It’s September 21, a Monday night, and Goffstown High is buzzing like the Verizon Center. Guards stand at backstage entrances blocked with crime scene tape. Only a fortunate few wearing laminated “Grizzlies” passes around their necks are allowed to pass.
Over a thousand lucky fans fill the bleachers, while a couple hundred more stand against the stage. The show won’t start for another 45 minutes.
A small but eager press corps are stage right, waiting patiently for a word or an on-camera moment with the stars.
Earlier that morning Recycled Percussion, fresh from five weeks on America’s Got Talent, announced plans for a free show to thank their hometown fans. It was to be held in the place where, 14 years earlier, bandleader Justin Spencer debuted his “junk rock” musical project at a school talent show. The band toyed with doing a bigger venue, but didn’t think they could fill it on such short notice.
That turned out to be false modesty. One to a customer seats were snapped up in 15 minutes. Some fans started lining up at Shaw’s supermarket three hours ahead of time. As the show drew near, crowds mobbed the gymnasium entrance, and police were stationed up and down Route 114, shooing away anyone without a ticket.
The can banging, guitar shredding, power tool-wielding band may have begun as local heroes, but now were rock stars that could play the Goffstown gym 10 nights in a row if they chose to. A humbled Justin Spencer said, “I didn’t realize how massive the support would be in New Hampshire, because we were in L.A. for the past few months and were kind of detached from all the media.”
Prior to the performance, Selectman Scott Gross came on stage and declared it “Recycled Percussion Day” in Goffstown. The City of Manchester did the same thing when the band’s flight landed the previous Friday night.
State representative John Hikel also read a proclamation, on behalf of the New Hampshire state house of representatives.
Then the lights went down and the crowd’s dull roar turned into pandemonium.
Recycled Percussion sprinted on stage and did an hour-plus of the material that’s made them a national sensation. Within two songs, Spencer’s white untucked dress shirt was completely soaked in sweat. Fellow drummer Ryan Vezina had done three vertical leaps over his makeshift “drum set” – stacked buckets with cymbal and microphone-festooned steel tubes duct taped to them.
As Todd “DJ Pharaoh” Griffin spun a rock steady backbeat, Spencer prowled the stage like a panther, delighted to have longer than 90 seconds of performing time. Guitarist Jim Magoon played a psychedelic “Star Spangled Banner” like he’d written it, not Hendrix, and Spencer fist bumped him as he walked back to his drum kit.
After a medley that touched down in multiple musical eras, Spencer walked to the front of the stage to recall the America’s Got Talent experience for the crowd. He said that after they’d wrangled their way into the New York regional auditions, judge David Hasselhoff declared them “a five dollar band that wouldn’t go anywhere.” The other judges split – Sharon Osbourne liked them, Piers Morgan didn’t.
So the band packed up, and got halfway through New Jersey when they got a callback – “technical difficulties,” they were told. After a debate about whether to try again or head to a paying gig – one of 300 the band does each year – they turned the van around.
They barely made it out of the second New York audition – Hasselhoff changed his mind, but so did Osbourne. Three weeks and one spinning dual drum set later they were on their way.
Then Spencer remembered his first gig at the long-ago high school talent show. On that night, his band finished in second place. “How,” he wondered, “did we go from second in Goffstown to third place in the whole country?”
Beginning October 7, Recycled Percussion will be in Las Vegas for the 10-week run of America’s Got Talent Live, headlined by contest winner Kevin Skinner and hosted by Jerry Springer, at Planet Hollywood’s 1,300-seat CHI Showroom. They perform at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on December 31 and January 1 (tickets $26 – http://www.palacetheatre.org)