Four years ago, I spent almost every weekend yelling the lyrics to “Sonic Reducer” along with local punk kids The Jerkwads. Little did I know that one day, I would befriend Craig Bell, the guy who originally wrote that song. Bellwas playing bass in the proto-punk band Rocket from the Tombs when he wrote "Sonic Reducer."
I recently got the opportunity to follow Bell’s Indianapolis-based band The Down-fi on tour. It was easy to see that he has a deep heart and a good sense of humor about those early days.
I asked Craig what the masses should know about him, and he said the following:
1. I play guitar right handed but I am left-handed.
2. I wear a size 13 shoe.
3. I live by the words "Technique without passion is bullshit".
4. I like to grow roses.
5. I will bet a dollar on almost anything.
The Down-fi spent their summer playing the Midwest and East coast with a reconfigured lineup, including new drummer Blane Slaven. Their music is a nod to disaffected garage rock and a time when punk didn’t mean liberty spikes or studs.
Back in June, I caught up with them in Cleveland, at an all ages club called The Phantasy. When Craig was growing up in Cleveland it was a working movie theater. Unbeknownst to the crowd, David Thomas of Rocket From The Tombs was to make an appearance that night.
Thomas performed two Rocket songs, “Final Solution” and “So Cold,” both of which filled the room with haunting vocals and awed faces. Craig powered through both songs with ease, and complemented the insane wails coming from guitarist Sam Murphy. Blane Slaven met every beat and served as the perfect backbone for this rare performance.
Following them to a Boys & Girls Club benefit in Chicago, I was pleased to see that there was also a carnival. Deep within the concrete jungle of Chicago was a Viking ship, Ferris Wheel and a large stage close by the beer tent.
As soon as The Down-fi took the stage, they commanded it. Almost every song was a look at Craig’s life in and out of rock and roll, with a few appropriate nods to The Velvet Underground. Crowd favorite “Shit City” combines urgent bass lines with pessimistic lyrics about Craig’s hometown. “’62 Hawk” is a loving look at Craig’s first car.
After a brief intermission, they came back in full force with “Amphetamine,” a song written by the late Peter Laughner. It carried through the summer air like a dream, and included keyboard playing from Sam Murphy.
At the close of the two-hour set, and after all the carnival lights had died down, a lone punker approached Craig. He had never heard of The Down-fi, but he paid tribute: “There are a lot of people here that would be honored to play with you.”
The Down-fi are set to play Cleveland and Chicago again August 28 and 29, and will return to the Melody Inn for Punk Rock Night’s 10 year anniversary weekend on October 2. They are set to record a new album in September, and Craig is also recording a new album with Rocket From The Tombs, “Bar Fly,” that's scheduled for release on Smog Veil Records in February 2011. It will feature their recent single “I Sell Soul/Romeo & Juliet” plus some new tracks: "Birthday", "The Good Times Never Roll", and "Six And Two."