¡VIVA LA MESA MARIONETA!: A QUINTRON & MISS PUSSYCAT DEBAUCH-A-RICO TOUR DIARY


Longtime basement rock’n’roller and Drum Buddy inventor Quintron—along with his wife, partner, puppet master, and fellow 9th Ward Champion Miss Pussycat—recently departed the continental U.S. to take part in Debauch-A-Rico, a three day music festival in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Produced by Slovenly Recordings—an international label founded by Pete “Stickerguy” Menchetti—Debauch-A-Rico brought the likes of Memphis staples The Oblivians (whose discography includes 1997’s The Oblivians …Play Nine Songs with Mr. Quintron), Atlanta’s Black Lips, and a variety of international and local raw r’n’r to P.R.’s capital (which, along with the entire island, was devastated by Hurricane Maria in September of 2017). ANTIGRAVITY asked Quintron for a recap of the weekend’s events, and much to our delight, he was happy to oblige: “It kinda kept me sane to have a little job to do.”


PROLOGUE: THE FESTIVAL EFFECT

It’s one week prior to our departure for Puerto Rico and we are in that special pre-fest fun zone—”the land of a thousand emails.”

Every single event which involves people paying to go into some place to enjoy the myriad musical fruits of mankind requires a bit of work and planning. Who will play first? How much money do the people pay to get in? Do the toilets work? Is my door guy a junkie? Are any of the bands secretly racist? Etcetera and so on. But a festival, as opposed to a regular Saturday night, is an elaborate dance with many moving parts and hundreds upon hundreds of emails… preferably with as many people on CC as the law will allow. I hate this part. We exchanged no fewer than 20 emails regarding a folding table for Miss P’s puppet show, and at this moment (we’re now on a plane about to land in San Juan) it is STILL not clear if a table will appear.

It makes sense that the number of music festivals seemed to rise exponentially as the internet became more ubiquitous. I have a theory that festivals are flesh-and-blood malware which have infected the earth. They are beginning to clog and slow down the master machine. Time for BitDefender.

Honestly, as festivals go, the ramp up to Debauch-A-Rico was a million times less annoying and pointless than say, the nonsense that envelopes any Live Nation event. Ask an artist who has played Voodoo Fest both before and after the Live Nation takeover.

Sorry. I’m getting off track. ANTIGRAVITY did not ask me to explore the reality that large, corporate-run festivals—with their cacophonous, multi-stage attempts at catering to every demographic—are farting in the face of real music. Fuck Live Nation and the rat they rode in on. We are psyched for Debauch-A-Rico because it is very small. The music is focused on a sub-genre of a sub-genre and I believe that proceeds will go to benefit the local population. Most importantly, we get to go to Puerto Rico for the first time ever!

ARRIVAL AND REHEARSAL

I’m gonna let my prologue fest-rant stand, but qualify it by admitting that my apprehensions regarding this particular fest were unfounded and mostly a product of the narcissistic disease which can befall a person while engaged in online interactions. The universe revolves around you and you alone until you walk off that airplane and look into the faces of those who have been breaking their backs to build a magic weekend in a world that’s going to shit.

Ninety-nine percent of our travel anxiety has to do with the luggage situation. We’ve had stuff broken by TSA or lost for weeks, causing all kinds of mayhem, but this trip was fine. Our best buddy and collaborator Elizabeth Macey, aka “Shopping Bear,” is traveling with us; and nobody has slept for over 24 hours by the time we are in a car and headed to our sleeping squat, a psychedelic crumbly-tile fort in the center of “old town” San Juan. The building is a glorious, code-violation playground. Even when you are in one of the private rooms or the communal kitchen area, you are never quite “inside.” There are giant hulk-holes in most of the walls and Chutes and Ladders-type access to all the different areas, including a split-level tar roof, which supports two or three makeshift mosquito nets and driftwood bungalows. Most of the bands are staying in this place. Our neighbors are New Bomb Turks from Columbus, Ohio. Orlando’s Golden Pelicans are up in roof-town, and Jack Oblivian is in a windowless, unlockable mustard-colored prison cell-type thing across from the swinging chain link bridge. Jack spends a lot of his time in the kitchen or walking the streets. I won’t tell the name of this “hostel,” but it reminds me of ADM in Amsterdam if that place was more like C-Squat or East Berlin’s Tacheles and slammed down onto coconut island Decatur Street. It is DIY heaven in the center of the most beautiful part of San Juan.

I was told repeatedly by friends who have visited San Juan that it was “a lot like New Orleans,” and at first glance it is. The architecture is Spanish, there are statues that speak to tourists, there are lots of beans and seafood, everyone is late for everything, and the vibe is a familiar Caribbean sweatbox, sprinkled with good-time music and fake cocaine.

Remember the years after Katrina, when every conversation ended with a hug and you talked to the lady at the post office like she was your Aunt? That’s kinda where P.R. is at right now.

Also, they had a big storm.

Maria killed thousands. Official reports say 3,057. Every single Uber driver we had said four to five thousand. Katrina took less than two thousand, but the toll on both cities has been equally mammoth.

The festival organizer, Pete Menchetti (Sticker Guy, Slovenly Records, etc.) is a native Italian who now lives in Reno, Nevada; but he’s been coming to Puerto Rico for ages and produced the first Debauch-A-Rico here the year before the storm hit. According to him, there is now a very noticeable difference in the way that locals behave towards outsiders. I think any New Orleanian can relate to shifting perceptions towards outsiders, post apocalypse.

Part of the island is still without power. The festival van, which was to be used to transport gear and make airport runs, was STOLEN from outside a dive bar around the corner from our squat the night before the fest began. There are thousands who left and never came back. The last thing on anyone’s mind is responding to emails about how many power strips Quintron will need onstage or the license plate number of the vehicle that will be picking us up from the airport.

Once I got into town and started to move around this place, selfish concerns regarding our show just kinda melted away. What I feel now is thankful: Thankful that this event is happening at all, and thankful to drink and eat and yell with people who understand losing everything, but still must live through their days as though all is normal.

All is not normal.

Remember the years after Katrina, when every conversation ended with a hug and you talked to the lady at the post office like she was your Aunt? That’s kinda where P.R. is at right now.

So, yeah… I’m gonna chill on the fact that our ride didn’t show up, our rehearsal space fell through, our hotel is a condemned building held together by popsicle sticks, and Miss Pussycat’s puppet table may or may not exist. It’s all good. We are alive.

Me and the Oblivians did put together a last-minute gorilla-amp/trashcan drums practice in somebody’s kitchen. It’s a joy to play with Greg Cartwright after all this time. Fire musician. Love all of those guys. There is a whole crew here from Memphis, a few from New Orleans, and tons from Florida, so we are feeling right at home.

FRIDAY NIGHT

Missed most of Friday’s bands at Club 77 because I went straight from the airport to rehearsal. We did get to catch Boston’s Monsieurs, get our lime-green wristbands, and meet the crew who put this all together.

The Monsieurs were kinda like if Seth Putnam was a sensitive sea captain steering a barge full of trash upriver. This mysterious, shirtless leather man marched straight at the audience throughout the entire show, giving their set this weird video treadmill vibe. Sometimes the retro rock-n-roll scene gets so retro that it accidentally laps itself and becomes futuristic. I love the Monsieurs.


photo by @cream_salad_sandwich


The rest of Friday was a blur. Mostly we sat out on the street drinking Medalla Light (this is a one-brand-of-beer kinda town) and meeting friends as they arrived from the airport. Also, we picked up our “skins” from the festival table. Instead of drink tickets, Debauch-A-Rico opted for a far more elaborate system. This fake currency was printed with dark red ink and a picture of American G.I. band The Monks where an etching of a president or a Queen would be. Every “skin” was worth three real dollars. To add to the confusion, they only worked at some of the venues and you were not allowed to use them to tip. “Skins” looked an awful lot like legit currency and some of the less worldly festival goers initially mistook them for real Puerto Rican money (they use dollars, dummy). Counterfeit fest!!!

We left the Friday Show early because it was posted everywhere that Canada’s Tommy and the Commies were cancelled. Ha ha. Nope. The world was just made to believe that they had cancelled because the band had no work papers and did not want to be found out at the border crossing. Did you know that they do extensive internet searches on your band while you are sitting in that little waiting room? Tommy and the boys probably get hassled more than most bands because, well… they put the word “commie” in their name. EyeHateGod must have a whale of a time at customs.

SATURDAY

We spent the morning walking around town and ate breakfast at a very old bakery called La Bombonera where they supposedly do the best Mallorca bread. Not really sure what Mallorca bread is, but what I ordered turned out to be an egg and cheese sandwich covered in powdered sugar. Weird. This place looks like Galatoire’s minus the white tablecloths and drunk lawyers. The coffee here—and everywhere—is killer.

Off to soundcheck. Uh oh… the power is out on this block. This sure is familiar.

The venue is a Mexican restaurant in a pretty shattered outskirt of the main tourist district. As Miss P and Elizabeth were walking there, they were told to “go back” by a concerned old woman. Again, very familiar.

Tonight is the big night with the one band that your mom has heard of—The Black Lips. In general, the theme of this festival is very much like the aesthetic of Slovenly: basic blue collar rock-n-roll with an occasional tip towards retro-garage. Even Black Lips are a bit out-there compared to most of the bands, and Quintron and Miss Pussycat don’t fit in at all. But we don’t fit anywhere really, so the rockers always let us in through the back door. One of the reasons we are here is because I’m playing organ with The Oblivians tonight, doing 9 Songs for the first time in over a decade.

 Hey, the power is back! Soundcheck is soundcheck everywhere in the world, so I will not take you there. You’d hate it.

Showtime.

Once I got into town and started to move around this place, selfish concerns regarding our show just kinda melted away. What I feel now is thankful: Thankful that this event is happening at all, and thankful to drink and eat and yell with people who understand losing everything

First band on is called Ladrones. They are from P.R. but now living in Atlanta, I assume due to the ‘cane. This is not only a reunion/vacation for us and our music friends, but also the first time some displaced San Juan musicians have come home. I like Ladrones. We are just here to play. They are working some deep shit out. Great screaming female singer and total ripper Les Paul player who ain’t afraid of a big bowl of noodle.

Next up is Gino and the Goons who spend most of their time onstage berating the audience for not having enough fun and not dancing. This never works and it’s not working here. Ha. I love these guys though… basic-as-fuck Florida punk. Buncha goddamn goons.

Now it’s time for New Bomb Turks who try a slightly different style of yelling at the audience to have more fun and… nope. Still not working. The singer did point out that it wasn’t the audience’s fault for not dancing because the dance floor was covered in rocks, and dancing on rocks is extremely difficult. They were inching closer and closer to maximum party time when the singer screamed, “LIVE THIS NIGHT LIKE IT WAS YOUR LAST FUCKING NIGHT ON EARRRRRTH!!!” or something like that.

 Hmmm… OK. I have lived a night or two as though they were my last on earth and lemme tell ya, this is not something you want to make a regular practice of, especially if your band is up next and you must remember 9 organ-driven gospel songs that you have not touched in almost 20 years. I opted out of rock-dancing bacchanalia, but most people seemed to be enjoying everything so far.

 Oblivians were next. They played a few songs by themselves, then called me up for the gospel set, then ended with me on drums and three Oblivians playing guitar. I find it ridiculous to write about my own music, but I shall attempt to rate each section of the set with a one-word summation.

Part 1—great.

Part 2—GREATER!

Part 3—I suck at playing a drum kit. Why the fuck did I agree to this? I hate myself. This is a horrible end to my last night on earth.

Fortunately, there was much more night to be had and nothing fixes bad show feelings like a good ole bottle of rum. You ever had good rum? Like, $40-per-fifth shit? It’ll transform you into the best past-tense drummer of all time.

 Next up is Black Lips who are always good. I love the latest lineup with Oakley Munson on drums and Zumi Rosow singing and playing sax. This band has been “going country” for a while and I like it. They walk it like they talk it and it’s really cool that they jumped on this festival last minute to help out with audience draw and dialing up the party. They wisely stay away from talking about hurricanes or politics onstage. This is a practice that I strongly believe in. Just do what you do and try to take the audience AWAY from all that shit. People want to have their minds blown, not be burdened with making snap decisions about whether or not your uninformed opinion on the price of breadfruit is woke or not. Put it into the lyrics or shut up and jam.

The final band is called Las Ardillas and they are also from San Juan. We missed them because some of our crew have, how shall I put this, turned into alligators. Time to go.

SUNDAY – TABLE DAY

This is our big day. It’s table time, baby! Will the table be at the venue? Will it be the right size and height? Will there be a huge table rental fee? What if we are taking a table away from a family in need and are actually making the recovery WORSE with our ugly American table demands???

Thank the Gods of puppetry and universal standardization, the table is here and it… is… perfection. Whew.

 So, I’m going to address our show first because, in my mind, the other band on the bill, Espazmos, was the real headliner to the entire weekend and I want to give them the golden closing moments which they so deserve.

 First, the puppet show. I am allowed to write about this because I was removed from behind the theater for this show. Miss P has recently been transitioning away from pre-recorded soundtracks and doing everything live via headset mic. This allows her to tailor the script to include whatever happened that day and she is hilariously good at that. The story was about some animals finding an ancient artifact. There are talking demons who like Mardi Gras and going to the beach.

Let’s talk about the beach.

We did not go to the beach, but we heard stories.

Most of the other bands and festival attendees took a “party-bus” trip on Sunday afternoon to a beach just past the airport. I’m pretty sure that if you asked anyone who attended Debauch-A-Rico about their experience, they would cut straight to the party-bus story.

 Evidently, the party-bus driver was so wasted that he took a lot of wrong turns and missed several stops, leaving large groups of party people standing on the curb for hours, drinking hard liquor in the sun. Once everyone was finally picked up and on the bus, the wasted-ness of the group now exceeded that of the local bus driver. Now the bus proceeded along its chaotic scream-route to the beach… in holiday traffic. I heard the beach was nice. The water was clear. Bloodshot Bill played in the sand. Yada yada yada. That will all be soon forgotten. Only the ride will make the history books.

Whatever. We weren’t there. But Miss P did cleverly include party-bus scenes in her puppet show. Big success. My set was my set.


photo by Enrico Stocco


IN CONCLUSION—ESPAZMOS

Espazmos is a band fronted by Carlito Davila of the band Davila 666. Espazmos does not have a record and they do not tour outside Puerto Rico, but this collective has been around for over ten years. It is six guys onstage whose faces are obscured by panty hose, which seems more like a political statement than a costume. There is NOTHING costume or retro or bullshit about this band and they took every person in the room that night to the land of, “Pay attention! This is what the fuck is going on.” That sounds like I’m making them out to be serious bummer music. They are definitely not that. The grooves are super sexy and the whole mass swerves around like some gangster manatee. And Carlito is a front man with a capital F. I mostly didn’t know what he was saying, but when he sang to the audience, the words were translated straight out of his eyes. Tite as hell.

This was the closing night of the festival and there were far more locals at this night than anything else. We played last, but this was all about Espazmos. They played their music for their scene in their goddamn town. Best of the fest.

EPILOGUE: TALK RADIO MOFONGO

We had a day off after the festival, which we spent walking along the water and finishing the fancy rum with Carlito and Pandy. I also drunkenly called my favorite talk radio food show host, Tom Fitzmorris, to tell him about mofongo.

What a beautiful, special town. I think I’m in love, but boy I do not get this mofongo thing.

Maybe it just takes time.


For more info, check out quintronandmisspussycat.com.

Top photo (Detail from a street mural in Old San Juan) by Quintron