By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Nothing much has changed for Steven Visneau and Christy Darlington since they began playing together four years ago--first as Mess, then as Darlington, and now, perhaps finally, as The Darlingtons. Well, that's not exactly correct, it just seems that nothing has changed. Actually, everything has changed, so much so that the band keeps ending up back at the beginning, retracing its steps as if it lost something along the way.
Even after a year that saw Visneau leave to play drums for The Queers, singer-guitarist Christy briefly relocate to New York, and a couple of bass players come and go, the band is right where it was 12 months ago. It has a new name, a new bass player (Angelique Congleton, who also plays in the Meat Helmets), and a new record, Mess You Up, just released on New York-based indie Melted Records. Oh, yeah--and the band is still looking for another guitar player.
Filling the second guitar slot in the band has almost become a running joke for Christy and Visneau, to the point where The Darlingtons' latest press kit even includes a classified ad they placed in the Dallas Observer earlier this year: "Tattoos and black attire a must." The Calways' Todd Deatherage--who played with Visneau in Big Desoto, as well as in an early lineup of The Calways--is sitting in with The Darlingtons for a few shows, but the search for a long-term replacement continues, as it has since Dylan Silvers left the group more than a year ago. Silvers, now in Post From Vermont, quit to play his own songs in The Fitz, around the same time bassist Ron "The Ripper" Malippa (who reappears, sort of, on Mess You Up) parted ways with the group. Since then, the band has switched names twice and changed members a handful of times, which, given the band's tumultuous history, is not too surprising. It's just hard to keep track of, even for Visneau and Christy.
"Let's make a count," Visneau says, sitting around a table at Cafe Brazil on Elm Street with Christy and Congleton. As they tick off the roster of musicians who have done time in various incarnations of the band, Visneau and Christy both look as though they're forgetting a member or two, and you can hardly blame them. It's a long list, one that includes Spyche (who played on Darlington's 1998 album Girltroversy), Tripping Daisy's Phil Karnats, and Slowride's Rob Marchant, among several others. As more than 10 members--many of them bassists--have drifted in and out of the band since its first show, opening for Funland at the Galaxy Club, you can't help but wonder how long Congleton's stint with the band will last.
"Everyone keeps asking me that," Congleton says, laughing. Congleton, who has also been in Wayward Girl and The Sillies, hasn't even played her first show with The Darlingtons; she'll make her official debut with the band on May 15 at the Galaxy Club. She's the band's fourth bass player in the last year, and, Visneau claims, the last one. "Angelique's going to stay with us forever," he insists. Or, he adds, at least until she sees "just how glorious it is to be in this band."
"It could be a while, because we're not touring until September," Christy says.
Visneau and Christy know from recent experience that piling in a van together is the real test. Spyche left the band last May, two days after the band returned from a disastrous East Coast trek that took much longer than anyone could have expected. The band's van broke down on the way back to Dallas, leaving the trio stranded in the middle of nowhere, somewhere between North Carolina and hell. Without enough money to have the van repaired, the band ended up stuck there until Last Beat Records--which released Girltroversy, the record the group was on the road supporting at the time--arranged for alternate transportation home. They ended up staying in North Carolina for a week, after which everyone knew it was over.
"You can say that it was like falling down the face of the Grand Canyon the last two weeks of the tour," Christy says. "Rolling, suffering multiple contusions. After being stranded for a week in North Carolina in the boondocks in one cat-piss smelling motel room with us two, you could see that coming."
"It was the drive home that really killed it," Visneau recalls. "We were in a little box U-Haul, the size of a Toyota pickup truck in the front, with a little box on the back, and the three of us. The air-conditioning didn't work, and it was in the middle of summer. We also didn't figure out that if you put on overdrive while you were on the highway, you got about 300 more miles to the gallon. So we were getting about 75 miles to the tank, because we had our overdrive off when we were hauling all this shit. And we were going, 'Dude, why is this thing going through so much gas? Jesus Christ!' It was just miserable."
Spyche quit the band the night before it was scheduled to perform at The Adventure Club's five-year anniversary concert. Visneau and Christy quickly regrouped, hiring Pen 15 and Cletus bassist Omar to temporarily fill in at the show. Omar ended up staying with the band for almost six months, replaced from time to time by Malippa. Christy had asked Congleton to join the band as soon as Spyche left, but she didn't feel the time was right until recently. "I've been playing in the Meat Helmets for a while, but I haven't really played in a punk band for a while," Congleton says. "And I felt they needed some help," she adds, laughing.