Sleeping in the Aviary

Sleeping in the Aviary (Minneapolis, MN)

Haunted Windchimes (Pueblo, CO)
Sasquatch (Pueblo, CO)

The Red Raven, Pueblo, CO

February 14, 2011

There are footballs whizzing by overhead, the music is a bit too loud, and no one is ok to drive anywhere. It’s an after-party, my first with a touring band. I decide to do an interview, hoping my new arrangement writing an art column with the Pueblo P.U.L.P. will lead somewhere into music eventually. I should be home in bed, but I’ve decided to treat myself to a vacation day tomorrow, as I’ve had a helluva bad weekend. Practically everyone is a stranger to me, except Felicia, someone I met just days ago at my first meeting at the paper. I’ve been to this place once with a friend from out of town, and once for an art reception, but a couple more people I know are supposed to show up. The only reason I came to this show was my ex was a fan of the Haunted Windchimes, and I had planned on attending with him. But c’est la vie, and I decided to come alone in lieu of staying home alone on Valentine’s Day. I’ve had a wonderful evening so far, making new friends, walking to nearby neighborhood bars and convenience stores for frozen pizzas, and I’m not ready to call it a night just yet.

I approach Kyle Szobchek, long before I figure out he’s in the band. (I was busy dancing my ass off, not even looking much at the stage.) He’s quietly sitting on a chair in the back of the room, with his hands folded in his lap, in a Batman shirt, which I later find out is borrowed. It spurs a discussion about my Halloween pumpkin carving project- Pacman and the ghosts. He has a wig on, but it doesn’t look much different than his real hair below, only longer, and slightly different colored. What strikes me most is that he is the spitting image of my ex-brother-in-law, Will.

When I devise the plan to actually conduct an interview, he points me to Elliott Kozel, the lead singer, it’s normally his role, but I want to interview them all. I don’t know where I’m going with this, I’m not going to lie, this is my first interview ever. Somehow, I come up with a few questions, one of which I end up sticking to in the future. Elliott is dressed in a plaid shirt, and a jacket that looks like a 1960’s pastel flowered couch.  Unfortunately, so far on the tour, he’s had to stop at the hospital twice, once for a broken foot (good story), and once for a severe ear infection. Something about him reminds me of Bill Murray in Osmosis Jones. I finally come up with a good question- name your top 3 all time favorite bands or albums. Or just your favorites for this week. Unfortunately, I’m writing on a ridiculously small piece of paper, and everyone keeps changing their mind. So these are either bands I need to check out because I like Sigor Ros, or Elliot’s favorites:  Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai. The other entries are either Elliot’s list or Kyle’s guesses for Celeste:  Bingo Trappers (Juanita Avenue album), Spacemen 3, Barry White and Rick James… Yeah, these sound more like Elliott.

Someone returns with cases of PBR and Red Stripe and Phil Mahlstadt (lead bass, he says, even though there is only one bassist) dives on the floor and uses them as pillows and blankets. He might as well have licked every can and bottle. Phil is the one in the band who likes to drive, and, like me, has a photographic memory for the places he’s been and the map of where they are headed. His current picks seem to only be Weird Al’s Straight Outta Linwood album, and Johnny and the Church Camp Rebels, his old band in which he played Johnny, the style of which he calls acoustic punk spiritual. A Google search turns up Myspace pleas from the people of Madison, Wisconsin to please come back. And a recording of a radio show.

I make my way over to Celeste Heule (accordion, vocals), thinking to myself, she probably thinks I’ve been hitting on the boys. Last night was one of those nights, where no one could sleep. They were staying at the s00kr33m in Denver, and Celeste was awoken by either a shared hypnogogic hallucination or a visit from a ghost. It appeared to her at first as a dog, and she wasn’t concerned, saying, “Oh, it’s just you.” But as it got closer, it turned into something more sinister looking, and then visited Elliott in the form of a woman. When I ask what she listens to on the road, she says she doesn’t anymore because the headphones were like an isolation booth, and she missed out on whatever everyone was laughing about all the time. But she gives her current flames as Chopin, Captain Beefheart -rest in peace (so Pamela Des Barres of you Celeste!), and Black Sabbath. Later in the jam session, I try on her beautiful accordion, and I have a new found appreciation for its weight, not to mention how hard it is to play the two sides, while squeezing. Anyone who plays this instrument (and sings at the same time!) gets major props in my book.

I make it to the final member, Michael Sienkowski, the drummer better known as Swayze. Earlier his face was plastered with neon pink heart stickers in celebration of the occasion. A couple of the others have nicknames too- Porkchop and the cat-like Mittens. The conversation degrades to who everyone would be, if they were a muppet. Elliott is most obviously Animal, even I can see this after his performance onstage. Phil is Kermit, Kyle is Fozzy, and Michael is Ralph’s sense of humor, without the jazzy stoner element. He’s into the Kinks and Motown and girl groups like Martha and the Vandellas, Missy Elliot, Chris Clark, The Supremes, and The Temptations, just to name a few. He’s still pretty pumped about some shows they played with the Murdock’s down in Texas. I appreciate how his love of pianos caused him to move one through a 6 foot tunnel of snow, like he did once in Madison.

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The night is never-ending, with a long jam session, including a rendition of the kid’s song Down By the Bay in which each person in the giant circle of musicians takes turns giving a new rhyming line in place of “Did you ever see a _____, _____ing a _____.” And a football game, which is mostly comprised of the 6 of us making up touchdown dances, when I’m not taking passes in the face.

Blast this! The Very Next Day I Died (Right-click to download.)

Their antics make it easy to see why they have lyrics about Maria forgetting the safety word and now she’s dead. Or people gargling as background singers. Or why the couples dance was a song about being in love with someone else. (PLEASE tell me there is a recording of this somewhere?) The SITA show and after-party has been the most talked about among my circle of friends since that night. They sold something like 30 albums, and I can’t go anywhere without hearing it before too long. We hope more will join us in the aviary. Trust me, it’s a snuggly warm place to sleep.

Buy the limited edition poster for this show from Last Leaf!