OK, just one more gripe about the Spin article (see page 14). For a magazine purporting to be so pro-rock, the least they could have done was keep in the part about Jay’s Upstairs being the frickin’ clubhouse for every rock band to come out of Missoula for the past 10 years. The Blue Heron and the Ritz both made the cut, and that’s fine because they are both good venues. But when it comes to rock in Missoula—not funk, blues, jazz or reggae or anything else, but rock—no other place in town has got a patch on the long and sordid history of the endearingly scuzzy robber’s roost with the lurid red carpet and perpetually blown PA mains.
It hasn’t always been pretty. Hell, it’s only rarely been pretty, as befits such a dingy loft with a matchbox-sized stage that has soaked up more blood, beer, sweat, spit, vomit and the hell knows what else than any equivalent bit of square yardage this side of the Colosseum. We rounded up a few salty old Jay’s Upstairs veterans this week to help put together a list of our most favorite infamous moments from 10 years plus of frequenting the dive bar that rock ’n’ roll dreams are made of. I hope you’re old enough to hear a tale or two from the Seven Seas, because, man—it gets pretty gross.
Spontaneous Carpentry; or, the Night the Corral Came Down Although a number of improvements have been made to the bar over the years, even regular patrons are can be forgiven for failing to notice them through the crepuscular pall of cigarette smoke and beer dust that hangs over the room.
The first major renovation was the addition of arcade-style wooden seating along the back wall sometime in the mid-’90s—none of us remember exactly when. At about the same time, a sturdy wooden rail was built around the original stage—an inspired touch of Hee-Haw hokiness known to bands and regular patrons as “the Corral.” The Corral stood for several years, enabling many an incautious lead singer’s undignified plummet and prompting many a “We’re the Good Ol’ Boys” jest from bemused visiting bands.
Until, that is, a frenzied crowd tore it down on the night of a double bill with Canadian hockey-punks the Hanson Brothers and local punk band Humpy. Perhaps it was the perceived fascist antagonism of five-inch lodgepole that had been nailed to the top plank to keep people from resting their drinks on it (More pragmatically, it was there to keep them from spilling beer into the monitors).
Or maybe people just got sick of this literal barrier between act and audience. Whatever the reason, the Corral came down in a hurry that night in February, 1998, crowd-surfed its way right out the back door, and was driven out of town the next day on top of the Hanson Brothers’ van to be dropped unceremoniously in a ditch along I-90. The current, rail-free stage was built by a crew of regular patrons and band members shortly thereafter.
Here Kitty, Kitty: The Cat Litter Episode Many have asked, and to this day no one really knows: What the hell were they thinking? Sasshole, that is, the mostly-girl band who literally got up everyone’s nose at a late 1998 show by emptying a 50-pound bag of cat litter onto the dance floor before their opening slot at a show by horror-surf trio Famous Monsters.
“They sent me into the store to get the kitty litter,” recalls drummer Jen Tachovsky, “And I looked for the cheapest thing they had. I didn’t pay any attention to the dust factor. We dumped it out and there was a huge dust cloud and everyone left.”
Well, not quite everyone. “There were 300 people in here if there was one,” Justin Lawrence laughs. “And it was hot and sweaty and there was beer spilling all over the place. By the end of the night, all the carpet was white and everything was coated with clay. Remember the episode of ‘Battlestar Galactica’ when that flying crystal thing comes out and all their outfits turn white? It was like that. The only thing that was still red was the back of each step on the way down the stairs.”
The cleanup, however, was much less funny: At the owner’s insistence, members of Sasshole spent hours wiping down tables and chairs and cleaning the carpet and wooden floor, which eventually had to be stripped and revarnished. “Is that when they did that?” asks Tachovsky, aghast, “Oh my God! The memories are flooding back!”
Carrion, My Wayward Son: The Rib Vest and Other Grisly Tales Grisly humor is a venerable tradition at Jay’s Upstairs. Take, for example, the time when some of the bartenders unscrewed the back of one band member’s trustingly unattended bass guitar and stuffed it with pickled chicken gizzards. The bass seemed to play just fine, Justin Lawrence claims, its owner apparently oblivious to the gizzards’ briny presence for almost two years—after which time, Lawrence jokes, the offending organs would have been “shriveled up like a mummy’s penis.”
If you think that’s gross, you should have been there for the Zodiac Killers show, when the band presented a severed cow’s head and extended a unique opportunity to intrepid merch hounds: Kiss it on the lips and win a free t-shirt.
“It was real quiet for about 30 seconds after they yelled ‘You wanna win a free t-shirt? and laid down the rules,” says Lawrence, “And it would have been bad enough if it was just a lopped-off cow’s head, but there wasn’t even skin on it. It was all just flesh, jaw, eyeball, and this tongue poking out the corner of the mouth.
“And then Ronnie Quackenbush* just jumps up there, takes the thing, bites the tongue, and starts thrashing around with it. The place went nuts.”
Quackenbush* got his free t-shirt (though at what price?). The head, incidentally, was sneaked into Everyday Sinners guitarist Josh May’s car as a gruesome souvenir.
But even that unpleasantness pales in comparison to the time when Wes Delano, the Sinners’ hulking early lead singer, produced a ghoulish garment he’d fashioned from the ribcage of a dressed-out elk carcass and wore it for the last song of the Sinners’ set. Worse yet, he didn’t remember to take it with him when the show was over. “He left it here in a military duffel bag draped over the top of the power amps,” Lawrence recalls, wincing. “We came in one day and the place kind of smelled funny. And it kept smelling funny until, at some point when all the lights were on, someone noticed a black stain on the floor and figured out that something was dripping out of this bag. We opened it up and I damn near puked. I paid this customer five bucks to carry it outside and toss it in a dumpster. It was just fucking repulsive.”
Give the People What They Want: Free Junk and Salmonella
Of course, no survey of musical monkeyshines would be complete without mention of the Banned, punk-rock antiheroes whose Missoula existence spanned an admirable 10-plus years and an astonishing 11 drummers. More than any other Missoula band, the Banned made a cherished tradition out of pelting the audience with random and usually disgusting objects. Marshmallows and raw chicken feet was one particularly choice offering, urine-soaked thrift-store clothes another.
“There was one show where they threw out feathers and plastic eggs,” laughs Colin Hickey. “It was like Easter—you’d open one up and it would be full of money, another one would be full of yogurt. One was full of [bassist] Mike Vanecek’s pubic hair.”
“First Banned show I ever saw,” Justin Lawrence recalls, “they had a five gallon bucket full of smelt.”
Ugh. And then there was all the free blood spraying as though from a lawn sprinkler from a wound in guitarist Pat Phlymm’s forehead, an incision the tutu-wearing space traveler actually made himself with a razor blade during one of his many memorable solo performances. It was perhaps the single most shocking moment in Jay’s Upstairs history. Odd though it sounds, former singer Tommy Tambourine*, now a respected Missoula businessman, claims the whole show-stopping spectacle was a case of misunderstood intentions.
“I think he did it just to be goofy,” Chippendale insists. “And not to be too shock-rock or anything. And everyone flipped out. The fire department showed up, the police showed up. Pat snuck out the back door.”
Phlymm himself was subsequently banned from Jay’s Upstairs. *Certain names in this article have been changed to protect the once young and foolish.