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

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Big-time rock reunions come in various forms. There’s the aging band—like The Who—that’s perpetually playing its “final” concert. There’s the once-edgy band—like the Pixies—that admits it’s trying to make money. And there’s the gang of former road warriors—.38 Special, say—playing the dreaded state fair circuit.

Local punk reunions also have a rough taxonomy. Sometimes, they’re genuine comebacks: Scream is releasing new material. Dag Nasty did the same with 2002’s Minority of One. Reformed post-punk bands like the U.K.’s Wire and Boston’s Mission of Burma have released critically acclaimed new material since the 2000s.

Others are one-off affairs: Marginal Man isn’t planning any follow-up shows. D.C.-formed indie-pop labels Slumberland and TeenBeat have assembled lineups of old acts for anniversary gigs. Of course, some of those one-offs elide into something more: After a few years of pursuing a solo career to poor reviews, Travis Morrison resurrected The Dismemberment Plan for a “one-time only” reunion benefit concert in 2007. Tickets sold out within minutes; three years later, D-Plan was back on tour.

And then there’s the tricky third category: Half-existence. Many of the oldest hardcore acts—Bad Brains, Agnostic Front—have been touch and go for so long that it’s difficult to pinpoint the reunion from the rest of the band’s career.

Whatever the reunion archetype, there have been a lot of them. First-wave D.C. punks The Slickee Boys reunite almost every year at the 9:30 Club. And while Marginal Man may not have exactly been marginal to the local scene in its day, many of the reuniting acts were: ’90s hardcore band Fairweather sold out the Black Cat in May. Damnation A.D., metalcore favorites from the same era, will open the Marginal Man reunion gig.

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While a group like Mission of Burma can take its reunited self on the road, there’s only one place most of these bands can play: their hometown. If no one in Kansas City had heard of them back in the day, it’s a good bet no one there would come out to see them now. But the District is home to old friends—not to mention a music community whose younger members cherish the history.

“There’s no fucking way some of these bands could tour around the country,” says Steve Lambert, who books at Rock & Roll Hotel, DC9, and Red Palace.


Last year, Saturday Night Live aired a skit that provoked an ecstatic reaction from obscure corners of the Internet. Set at a wedding, the skit opens with an old man in a tuxedo who asks his daughter, the bride, if she wouldn’t mind if he got his old band together and played a song in her honor. Four other paunchy, middle aged guys, including Dave Grohl and guest host Ashton Kutcher, trudge up on stage. Suddenly, they launch into a blistering ’80s hardcore anthem that’s half Dead Kennedys, half Suicidal Tendencies. Tables are overturned. Kutcher’s mic doesn’t work. SNL’s Fred Armisen—himself a Chicago music-scene vet—raves in his best Jello Biafra impersonation:

“When Ronald Reagan comes around/

He brings the fascists to your town/

You think it’s cool to be a jock/

But we get beat up by the cops.”

At the climax, Armisen knocks over a tray of champagne glasses and yells “You hear that, Alexander Haig?”

Punk and indie reunions have become more frequent and visible in recent years, possibly because artists have more incentive to kick out the old jams.

Singer Black Francis has copped to bringing the Pixies back for financial reasons. “I did the arty farty part,” he told the website The Quietus last year. “Now it’s time to talk about the money.” Francis still makes solo records, but his band has been permanently reunited since 2004. Last year, Guided by Voices frontman Robert Pollard shared with The Wall Street Journal a similar sentiment: that the group’s first motivation for reuniting was getting paid.

It makes sense. American record sales have declined every year from 2004 to 2010 amid the digital upheaval that has shaken the music industry. One thing independent acts can no longer count on is steady revenue from their back catalogs—which is why touring has taken on new financial appeal.

But if you go to an indie rock reunion show, you see another phenomenon at work: The old bands’ audiences have grown. Pavement, which used to play nightclubs, can fill amphitheaters; the Pixies have filled arenas. A Fugazi reunion could probably fill RFK Stadium.

That tendency has trickled down, too. Miniscule bands have become tiny ones. Once-tiny bands can now sell out the Black Cat.

“I think it started with the Internet, and people being able to get anything they want” says Carlos Izurieta, the singer of D.C. hardcore band Police and Thieves and the once-reunited Worn Thin. “Records may be out of print, but people put them online. A lot of younger kids discover older bands, and it generates interest among kids who never got to see them.”

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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