​The Expendables: An Interview and a Show

Dylan Sonderman
Hailing from Santa Cruz, CA, drummer and vocalist Adam Patterson has been playing in the ska/punk/metal/reggae band The Expendables since helping found the group in 1997. Though the band has been out this way before, the veteran touring musician still isn't used to the Ohio cold. When I spoke with Patterson before attending their Valentine's Day show at the Grog Shop, I asked him about his goals for the group's 2015 Winter Blackout tour, Patterson replied: "To get through it without freezing!" After a laugh, he added "And to promote the new album live."

The release he was referring to, Sand in the Sky, is The Expendables' 7th and most recent full-length album. Patterson described himself as "extremely happy" with the finished record. He labelled it his favorite release of the band so far and exactly what the band envisioned.

While the drummer expressed deep satisfaction with his playing and singing on the whole album, he said that "Anti-Social" was a particularly proud moment. He described using different techniques and fills that weren't typically his style, which made the track more interesting. Patterson also singled out "Nothing I Wouldn’t Do" as a "fun reggae/ska love song" and his favorite to play live of the new material.

Though most songs feature guitarist/co-vocalist Geoff Weers singing lead and Patterson providing backing and harmony vocals, the drummer takes the spotlight on at least three of the albums tracks with lead vocals. In addition to the drums and vocals, Patterson contributed to the production of the album.

Sand in the Sky is a diverse record with a variety of different sounds on it. I asked Patterson about this diversity.

"Our albums will never sound all the same," assured Patterson. I think that is something fans really appreciate about the band.

The Expendables achieved enough success and notoriety throughout their careers to land tour slots with acts such as 311, Slightly Stoopid, Kottonmouth Kings, and Less Than Jake. I asked Patterson if he had any "dream bands" he would like to tour with and hadn't yet.

"There are a million bands I'd love to tour with," said Patterson enthusiastically. "Foo Fighters, definitely. Maybe The Police, if they did another tour. I don't know how realistic this is, but [playing with] Red Hot Chili Peppers would be my dream come true."

When I mentioned the upcoming Valentine's Day show, the drummer seemed excited to play in Cleveland again. He mentioned Ventura, CA, and Seattle, WA, as highlights of the tour so far. I asked him if he had anything to say to fans about the upcoming performance later that night. In keeping with the band's feel-good-and-party aesthetic, the drummer replied: “Come on out, it’s gonna be a party, we’re gonna be drunk on Valentine’s Day.”

Basically, if you ever get a chance to see this confident and tight band live, expect to have fun. In the meantime, Patterson and crew will keep you vibing out with their studio albums.

As I mentioned, I got my chance to see them later that same day. The gusts of freezing wind chilled to the bone in Cleveland Heights on that frigid night of Valentine's Day, 2015. In fact, due to the intensity of the weather, supporting acts Ballyhoo! and Katastro were forced to cancel their scheduled appearances. I wondered if the night would end in disappointment. Thankfully, it did not. Not at all.

Without the openers, many people were concerned the night of music and fun would be significantly cut short. To counter this, The Expendables had two of their crew members play a lively, fun, mostly instrumental and improvised set. Honestly, it was quite enjoyable, with their merch guy on guitar and vocals and their tech playing drums. In addition to some improv and original tunes, the duo played a cover of Blackstreet's "No Diggity".

After that, the band's tech left the kit and set up a DJ station. For about an hour, he set the mood with reggae, dance, and ska jams. The venue grew more and more crowded as people flooded in, with red faces and clothing covered in snow. By the time The Expendables took the stage, the energy was high and The Grog Shop was packed!

From the first moments of the intro to the last chord of the opening song, "Burning Up", I was loving it. And that pretty much continued through the whole 25+ song set. The audio mix was clear and neither too loud nor too quiet. The vocals were on point.  Each member of the band radiated an enthusiastic stage presence and played with gusto. There were great vibes all around.

One of the highlights of the show for me was the awesome, inspired, and shred-tastic guitar soloing. Many punk bands utilize the "less is more" aesthetic when it comes to guitar playing. But while guitarists Raul Bianchi and Geoff Weers were not overindulgently wanking, they really tore it up in classic California surf-rock style Even on more downtempo, reggae tracks, the band found a way to squeeze in a few tasty licks. It really kept the songs moving for me and was impressive to watch.

Along with the originally planned setlist for the night, which included "Sacrifice" (popularized in Guitar Hero), "Anti-Social" (driven by the Weers' vocal hook and the rhythms of drummer Adam Patterson and bassist Ryan DeMars), and the sing-along fan favorite "Down Down Down", the band played a few additional songs due to the unique circumstances of the show.  In particular, I enjoyed the song "Stereo", a trippy, dub-inspired jam that closes out Sand in the Sky.

After that, and with the admission that this was something they "never do", the band played a round of Bob Marley covers, which the ganja-friendly crowd absolutely loved. Though they didn't play any of my personal favorite Bob Marley songs, I still appreciated the gesture and enjoyed the performances.

Even as someone who only knew the band's most recent material, the covers, and a couple of their more well-known older songs, I loved the extended performance and didn't feel like it dragged at all, as some longer shows do. And I experienced a surprising amount of excitement at the band's cover of the 90's hip-hop throwback "I Got Five On It" (originally performed by Luniz). Adam Patterson led the song from behind the drum kit with an amusing and animated vocal performance.

Finally, the band performed a two song encore and called it a night. The first song was "Starry Night", opening track of Sand in the Sky. And the last song, perhaps the band's most beloved by stoner fans everywhere, was the tender ballad "Bowl for Two".  Singer Geoff Weers eagerly divided the crowd into two sections and, after going over the lyrics for anyone who didn't know them (like me), led everyone in a contest to see who could sing the chorus louder. At first, I smiled at this, thinking it a little cheesy but good-natured and fun. But I'll be damned if I didn't find myself joining in on the third or fourth round. Nice.

Essentially, The Expendables did the job originally designated to three acts.  I admire how they stepped up and gave everyone a great time that made us forget that two of the bands we paid to see were not playing. They walked off stage after saying how they loved Cleveland. Weers admitted that bands say that all the time, but went on to assure us all that Cleveland was always a town they looked forward to playing. I believed him. It was an ideal concert experience, and it rocked.