Photo by Jack GouldThere are moments so emblematic of impending doom they've become film clichs—the woman walking alone down a dark street, the guy lighting a cigarette near a hissing gas leak, the musician playing in a smoke-filled Texas bar where the crowd is working up the collective desire to kick his ass.
This is where we found OC/LB's Ziggens a week ago: in Austin's dank Room 710, at what looked like the end of the band's 12-year career.
"Kill the Ziggens!" the crowd chanted. "Kill the Ziggens!"
It was a scene that might have moved a more sensitive band right out the back door, but front man Bert Ziggen merely looked at the shouting crowd, more in sadness than despair, and said, "That was our last album."
For those in the know—a phylum that apparently now includes Texas music aficionados—"Kill the Ziggens" was the memorable chant on the band's last release, Live: Tickets Still Available. Turns out shitkickers know—and love—OC's awkward purveyors of musical standup comedy. They went wild when the show began with an instrumental version of "Smoke on the Water." They roared when the band segued into a sweet and twangy country vignette, "Strange Way to Live," a quasibiographical piece from the hearts of men in their mid-30s who are still hauling equipment around behind a putrid van, rolling down the windows to let fumes out, and guzzling alcohol in crusty watering holes.
These Texans, isolated by geography and a national media that hasn't yet registered the Ziggens, nevertheless knew and loved the band. Throughout the set, people shouted out requests and sang along with lyrics to songs you would have figured for obscure.
"How do you know these songs?" Dickie Ziggen asked, smiling but surprised.
"Kill the Ziggens!" somebody responded.
The correct answer is Sublime, the Long Beach ska-punk-rasta band the made Cornerstone Records (then Skunk Records) a big-name band in a little-label world. Even now, years after the band's untimely demise, songs from that group's albums remain as popular today as when they first came out almost a decade ago; fans clamor for any bands with a connection to the Long Beach bad boys. Some die-hard followers have gone so far as to tattoo their bodies with the Skunk logo as a symbol of brand loyalty. When you see fans in the audience with Skunk T-shirts and hats, those aren't just free promo items to them. That logo is part of their identity. With Sublime permanently on the rerelease schedule, the Ziggens are now the label's flagship band.
The Ziggens are often—incorrectly—lumped together with bands like Sublime, Bargain Music and other Long Beach acts. While they've played many gigs with those bands and are friends from back in the day, the Ziggens' sound is a fusion of heavy metal guitar riffs; backwoods, front-porch twang; and surf rock. Think Deep Purple, Hank Williams Sr. and Dick Dale gettin' it on.
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Just as the Ziggens launched into their kick-ass version of Judas Priest's "Breakin the Law," a dead ringer for Rob Halford bullied his way to the front of the stage. Dickie positioned himself directly in front of the Halford wannabe in a heavy-metal stance that could have pulled a groin muscle in a lesser man. The Halford guy leaned over to his friend—blocking my view—and shouted in his ear, "The lead singer guy from Sublime used to hang out with these guys." Aaaah, the fame follows them everywhere.
Sublime was mentioned again and again—the next day, by a shaggy 20-year-old named Trey attending the Ziggens' in-store performance at Austin's groovy Cheapo Records. Trey was wearing a slacker orange-and-green baseball jersey with a woolly beanie in the middle of a hot Austin day. "I've been listening to them for a while," he explained. "I found out about them on a Sublime website."
Their ROOM 710 showcase over, the Ziggens packed up and moved their equipment outside so the next band could take the slapped-together, two-by-four corner stage. Just after Bert walked through the doors into the blinding sunlight, we heard a scream that rattled the windows and all of us still inside. It was the shrill, heartbreaking scream of Bert Ziggen. He was staring at the asphalt, which was covered with his broken, glittery, two-day-old guitar. Dickie, Brad and John tried to console the distraught Bert, but there was nothing they could say except, "That's why we packed two, I guess."
Later, we tried to fill that guitar void with a scrumptious Tex-Mex meal at a local caf. It didn't really work. The despondent funny man was broken, too. As I slid over to the far side of the vinyl back seat in their musty van, I peered through the window at the trash bins and pointed out the big tank they'd parked near: RESTAURANT GREASE ONLY. Dickie started slapsticking, imitating a crotchety old man waving his cane. "You kids and your grease," he said. "Get out of here!"