The Legend of the Seagullmen
with West End Motel
Mai Tiki Studio, Cocoa Beach, FL May 6, 2011
by Ian Koss
It was a celebration of Seagull de Mayo, and it was taking place on one of the most punk rock addresses you could hope for, a normally non-descript concrete-walled lot smack in the middle of downtown Cocoa Beach, a green "MINUTEMEN CSWY" sign perched on the corner. The road is likely named for the revolutionary Minutemen, not the yabbos from Pedro, but tonight it was easy to pretend otherwise.
As we made our way around the corner to the entrance, we passed the area behind the stage. Visible above the wall was the benign stare of Richard Pryor, projected onto a screen and accompanied by a diffuse country racket. Within the lot's demesne, it was a carnival. Pad thai was available hot off the wok, cooked in front of your steaming eyes and slavering nostrils. The beverage selection was limited but it kept the line moving at a fast clip. The scene was mad.
On stage as we meandered through the festival services was West End Motel, a lately project of Mastodon guitarist Brent Hinds. The monster riffs were decidedly of the southern-fried bar band flavor, but well done. A loaded pickup of a combo carrying an extra guitarist and keyboard player in the bed, West End Motel careened through a dusty road of familiar-sounding songs, ageless tunes for honking and tonking. The keyboard player in particular lent a rusty shimmer to the beer-soaked sounds coming off the rest of the band.
In between sets, we wandered around, enjoying the seething atmosphere of the event. The location is normally a working lot for Mai Tiki Gallery, but tonight a festival stage, lighting and screen had been brought in, along with the makeshift bar and the gas-flamed pad thai stand. I have a hard time enjoying myself at festival shows, but tonight's event lacked everything I hate about them -- oppressive heat, jacked-up prices, surging mobs of strangers -- and I was having a damn good time.
Meanwhile, backstage was in a frenzy. The Legend of the Seagullmen is a technically demanding show, making use of not only the typical musical trappings of a bird-themed doom surf band, but also costuming, audio/visual instructional technologies, Ultraman-grade bad guys, and prop hacks worthy of Michel Gondry. Secret identities were being secreted under masks and headpieces as the opening reel, providing story and canon for the Legend of the Seagullmen played on the screen, hypnotizing the audience instantly.
The Legend of the Seagullmen began when an unlikely trio of bar patrons engaged a crusty sea captain in conversation. As crusty sea captains are wont to do, he spun a legend of ancient pirates, ancient pirate gold, and ancient alliances with a certain ancient scavenging avian species. It's all anciently laid out in the ancient-looking drink menu labeled "The Legend of the Seagullmen," in ancient script. Our intrepid threesome soon find themselves at the beach, shovels in hand, digging up an ancient chest. Then something happens -- a missed ritual, a flubbed incantation, these things are ancient, you know -- and then the band is cursed or something and oh look, here they are coming out and strapping on their instruments.
The masked performers, cursed into the eternal hotness of bird heads, began pounding out a sort of chunky racket, thrumming surf twang and menacing power chords. Keyboard flourishes from the crusty sea captain balanced the feathered mayhem elsewhere on the stage. This musical concoction, usually the product the audience attends to consume, here played but a mere, ancient part in the ritual of the Legend of the Seagullmen. A live soundtrack to an epic tale featuring Manateeman and a ghost crab army, if you will. At one point, Manowar-Man appeared. He was a dick. In the end there was nothing to do but summon some form of Kraken from the ancient deeps. As fifteen-foot tentacles emerged from around the stage and waved about like fronds of muscled wheat, it was clear that this would be the ancient finale.
But can such things ever truly end?