Before Scott Elliott and Anthony Fagiano were old enough to drink, they would sit in the parking lot of what was then the Boise State Pavilion (now the Taco Bell Arena) and talk about the day their band would rock the joint.
Almost two decades, thousands of record sales and hundreds of performances later--including one at the Pavilion--many of their conversations now center on reminiscences and scheduling rehearsals for their final show on Saturday, May 23, at the Knitting Factory presented by radio station 100.3 the X. It's been a long strange trip for Elliott, Fagiano, Fred Fischer and Stymie (who doesn't give a last name)--Fischer and Stymie have been with Midline for about 14 years--and one that some of them are sorry and some of them are relieved to see end.
In the non-cyber time before Myspace, Twitter, Facebook, blogs or even cell phones, the word "street team" meant something completely different for a band trying to get noticed. For their first show in 1991, Fagiano and Elliott ambitiously rented out the Grove plaza and a bunch of equipment. They plastered Boise with posters, taping them to poles, benches and boxes and putting one in the hand of every person they saw. In the car on their way to the show that night, Fagiano remembers asking Elliott what the hell was going on. Several downtown streets were closed off, and police cars sat at nearly every intersection surrounding the Grove. What was going on was that 5,000 people came out to watch Midline play. The boys were shocked and thrilled, and as the adrenaline started to flow, they saw it as a good omen for a couple of guys who dreamed of being rock stars.
During the years they've been together, Midline has been in some intense situations--both good and bad. And through it all, they've weathered the lows and ridden the highs together.
They sold more than 10,000 albums, had songs in regular rotation on the radio, garnered a sponsorship from Jagermeister after playing SXSW, and met and opened for the likes of Motley Crue, Ted Nugent, Queensryche, Skid Row, Rob Zombie, Breaking Benjamin, Candlebox, Quiet Riot and Dee Snyder.
But with the good came the bad. After paying to record their own album, they inked a deal with Gotham Records. What they didn't get was any kind of tour support from the label. Playing live has always been Midline's lifeblood and where they really "put the meat in the seats."
"We had just played Prince's club in Minneapolis [with Hed PE and Saliva headlining] in front of 3,000 people and didn't have enough gas money to get to the next gig," Elliott said. "We called our label [Gotham Records] and said, 'We'll worry about how to get food, just give us enough money for gas.' They wouldn't even do that."
More than $16,000 in debt, they passed on the rest of the dates on the tour and headed home to lick their wounds and regroup.
During the years that followed, they wrote new songs, put out more albums, played more shows and continued to tour. But every time they got close to the brass ring, something or someone pulled it just out of reach. Divorces, a heart surgery, a really crappy record deal, a loss of radio support, an evil manager and a stint in therapy were just a few of the problems that seemed to chip away at Midline's possible successes.
Fast forward 19 years to Mulligan's, where a half-dozen empty glasses sit on the table between them, and a half-dozen more are filled with beer, whiskey and brightly colored shots. As Fagiano, Stymie and Elliott wait for Fischer to finish work for the day before heading to rehearsal, the three of them talked. And talked. They told stories that would rival those of any of the bands with whom they were coming up in the '90s and who surpassed them on the road to fame and fortune. They told enough tales of shady deals and shysters to fill a book. But in spite of everything, they look at their collective experiences in a "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" light.
Meeting up with Fischer later that night, he explained that he was the one who started the let's-put-this-thing-to-bed conversation.
He owns a successful landscaping business and has three active kids at home and the whole rock and roll lifestyle doesn't fit him anymore. The band decided that replacing Fischer was just not an option and that if Fischer was no longer into it, Midline should dissolve.
"I think it was Michael Stipe who said, 'You don't have to be on the same page, but you do have to be in the same book,'" Elliott said. "We weren't even in the same book anymore."
"Without Fred, it's not Midline," Stymie said quietly.
Regrets? Sure, they have a few. Elliott regrets staying in Boise, saying that a move to a bigger city may have been the push they needed. Fischer agreed with Elliott, while Fagiano wished they'd had better management, and Stymie said less airplay after conglomerates came in and bought up the local stations hurt the band. But they don't regret a moment they've spent together, on stage or off, and are finding ways to move on together and apart after Midline is no more. Stymie and Elliott have been working on putting together a new band called Karin Comes Killing for about a year and a half. Fagiano has been writing music, and the three of them plan to continue working together, supporting one another's ventures, whatever they may be.
Later that night at their rehearsal space--a tiny unit in a storage facility--the energy they put into the music they've been making most of their lives is palpable. The place is so small that Fagiano stands in the hallway, out of the line of the other band members' sight, his foot propped on the wall behind him, his melodic baritone bouncing off corrugated steel doors while tight, rich drums, bass and guitar fill the building. Midline plans to end this chapter in their lives with a bang and have been working toward this last show, which will include a 21-song set of music from the last two decades. And love them or hate them, when they do disband, Midline will leave behind a legacy. With a twinge of regret and a hint of pride, they proffered a few words of advice for young, new bands trying to hit the big time, something Midline came so close to doing.
"Always try new things. Always be out of your comfort zone," Fagiano said.
Stymie added, "Write your own music."
"Get a f**king lawyer," Elliott said.
Saturday, May 23, with Frantik and The One And Only True Messiah, 8 p.m., $6. Knitting Factory, 416 S. Ninth St., bo.knittingfactory.com.