It felt as if it was 1992 all over again when I stepped into the recording studio of musician Dennis Mullins’ basement; located in the outskirts of Dayton. The surviving members of the Dayton indie band Cage are jamming with Tod Weidner (who is taking the role that was once filled by Gregg Spence). Inside the closet-like area, the space was rather limited; along with the band, I was also joined with two other individuals that had a large part in the story of Cage’s historic run. With a total of seven people tightly enclosed in the room, the heat index began to scale up higher and higher. If there was any doubt about how warm it was, I looked over at drummer Matthew Espy to see his white t-shirt covered in sweat. No one cared, though. Guitarist Nick Kizirnis kept looking his shoulder to us watching with a sly smirk on his face. Weidner is zoned on a section of the wall that was covered with rugs (he states later in the practice that he is looking at the lyrics of the tunes as if they were floating in front of him). Keyboardist Ed Lacy’s fingers are unhinged from the bones as they touch the keys. It was clear that all of us were experiencing euphoric feelings; those sensations that start to rush all over the body when you are being a part of something special. This Friday, that position will be more evident as Cage performs one more time Friday night at Blind Bobs.
For those who weren’t aware of such, the Dayton music scene in the 90s was littered with inspirational indie bands like Breeders, Brainiac, and Guided By Voices. With the solid selection of music being produced, along with the raucous shows that have been become legend-it wasn’t surprising to anyone that the national spotlight began to shine bright on the city during that time. Pulsing bass lines, crunchy guitar riffs, violent drums, along with a mixture of samples and sounds all come together on top of lyrics about internal and external devils, confusion, sex, relationships, among other topics all made up the foundation of Cage. In the prime of their run, magazines like SPIN and The Splatter Effect started to notice their brand of experimental rock. Tours mainly involved being every weekend and primarily around the Midwest; recording music was equally as grueling and taxing on each of the members.
After having a run through of the song list that they choose to play Friday, the members of Cage decided it was a good time to take a minute to step out of the studio. As we make our way over to the other side of the wall that separates the recording booth. Lacy grabs a seat and takes a deep breath while the remaining members walk across the other of the room. Another friend of the band along with Mullins soon join our little group. What I haven’t mentioned is that I learned it’s been over twenty years since Cage and most of the people in the basement have been in the same room together prior to this night. There wasn’t no animosity towards one another during this extended period of time. In fact, the quartette are close friends. In 1996, after punishing themselves to the point of exhaustion of trying to keep up with their workload-Cage decided it was time to take a step back and walk away.
“Doing it over and over again after a while-we started to get burnt-out. Somebody eventually had to say ‘I gotta quit’,” Kizirnis says as all of us stood around. “Eventually Matt was like, ‘I gotta do something different’.”
“They are being super sweet. I quit the band (chuckles)”, Espy added while he slowly strummed on a banjo that was lying around.
“So he (Espy) quit and Gregg was about to say the same thing,” Kizirnis continued. “Ed and I were like, ‘Well Gregg, what do you want to do? Gregg? Gregg? (Laughs) He already formed another band.”
For Espy, he currently resides in Chicago and is the drummer of the experimental rock band Dead Rider. Kizirnis went on to play in the surf rock bands The Mulchmen and currently Nicky Kay Orchestra (Lacy also plays in the band). For Spence, he played in several groups around town, including The Mulchmen as well. Fifteen years ago, Spence fell ill and passed away.
As far the reunion that is happening now-it was never fully intended to take place. With the bandmates all moved on to their other projects and interests, a call was received from Tyler Trent (formerly of Brainiac, currently of Swim Diver). Trent presented the idea of having Cage come to the annual event that is a celebration of the life and music of Dayton musicians Jeremy Frederick, Tim Taylor, Spence, Chris Green, loved ones, and musical heroes they have lost. Trent added that proceeds of the show go to the Frederick’s daughters cause, the Izzy Frederick’s Education Fund. With everyone on board to have one last show and Spence now deceased, the remaining three members of Cage needed someone to fill in. Enter Tod Weidner into the equation.
“When it came up (the reunion), that was the first thing I thought. ‘What about Tod Weidner?’” Kizirnis says.
Weidner didn’t hesitate on agreeing to be part of the band, and with good reason. The relationship that Weidner and the rest of Cage had with Spence was more than special; it was a brotherhood that still to this day is unbreakable. You hear it when Weidner speaks about hopping in the show with Cage.
“This was special. I miss Gregg…we all miss Gregg dearly and this is a good way to pay tribute to him. These are very big shoes to fill and I’m honored to get the chance to fill them.”
“If Tod weren’t doing this with us, we wouldn’t be doing this,” Lacy states when speaking about Weidner being part of Cage. “There is nobody else. It had to be him.”
After a half hour of hanging around, the bandmates decide to get back into the booth to work on a few more songs within the set list. One of the first songs Cage rip into is “Big Thing”. Some of the bandmates were mentioning that the tempo to be a little bit faster. Kizirnis begins his part by ripping the pick into the strings, followed by the others. The issue of the song not having enough power is quickly resolved. The Cage members are throwing into the song. You get the sense that Spence has crawled into Weidner’s body when I listen to lyrics flying around the floor. You can’t believe that the trio along with Weidner haven’t played together in so long. There was talk on needing to some reintroduction of the tunes. Lacy mentioned earlier in the night that the keyboard he played all throughout the run of Cage hasn’t been touched since the last show. When the time came to wipe off the dust from the instrument, it needed some support to get going.
“It wasn’t working at all. I held it up in the air and shook it a couple of times. I brought it down and it worked,” Lacy said comically.
This night has been special to everyone in so many ways. Nothing will compare to when they arrive at Bob’s Friday night comes. Cage will undoubtedly have the nerves wildly going through them; much like they had when they were performing for the four years together. However, everyone is excited to get back on stage and play in front of their loyal fans one last time.
“I have the anxiousness to get up there and do it and enjoy it,” Kizirnis says about getting back onstage. “To be together with these guys again, it’s pretty amazing.”
“When we came in and we actually started for the first time, there was this switch that had been unplugged for a long time had been plugged in,” Lacy adds.
“We fell right back into place,” Espy finishes.
North of Nowhere South: cAge / Swim Diver / Cigar Jar Crash Attack. Tonight at Blind Bob’s Bar, located at the Oregon District. Doors open at 8pm. $5 cover.
To donate to the Izzy Frederick’s Education Fund:
Isabella Frederick Educational Fund
Wright Patt Credit Union
P.O. Box 286, Fairborn, Ohio 45324