That's not a complaint. This trio of New Orleans natives has cultivated an almost unhealthy preference for Checkpoint Charlie, Esplanade Avenue's combination bar and laundromat. Checkpoint's ambience is a perfect fit for Suplecs' sludgy heavy metal, which might explain why three-fourths of Suplecs' usual crowd didn't show up for the band's gig at El Matador on this June night. Before and after the show, the band is nowhere to be found inside El Matador, either. They are across the street at Checkpoint's.
"Playing anywhere else in New Orleans besides Checkpoint's feels weird -- like we're playing out of town, except there aren't as many people there to see us," says Nick, who also spent more than three years in the revered metal band Eye Hate God. "We like that there's no P.A. at Checkpoint's; f--k it, our amps are loud. When we play there, we don't have to hire security, we get to keep all the door money, and our friends are allowed to act crazy. Checkpoint's is just more US."
Ah, metal's simple pleasures.
When the band finally makes it over to El Matador, the three longhaired men in their 20s stand amid stacks and stacks of Marshall amps. "We're gonna work on losing our man-tits now," Nick tells the small crowd.
Suplecs proceeds to drop "Training Wheels," a southern-metal song with a slow, Black Sabbath-esque heaviness, more groove than bombast. Nick (who, except for a bush of whiskers, looks exactly like Wayne's World's Garth, with straight hair protruding from a black truck-stop baseball hat) and Durel Yates bellow through the opener like dual Captain Cavemen. Nick's cap falls down over his eyes in the fray but doesn't affect his precise finger picking. Drummer Andrew Preen's arms stretch dramatically far above his flailing nest of Ratt-era hair, before slamming his sticks down onto his cymbals. Yates pukes out a lyrical wah-wah solo that bubbles like muddy swamp water, crashing the song to an end under the three-minute mark. It's ferocious.
After the Bad Brains-ish "Control" and an unexpected Firehose cover, it's on to the band's current crown jewel, "White Devil," a Southern metal anthem that's very Soundgarden/Badmotorfinger-like, except sung in the nasty breath of Seattle's TAD. "White Devil" sums up the band's current focus and also kicks off Suplecs' newest CD, Sad Songs ... Better Days, their second release on Man's Ruin Records.
"On tour, we meet all these people who worship Man's Ruin," says Nick. "We stay at people's houses and they have the entire Man's Ruin collection. But our friends here aren't impressed. Because we sent [Man's Ruin] our demo and then they put out our records without meeting us, our friends are like, 'You guys have a mail-order record deal.'"
Unfortunately, the legendary independent label recently went bankrupt, but Sad Songs has been kept alive in continued pressings by Devil Doll Records, current home of Today is the Day, Grammy winners Thulsa Doom and other notable metal bands.
Along with its perfect slabs of distortion, Sad Songs also boasts quiet, atmospheric moments for the bong-hits-and-Zeppelin crowd, and clean swirls of guitar that never used to happen in 1996 when Suplecs began playing VFW punk shows with a sound more like New York hardcore. (This came after Preen stopped doing session work for funk bands and Nick quit a group that played the B-52's "Rock Lobster.") These days, there are still traces of Black Flag and the throat-shredding, mountain-lion screams of grindcore in Suplecs' music. But their Man's Ruin work boasts a slower sound. Nick attributes the change to "the Melvins, and getting older."
The band doesn't regret the changes, given their current success. Suplecs is spreading their blend of Southern-doom-by-way-of-New Orleans heavy metal across the country; the El Matador appearance is merely a one-off show on an extensive North American tour opening for metal luminaries Clutch. Along with their coveted label status and several headlining tours, Suplecs has appeared on The Warped Tour (forsaking Ozzfest only after finding out they'd have to pay Sharon O. for stage time). Six of the band's songs are currently used as theme music for the Fox Sports Network's Blue Torch television show ("4 p.m. every day!" Nick says).
The audience might be smaller on this night at El Matador, but when the band brings "Training Wheels" to its crashing end, all 25 people clap and hoot.
"Thanks, y'all," Nick smirks. "We can really use y'all's money."