minibosses: oakland 7.18
by brandon sheffield


My ears hum with concert lull. The minibosses have left the building, leaving a broken snare and a small but satisfied crowd behind them. Tonight they showed me, live and in person, that they deserve the title ‘kings of 8 bit rock.’

I arrived alone, finding myself in an under populated and under safe district of Oakland California. The website had said that it was to be a 9:00 show. I showed up at 9:37, expecting to catch the first act at the tail end of their set. The imposing pitch of the black metal door to this wharehouse cum performance hall made me pause for a second. Where the hell was I? Why didn’t any of my stupid friends come with me? Am I about to get shot when I walk in here?

Ian Fleming tells us that You Only Live Twice. So I figure I’ve got one left in me. Open the door.

Nobody home.

Well – not nobody. To say that would be unfair to the five kids sitting on the couch, and the members of the support band.

“Looks like it’s just me and the bosses, then.” I said aloud to nobody in particular. There were barely any particular persons to listen to me any way. I sat down on the couch next to three guys who had come in from Yosemite. The guy in the black shirt, hick-chic mop and hazy stare had to open a café the next morning. I wonder how that worked out for him.

Fumbling with my phone, attempting to call my fellows, I hear the magic words: “hey dude. Want a beer?”

I did, it turned out.

My supplier of golden-brown Corona was Matt. He was intent on recording the show, and succeeded in that, as far as I know. Opening the beer for me with his keys, he mentioned that he couldn’t drink them all on an empty stomach. I was happy to help him out. I asked – “so which of the people assembled here are the minibosses?”

Matt was shocked to learn that I’d never seen them before. The seminal 8-bit NES rock coverband, and I’d never seen them in concert? Afraid not. Matt had set up a high-end minidisk recorder in the corner. He was to dub the performance with this machine, reportedly once owned by a member of Limp Bizkit.

“Minibosses…They’re all over the place.“

Puzzled incomprehension on my part.

“Well – they’re the tall guys.”

Who am I to determine physical height? Nearly everyone looks tall to me. I look to height of intent and constitution for my snap judgments. This in mind, I hoped the physically Tall Guy I was looking at - the one with the jester hat, no shirt and star sunglasses - was not in the band. He arched backward to get a better look at a pipe in the ceiling. Luck was on my side, that night.

Turns out the performance wasn’t truly slated to begin until 10:00 PM. I was early, thank the gods. Perhaps some people would show up after all. Not my friends though. The cellphone call determined that they were all too tired from filming that day. Stupid film students. Film school graduates, by now. Entering the worst job market California has seen in years. Serves them right, then.

Being early, I got to talk to the band a bit before the show. I asked why they weren’t playing at the Classic Gaming Expo in Vegas, when they’re performing in that same city of vice the week before.

Says ben; bass player and Mr. Freeze stunt-double: “I got a little drunk last time. They didn’t invite us back.”

But I bet they put on a show of shows, though.

Two guys from Yosemite grabbed a beer. They ripped the cap off with their teeth – that’s just how those Yosemites are. They lit up with no regard for California’s rules regarding indoor smoking. Nobody particularly minded. People were starting to “show up”, which they did in groups of three or four. Many brought with them a helmet of one sort or another. These persons (with scant exception) were not of the biker type, so I found this slightly curious. They were more like the people who attended my own concerts, back when I was in a band. Let’s call them well-to-do punks.

Matt was wrestling with another beer. I asked to take a crack at it. He said sure - it was for me anyway. I popped the top by plying my keys parallel to the lip of the cap and smacking the key on a table. The cap flew into my other hand. Never done that before.

The first band was getting ready – looks like the other group didn’t show. There were originally going to be three including the ‘bosses, but the LA group ducked out of the arrangement without a word. More minibosses for us, then.

The lights went low, and the rap-rock stylings of Stump Babies filled the small room, now packed with 25-30 bodies; about all it can comfortably hold. These are some funny cats, let me tell you. They opened with two songs as ‘the geriatrics’; rapping the roles of old men experiencing Viagra for the first time. This got the crowd in an uproar, but a good uproar, you know.

Then the helmets came on. Not only the musicians, but their fans in the crowd as well. They’d switched over to ‘retard rap’, which…while not as funny, was certainly something worth seeing in person. They’d introduced a guitar by now, and the house was starting to rock just a little bit. The smoke machine turned on. A fan stumbled across the floor, tapping his hand against his chest in that distinctively stereotyped manner.

It wasn’t long before they launched into a full on screeching punk set. This was the meat of their performance, and they didn’t do badly by it. I left to find the urinarium, as the lead vocalist donned an elephant/strawberry/fishnet ensemble.

Head out the back of the wharehouse into a small concrete plot. To the far right is a parking lot where used cars are marked as ‘ok, runs’ or ‘junk’.

Here I found the minibosses and their entourage awaiting their set. They looked tired. The two dogs that lived here were humping like maniacs. To the bosses it was already at the just-past-funny stage. But I had just gotten there. My camera missed the dirty bits.

The owner of the place was up the stairs next to the bathroom, by all reports stoned out of his gourd, and not coming down any time soon. He was supposed to collect the money for the bands – I was a bit concerned about how these Arizona-based folks were getting home. They were unperturbed. “eh, it happens” they said.

What the hell kind of musicians are these? Doing it just for the love of music?? Blasphemy! Tell that to Metallica, see what they say.

Some SF Natives gave me my third free beer of the evening, a Papst. I was starting to get pretty dry.

Stump Babies finished up their 1:15 set – it was time for the minibosses to take the stage. I didn’t really know what to expect. To my ears, the MP3s of their live concerts have been very sloppy, and lacking in the technical precision you’d hope for in a performance.

Ah, but being wrong is a brilliant thing.

They attacked their material with fervor and confidence, bursting their way through Megaman, Double Dragon, Punchout, Castlevania, Metriod, and that fuzzy vocal thing (sleepytime trio)…it was as though I were seeing a different band. So many notes have been added to what you hear in their MP3s…it was…very good.

I snapped some shots with my digital camera. I was using the flash for highest visibility, but the show actually looked a fair bit more like this. The video looks horrid. But it’s there, and it sounds nice. My camera started taking too much of my attention, so I put it to the side and lean against the I-beam that connects the ceiling and floor.

Thinking to myself:

To my left there’s a blonde kid in a plaid shirt and glasses. He fits our classic ‘nerd’ description. He’s drinking a 40 oz of Budweiser from the large brown bottle and shaking his head to the music.

This is a good thing. It seems utterly appropriate that the girl behind me is grinding her hips against her boyfriend to Contra. The drummer busts through his snare.

While the Stumps’ drummer heads to the car to fetch a loaner, the guitarist on stage right requested a beer from anyone in the audience. The SF Natives supplied him with their last Papst, and they got back to the playing.

This is nerd rock. This is archaic technological revelry. This is a progressive musical aesthetic applied to the product of a squished, underpowered soundchip. It’s a legitimation of what we want to do, and how we spend our time. It’s a lazarus of our history reviving before our eyes.

And then it was over. We were starving for more, but the band had spent themselves. It was one in the AM – and we all have our awful jobs to return to.

Matt began to clear out his recording equipment. The Yosemite crew was long gone. The Tall Guy with the star glasses half-lay on the floor, tattoos heaving. He had tied something around his neck like a cape. The SF Natives stood outside, not knowing what to do with the half-bottle of American Champagne they’d been given by the recently roused proprietor.

The Stumps put out a collection hat for the minibosses, who had a long way to travel. Nice guys, those Stump Babies. That ten is mine, by the way. Sometimes I like to pretend I have what I don’t.

We left full and well met.

And hell, I got three free beers.


You are young and alive. Go do something about it right now.

If we don’t experience it, we can learn none of the lessons that excess has to teach us.

The minibosses put on one hell of a concert. But that’s not all they did.

brandon sheffield is the end boss.

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