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Lights Out: Marching Saints of St. Clair High play grunge music in the dark

Photo courtesy of Jim Bloch. The March Saints, with glow sticks on their ankles, play in the dark.

By Jim Bloch

The home bleachers at East China Field bloomed with umbrellas as the rain came down and the big crowd waited for the lights to follow suit. Just as the drum corps kicked in, the rain stopped and the umbrellas disappeared. The field went dark. The Marching Saints of St. Clair High School streamed out from the south side of the grandstands, 125 members strong, and marched around the south curve of the eight-lane track to the opponent’s side of the field.

The band, directed by Micah Volz and assistant director Scott Fryer and illuminated only by glow sticks duct-taped to their ankles, marched onto the field for their coolest performance of the year: Lights Out.

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This year’s concert, held Sept. 27, celebrated the rise of grunge music in the early 1990s, more than a decade before the seniors in the squad were born.

No matter what they play, the wondrous thing about high school marching bands is that they sound like they’re performing marching band music more than the actual songs they’re playing — a strange leveling effect that dilutes the tunes, but remains energizing.

Photo courtesy of Jim Bloch.
The blue streaks are created by time-lapse photography as band members march.

As the band marched in unison north or south on the field, their lighted ankles created the illusion of the moving sprockets and tracks of a giant illuminated tank.

The outfit, led by drum majors Audrey Azzinaro, Anna Patsalis and Ash Curie, opened with Pearl Jam’s murky, roiling anthem “Evenflow” from the band’s debut album “10,” released in 1991, with music by guitarist Stone Gossard. You could almost hear vocalist Eddie Veddar wailing under the bleachers: “Freezin’/Rests his head on a pillow made of concrete again/Oh feelin’.”

“Come Out and Play,” Offspring’s 1994 breakthrough hit, came next, its dark lyrics about high school violence washed out under the surging arrangement. The band, which was initially formed in 1986 under a different name, preceded grunge, and the song nods to the genre’s punk rock roots.

“Creep,” Radiohead’s 1993 song from its debut album “Pablo Honey,” captures high school insecurity like no other. “You’re just like an angel/You’re so … special/I wish I was special/But I’m a creep/I’m a weirdo,” mumbled lead singer Thom Yorke.

Not exactly grunge, but one with the era.

The Saints closed with 1991’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the most famous grunge song by its most famous band, Nirvana.

Kurt Cobain, the band’s tragic lead vocalist, sang, “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous/Here we are now, entertain us.”

Even without vocals, that’s just what the Saints did.

And then the rain returned.

Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at bloch.jim@gmail.com. 

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