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Courtesy of Big Hassle PRThe Icarus Line are into drugs, which you might have realized from the myriad references on their galvanizing yawp of scuzzy Stooges-influenced rock Penance Soiree, over which the British press has worked itself into a lather. Or maybe you could tell from everything written about the LA band on Buddyhead.com, the site co-founded by the band's guitarist Aaron North, which has a record-label division that released the band's previous album, Mono. Or maybe you just know because you've heard about their reputation for being wild, crazy and destructive. But you for sure know when you pull from your bag a copy of Penance Soiree and sleepy singer Joe Cardamone lights up.
"What, you got some cocaine on there or something?" he asks excitedly, pointing to the CD cover. Confused—he's serious?—you take a closer look. The CD must have been rubbing against something because the jewel case is scratched up. It hardly looks like cocaine, but then, when you do coke, you tend to see it everywhere.
For one brief immutable moment, the Icarus Line finally seem like the band you were expecting, but this is only one moment in the midst of a long, confusing, contradictory mindfuck of a day.
They've been on this tour for about a week and a half; they roll into Manhattan just time for sound check. Drummer Jeff "the Captain" Watson, who's fond of kissing girls on the hand, sits behind his kit on an empty stage in the near-empty Knitting Factory, happily pounding the shit out of his drums. "Beat for the lady?" he asks when you walk into the darkened club. He's gregarious, almost hyper, a jarring contrast to the rest of the band, who—today—are an exceedingly low-energy foursome who shlump onto the stage looking like they just woke up. (Which, says their tour manager, they did.) Cardamone hums a serpentine melody into the mic, peering at you from behind drapes of long hair when he thinks you aren't looking. Bored, North plays about as much as he has to and then sits down on his amp, politely waiting to be excused; bassist Don Devore and guitarist Alvin DeGuzman are equally phlegmatic. When sound check is over, the group disperses, but Cardamone hangs back, clutching his cell and sucking on a throat lozenge. He's just killing time, waiting for a call, so he'll go outside and talk to you while he smokes, but first he has to get rid of this lozenge. Anyone seen a trash can? He looks around before going up to the bar to ask the bartender where he might find a trash can. Even you would have spit it on the floor by now, and all this genuine courtesy is a bit tough to swallow when you consider what the Icarus Line—just the name alone—has come to mean.A recent conversation with a member of jangly pop band the Shins: "People think we're these bookish nerds who share poetry in our off time, but we toured with that band the Icarus Line,and we kept up with them every step of the fucking way."
The Icarus Line—who spray-paint other bands' tour buses and start fights and break the law—are a sort of shorthand for all that is confrontational, rebellious and destructive in rock & roll right now, largely thanks to a show they played at the Hard Rock Café in Austin during South by Southwest three years ago. Shit was all fucked-up, and they were getting angry, which they often do, so Cardamone, who adds that he doesn't actually take part in the mayhem—he just ringleads, he says—suggested they tear the place apart. North, the only member of the group who doesn't drink or smoke or do drugs, saw a beautiful guitar in a glass display and decided he wanted to play it. He got as far as breaking the case and trying to plug the guitar in, but then all hell kind of broke loose—in front of a bunch of music reporters—and thus was born the story of the wild and crazy band who "liberated" Stevie Ray Vaughn's guitar. Even though the band didn't know it was Stevie Ray's guitar at the time. That part is usually left out. But I was there that night, and it seemed less wild and crazy than stupid and scary—destructive in a very rote, punk-by-numbers kind of way. The room suddenly felt unsafe, and everyone was running everywhere all at once, and my idea of a good time doesn't involve getting trampled by a security guard having a 'roid rage because some destructive little dipshit provoked him.
Of course, provocation is all relative.
North, who doesn't drink partly because his mom is manic-depressive and he was told at an early age he has a chemical makeup similar to hers, sits on the tour bus, pushing a plastic spoon through a pint of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia.
"I'm fucking poor as shit, and the most valuable thing that I own in my entire life is my equipment," he says. "I have a car that's probably worth $1,500, maybe. All my amps alone are probably worth $3,000, and my pedal board is worth at least $1,000. If some idiot kid decides to throw beer all over my fucking pedals, I'm not going to stand there—I'm going to kick his ass. Not because I'm a tough guy or anything, just because it's not fucking cool."