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The Un-Festival

Unregistered Nurse reunites Sick Weapons, Moss Icon for all-star anniversary show

Photo: Josh Sisk, License: N/A

Josh Sisk

Sick Weapons: lovey dovey, lovey dovey, lovey dovey all the time.


Dana Murphy lives rock ’n’ roll and she is always trying to top herself. “I had Pissed Jeans play my birthday last year,” Murphy says. “What was I going to do to top that?” How about a two-day festival featuring a reunited Sick Weapons (CP’s “Best New Band” 2009), legendary post-punk band Moss Icon, and nearly a dozen other bands? That sounds about right.

The festival, called Unregistered Nurse Fest, marks the anniversary of Murphy’s booking agency (and CP’s “Best Music Promoter”), rather than her birthday. “I didn’t really want it to be about me,” she says, sitting in a Mount Vernon coffee shop.

Which is appropriate, since booking gigs can be a thankless job—and since Unregistered Nurse is not about Murphy or her collaborator, Scarlett Knopf, but about bringing punk and garage rock to Baltimore.

“There wasn’t really a lot of garage rock when I started,” she says. “Now, Baltimore is not this black hole [for that genre] like it was.” Despite Charm City’s many fests and scapes, none were devoted to specifically to punk or garage rock.

“At first I had a lot of trouble getting bands because they’d say, ‘I’ve never heard of that festival,’” she says. “And I’d say, ‘Of course not. It hasn’t happened yet.’”

But as soon as she began to plan the festival, she knew that she wanted to have Moss Icon and Sick Weapons play. “They both said no at first,” Murphy says. “But I knew these two bands [had] to say yes.”

Moss Icon, the seminal late ’80s/early ’90s progressive post-punk band which broke up nearly two decades ago, released a box set in May (Listening Party, “Moss Icon,” May 30) and subsequently played a couple of shows—though none in the region, so the timing was perfect. “I had been speaking to Dana about her putting on a show for us to play,” Tonie Joy, the band’s guitar player, says. “The logistics. . . weren’t working out so she suggested we play her thing.” And though they did refuse at first, ultimately Moss Icon agreed to headline the festival’s second night.*

Sick Weapons was another story. They called it quits by the end of 2010, when guitar player Peter O’Connell moved to San Francisco, leaving their much-anticipated album unreleased. The band brought a hard-charging but humorous and almost bratty brand of punk to Baltimore’s scene, but their onstage energy could also lead to personal difficulties. “One time, [singer] Ellie [Beziat] and I threw tequila on each other on tour,” says Jesse Lyell, one of the band’s guitarists and owner of Hampden’s Outpost Music. “I stormed out and went to the airport. But there weren’t any flights and so I came back the next day and joined the tour. But that vibe can be good for the music.”

Beziat, who has spent time trying her hand at comedy since the band’s demise (and was named CP’s 2012 “Best Comic”), adds that they were kicked out of the club before they even got to play their set that night.

Despite any personal differences, everyone in the band is excited to play together again—and almost desperately wanted their album to be released. “The whole story of that record is long and stupid,” says Lyell. “The band was together and we were doing really well. . . and we were racing to get the record done while all these great things are happening. But we weren’t really happy with the drum sound as we got in to do the mixing.”

The band’s original drummer had already left the band. “I got the idea that I’d get my friend Evan Tanner, who drums for War on Women, to go into the studio and redo the drums under the music, since we’d recorded to a click and he is the best drummer I know.”

Of course, anyone who knows even a little bit about music knows that this is something akin to a skeleton transplant: The rest of the music is normally built up from the drums. But they got in touch with bassist and producer J. Robbins (Government Issue, Jawbox) and managed to make it happen about a year after they began to record the album. By the time that whole process was finished, Reptilian Records, which was going to release the album, began to unwind with owner Chris X’s legal problems (Mobtown Beat, “Sweet Deal,” March 23, 2011). He sold the album to another label, which, according to Lyell “just sat on it.”

When Murphy began thinking about the gig, she and her boyfriend (frequent CP photographer) Josh Sisk began to talk about how much they liked Sick Weapons and how they also really wanted the record to come out. Sisk had formerly run McCarthyism Records, and he got together with Chris X in order to finally release the Sick Weapons debut, entitled Birthday Gift.

“One night I got a text or a call from Dana and Josh Sisk and they’d had too much to drink,” Beziat recalls. “And they decided it would be really fun to put out the Sick Weapons record as sort of a party favor [for the show].”

As it happened, in one of their first rehearsals in years, they were in a practice space right beside Moss Icon. “We were like, ‘Wow, that sounds really cool and good and tight,’” Beziat remembers. “But I was like, ‘Man, when we plug all of this stuff in, they’re going to hate us because it’s going to sound like garbage.’”

Such self-deprecation is Beziat’s way of talking about Sick Weapons. And if the blistering, funny, raucous, and absurd sound of songs like “I Get Fucked for the Fuck of It,” and “Anthony Bourdain’s Earring” is any indication, they only sound like garbage in the best punk-rock way.

Unregistered Nurse Fest kicks off with a pre-party at the Ottobar on Nov. 8 and continues through Nov. 10 at Metro Gallery. For more information visit unbooking.tumblr.com

* We initially reported Moss Icon agreed to headline the first night. We regret the error. Sick Weapons headlines the first night.

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