed on the heels of an appearance on Channel 31’s Good Day Sacramento morning program.
Media savvy is only one of the striking differences between Warp 11 and the No Kill I camp. Where the Capitol Garage set was attended by folks in homemade T-shirts and thrift-store pants, the Harlow’s crowd seems better-groomed, cleaner somehow, but just as caught up in the spirit of the show. The Federation shirts look newly store-bought. There’s an army of young women in matching Federation red shirts that are cut low in the front, allowing for lots of cleavage. Black miniskirts and high heels complete the “Warpie” uniform.
The power trio of Warp 11 includes Capt. Karl Miller on bass and vocals, guitar player Brian Moore and drummer Jeff Hewitt. They, too, wear Federation shirts, only they have cut the sleeves off. Unlike the No Kill I bands, they don’t actually assume the personas of the Star Trek characters. They are, however, joined by Kiki Stockhammer, whose job is to dance around on the stage in a skimpy, shiny outfit.
Warp 11 are the more technically proficient musicians, and their set is tight. They have somebody doing lights, and the production values are high. Each instrument stands out, and the sound is big. The music itself is a mixture of market-tested modern rock with heavy doses of classic-rock hooks. Where No Kill I’s Kirk can brag only that you couldn’t kill his libido “with a photon torpedo,” Warp 11 has taken graphic sexual references to, well, 11.
“We’ll screw the universe if we get the chance / So lower your shields, and we’ll drop our pants.” In Warp 11’s universe, the prime directive clearly is to get laid.
“Why does anybody play in a band?” asks Miller. “We’re all just a bunch of horny rockers.”
The whole scene has an MTV-beach-party feel to it, the kind of over-the-top sexiness and energy intended to work teenage boys into a lather. At some point, Stockhammer, in a squeaky voice, declares, “Captain, I think my panties are getting wet.” A few in the audience wince at the line, but it delights a crowd of young men in red Federation shirts with short, spiky haircuts near the stage.
Miller says something to the effect of, “You ought to take them off,” and she does a little striptease, tossing the garment into the crowd. Later, the band trots out its own Mugatu to grind onstage with Stockhammer.
But if the show is part MTV beach party, it also owes a lot to the rock spoof Spinal Tap. Bic lighters are overheating. The guitar player and bass player even do that thing where they align their hips in a synchronized rocking motion.
As with the No Kill I crowd, the audience has abandoned the devil-horns hand sign that has become rock and roll cliché and has adopted the live-long-and-prosper sign instead.
“We’ve made this,” Miller shouts exuberantly as he makes the sign back at the crowd, “incredibly cool.”
In 1998, Miller and his friends at Play Inc., a local high-tech company, were trying to come up with content to use with relatively new Internet streaming technology. They came up with a webcast program called The Prime Directive, a parody show based on Star Trek.
“We wanted a house band, like on Letterman, so we started looking around.” Miller approached No Kill I, and the parties tentatively agreed that the band would play on the show. But after seeing No Kill I perform live, the Prime Directive folks changed their minds.
“It just wasn’t a good fit,” Miller explains. And so they decided to form their own band, all of them having had experience in bands before. The Prime Directive only lasted 11 episodes, but Warp 11 kept playing.
“I guess they were worried we were going to break their stuff,” Kirk later suggests and then adds, “but we always pay for what we break.”
“No we don’t,” says Abe.
Mark S. Allen, the host of Channel 31’s Good Day Sacramento, has a theory about why the Star Trek band phenomena has materialized in Sacramento, of all places.
Channel 31 is a United Paramount Network station, which carries all of the Star Trek television programs in Sacramento. Allen explains that though the Star Trek franchise is floundering in many parts of the country, Star Trek is more popular with TV viewers and moviegoers in Sacramento than anywhere else in the United States. Sacramento is the No. 1 market for a raft of Star Trek-related TV shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the latest Enterprise program, which has been a failure around the country with critics and in ratings. A dog, “but not in Sacramento,” says Allen.
That may help explain the popularity of a band like Warp 11, although, according to Miller, many of its fans actually hate Star Trek. Whatever the reasons for its appeal, Allen thinks Warp 11 could be headed where no Star Trek band has gone before. Warp 11 has played the Trek conventions, and the band members promote themselves tirelessly with TV and radio appearances and a slick press packet that includes buttons, stickers and a copy of the band’s new CD, Red Alert, which features a close-up shot of Stockhammer’s cleavage on the front cover. In fact, Miller asked SN&R to mention that Warp 11 will be playing at the Powerhouse Pub in Folsom on August 21, the very day that this story is to be published.
“I see in them the potential and the drive that Cake had. I see the same ambition that you can see in Oleander,” Allen explains. Then, he offers another comparison: Kiss.
When asked about No Kill I, Allen says simply, “I had no idea there were any other Star Trek bands besides Warp 11.”
Later, during a post-filming interview at the Old Tavern, Abe Lincoln dismisses the hype surrounding Warp 11: “Everybody knows you can’t go to Warp 11.”
Abe refuses to go to the bar for his own glass and drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon directly out of the pitcher and gets back to the Warp 11 issue. “You’d rupture your anti-matter containment field in a heartbeat. It’s completely preposterous,” he slurs.
“So, you see,” Abe goes on, getting more tipsy. “Maybe Warp 11 are ‘better musicians’ than we are. But their concept is completely implausible.”
The truth is that the No Kill I crew are a little annoyed that Warp 11 essentially has taken their idea and then marketed the hell out of it. And they scoff that anyone would try to make money with, of all things, a Star Trek band.
“It appears that they really think a Trek band will lead to riches and bitches. I don’t get it myself,” Kirk says.
“They’re like us but from a parallel universe,” Abe suggests.
“Yeah, the money-grubbing universe,” the Gorn quickly adds.
Warp 11’s Miller says Sacramento easily could sustain “seven Star Trek bands,” and he professes to be a big fan of No Kill I: “They are incredible at what they do.”
Some Warp 11 fans, on the other hand, are not impressed. When word got out that Trekkies 2 was being filmed in Sacramento, someone from the Warp 11 camp sent an e-mail to the filmmakers saying that No Kill I was defunct. Once the Trekkies people learned about Warp 11 and asked if they could play the Capitol Garage show, No Kill I said, “No thanks,” so Warp 11 had to scramble to set up its own show at Harlow’s. Then, when Nygard posted photos from the Sacramento film shoot, one angry Warp 11 fan posted messages on the band’s discussion bulletin board that there were far more photos of “that other, lesser Star Trek band.”
“The professionalism of Warp 11 is unmatched,” the fan writes. “They are clearly more than just a few individuals who play for fun.”
Warp 11 never stole fans away from No Kill I. These remarkably different acts attract completely different audiences. But that doesn’t keep the members of No Kill I from feeling a bit ripped off. “If you look at their Web site, they have a Mugatu just like us. They sent out e-mails telling people to dress like Abe Lincoln,” Kirk says. “I mean, why not just come up with your own idea? Why not just do something else?”
Still, it’s unlikely that anyone could really replicate a No Kill I show.
“What’s great is that they are so different. Warp 11 is really slick. But No Kill I is the heart,” Nygard explains.
“I’ve seen a lot of Star Trek bands now, but I’ve never seen anything like No Kill I.”
It’s close to midnight when No Kill I finally implodes. “Don’t fucking look at Kirk’s face! If you look at his face, he’ll kill you,” the Mugatu is shouting.
There is a rain of empty plastic beer cups onto the stage. The crowd is heckling, and the band is heckling back. Capt. Kirk has lost his rabbit-pelt hairpiece in the crowd somewhere. Tomorrow, he will realize that his back is severely wrenched from flailing around on the floor in front of the stage while his friends stomped on him.
When he rises, his pants are gone, too. He stands tall, arms outstretched to the crowd, in a too-small, burgundy pair of women’s underwear. The crowd is transported into fits of laughter and revulsion.
The Mugatu has lost his shirt; he stares at the floor as if he’s trying to remember where he put his beer. Spock is breaking down the drums, but nobody wants to go home yet.
Abe Lincoln leans against the brick wall that backs the stage at the Capitol Garage, guitar slung around his knees. He has taken the mic away from Kirk.
“Very few people remember that I was actually first elected to office on the Whig ticket,” he lectures, fretting the theme to Star Trek. Strangely, it’s the first time all night that the audience has heard anything resembling the show’s original score.
There’s a long pause. “Yeah, so, I could go on and on about the Missouri Compromise.”
“Tell us about the Civil War, Abe!” somebody shouts.
“Nothin’ civil about it!”
At some point, the Mugatu looks directly into the camera, talking to the cameraman, who is prone and shooting up from the floor.
“Poor schmuck. You thought you were just coming to see a Star Trek band, dintchya?” he teases. “Well, now you have.”