State of the Reunion Scream, Government Issue, Marginal Man: How punk is the golden age of the hardcore reunion?

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No one was doing the standing still when The Dismemberment Plan took the stage of the Black Cat this January. When frontman Travis Morrison wagged his finger side to side, girl group style, the crowd aped him. They pogoed. They shouted choice lyrics. They invaded the stage when beckoned. At one point, the audience was so loud the band stopped playing.

It was just like old times: Over its 1993-2003 run, the Plan was known for raucous, ritual-bound live shows. Eight years later, those rituals came roaring back to life: There is one way to enjoy a Dismemberment Plan concert, and that is as if you are 17.

Some fans at the January shows—and at subsequent dates throughout the U.S. and Japan—were in fact 17. But most looked to be in their late 20s and early 30s. There were also more of them than there had been in the glory years. The band says it never sold out a show in advance during its original existence; on the weekend of January 23, it packed the Black Cat on Friday night and filled the 9:30 Club on Saturday and Sunday. And they’re still at it: Last weekend, the Plan played to thousands at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago.

Music, more than almost any other art form, can bring a listener right back to some frozen spot in the past. But The Dismemberment Plan’s reunion weekend, in fact, wasn’t really about recapturing some faded zeitgeist at all. It felt distinctly contemporary, and for good reason: We are living in the golden age of the reunion gig. Sure, iterations of Lynyrd Skynyrd have been regrouping in small-market arenas for decades, but today even the creative and the countercultural are getting the band back together.

What’s going on? The appeals, at least among corporate acts, are obvious: The music. The glory. The fans. The money.

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But in the last decade or so, reunions have grown from a phenomenon of mostly mainstream pop and rock to include a significant number of A- and B-list indie bands. It’s not just Genesis and Fleetwood Mac. And it isn’t even just the Pixies, Guided by Voices, Dinosaur Jr., and Pavement—indie bands with a true national following who on their reunion tours command far larger audiences than they drew the first time around.

In a punk town like Washington, D.C., the trend also involves plenty of reunions by bands whom even WHFS didn’t deign to play. In the last couple of years, long-retired D.C. hardcore bands Scream and Government Issue returned to the stage to capacity crowds. Marginal Man will play its first show since 1995 on August 20 at the Black Cat. Gray Matter reformed in 2008 for the 15th anniversary of the Black Cat, which drummer Dante Ferrando co-owns. Dag Nasty got back together in 2002 and 2010, and has promised to reunite “at least once each decade.”

Watching some group of geezers tour the country on the back of some No.-3 hit from 1974, it’s easy to assume financially rewarding, musically mediocre hucksterism is afoot. But with hardcore reunions, the math doesn’t really point to a sellout: A group like Marginal Man might play a single show—and might even wind up in a vastly bigger venue than ever, thanks to the novelty—but they’re hardly looking at the kind of payday that represents an affront to their old DIY ethos.

All the same, it’s worth pausing to consider what it means when national reunion culture collides with local musical tradition. Reunions highlight a fundamental tension in niche genres like punk rock (and even more niche subgenres like hardcore), with crowds full of punk kids steeped in the genre’s lore and pulled between the equally strong traditions of rebellion and self-mythology.

A scene as seminal as D.C.’s feels the weight of history more heavily than most. If everyone you met who claimed to have seen Swiz at the Safari Club in 1989 was telling the truth, the joint surely would have been shut down by a fire marshal.

An admiration for punk’s pioneers, and familiarity with the minutiae of their musical output, still weeds the posers from the true believers. At U Street Music Hall in June, when a pair of 45-year-olds still calling themselves Youth of Today played a set, it was clear that the reverence for punk’s past was winning out over at least some of the traditional notions of the genre.

Compared to the infamous and widely panned Sex Pistols reunion of 1996—a blatant moneymaking effort whose actual name was the Filthy Lucre tour—D.C.’s low-key, friend-filled local punk reunions are a nice thing. And they come with the recognition that no one’s trying to rebottle any lightning. But the non-slimy intentions make it even harder to ask a fairly basic question: Do the reunions blow?

VIDEO: ‪The Dismemberment Plan - "The Ice of Boston"‬

Our Readers Say

maybe i misread this, but does the
article suggest that agnostic front
is a DC band?
Ed, The last two paragraphs appear twice in the article.
Interesting read. Minor correction: Dag Nasty recorded an LP in 2002 (called "Minority of One"), but haven't played live since 1988.

I think it's widely understood that hardcore is made by and made for a niche audience. That audience, however small and dwindling, still has an interest in what these bands have to say and what they have to offer artistically. Music is cyclical in nature. The audience that these bands relied on twenty years ago is, still, to a large degree - the very same audience. For the kids who never got to see the bands the first time around, a lot of these shows are really important. DC is lucky to have so many of it's own people still involved in the music scene, running clubs and booking shows. Not to mention still willing (and able) to pick up a guitar or scream into a microphone for two hours.
Sometimes the best thing about a reunion show isn't even the band on stage, but the people in the audience you haven't seen in years. My favorite part about the Plan "reunions" is the chance to drink a beer with people I forgot I even knew.

I think that's especially critical in a place like DC that has seen so much growth. On those reunion nights, DC feels like a small town again.
rvparks: thanks for noting that. Fixed now.
I think reunion shows have gotten a bad rap for the most part. From my experience at least, the number of "good" reunions has far outweighed the bad ones. Yes, some like the Pixies are blatant about their intentions. But they still put on a great show. In addition to the Gray Matter, Scream, and GI shows, others I've seen over the past 5 years that come to mind that were really good: X, Mission of Burma, The Damned, The Slits, Adolescents, Naked Raygun, The Avengers, The Jesus Lizard. The Stooge reunion a few years ago at the 9:30 club was outstanding! I thought Bad Brains on election night 08 was disappointing.
Bad Brains will never ever be good again. I was also at the election night 2008 Bad Brains show, HR basically ruined it, as I pretty much expected.
The G.I. reuion was great. It took me back to another time in DC. It did make DC feel like a small town again, that night at The Black Cat.
re: “Compared to the infamous and widely panned Sex Pistols reunion of 1996—a blatant moneymaking effort whose actual name was the Filthy Lucre tour…”

A common trap. That’s exactly what they were from the get-go, back in the 70’s . . . a blatant moneymaking effort. I mean they moved their album from house to house, put together an unwarranted US tour. Infamous? Panned? Yes, and in my opinion the tour was never to share their music with the world, even less so than the first time around.

I was there. Lydon walked out on stage, turned around, dropped his pants, bent over, and gave everyone a lesson on what an aging man’s taint looks like. The live recordings I have on LP and digital are horrid, the ones from the 70’s. The 96, they were actually vastly improved (thanks Glen), so they were somewhere between the shows they played as kids, and the album version. Sure, they had a message in the 70’s. It was “fuck you” and “wake up”. But, it was also about money. Maybe not Johnny, and I know the rest of the guys were about getting drunk and playing a show with their friends, but the band was managed by a money hungry s.o.b. who fancied himself a multi-media artist of sorts.

But that anyone, at all, would take their last tour as anything other than a chance to cash out was misguided when they bought the ticket.

I guess the definition below says it best. I mean, that’s what they called their tour basically, “Filthy Money”. I think that all but makes the critics and the experts look just as stupid as the ones in the 1970s, which gives Lydon the last laugh, again. He really is a smart, smart man.


lu·cre
Money, esp. when regarded as sordid or distasteful or gained in a dishonorable way
I like to think, as cranky old men and women, the current trend in music is so damn boring that you think they would put themselves to sleep on stage. Round one was kick the old guys in the ass, Round two is kicking the young ones in same said orafice. "Indie" is not a genre....it's just lame. Sorry for you guys had to get out of retirement....but at least I can feel my pulse again!!

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