PG. 99 Bring Screamo’s Past to the Present
When the band was around between 1998 and 2003, Sterling, Va., post-hardcore group PG. 99 may have been easy to miss. The screamo band bathed its sound in a kind of dark, unrelentingly violent aura that doesn't have much in common with the pop-fueled punk sounds that dominated alt-rock airwaves in the early aughts. PG. 99 (sometimes spelled pageninetynine) was an underground phenomenon, but as is the case with many dormant, independent bands, it's developed a fierce cult in the years since it split—so much that tickets are hard to come by for the band's show at Black Cat tomorrow.
"The band always had an aura of excitement and energy surrounding them, which only seemed to grow during their five years of activity," says Andy Low, who runs Robotic Empire. The Richmond label's inaugural release was a PG. 99 record: Low recently re-released two of the band's albums on vinyl, Singles and document #8. The latter, which came out 10 years ago, is a fan favorite, and it's just one part of what's helped the band's audience grow postmortem. "Since disbanding, I think rumors and legends slowly developed and word sort of continued to spread," Low says. "I've seen it happen with some bands where they become more popular after disbanding, but with PG.99 they just seemed to maintain a healthy following."
The group's legend is rock history-worthy: PG. 99 became known for raucous, cathartic live performances; the group would sometimes perform with more than a dozen people; it cranked out 14 releases, toured hard, and sometimes partied a little too hard before burning out.
All the newfound attention surrounding the group's reunion has been a little surreal for Mike Taylor, PG. 99's guitarist and principle songwriter. He attributes fans' growing interest to timing as well as mystery. "We did a whole lot really quick, made all these albums, and then just disappeared," he says. "leaving in the time the Internet was picking up ... that had a lot to do with PG. 99's ability to come back and still have interest."
Actually, the Saddest Landscape is an even closer peer: They started up 10 years ago in Boston. Frontman Andy Maddox recalls catching PG. 99 early on in the decade. "When I first heard them, honestly they kind of seemed like a mess to me, but really kind of entertaining," he says. "They would show up and there would just be this force, these amps and these people that would take over basements. It didn't matter to me that they were messy." But Maddox saw the band grow out of that messiness and into a tighter group, with document #8 as its pinnacle. He says that PG. 99 became something of a Fugazi-like band in its scene. Touche Amore singer Jeremy Bolm welcomes the comparison. "When our band started, we threw that out there pretty often," Bolm says. "That was the intention of that sort of style, pretty much '90s screamo hardcore."
PG. 99's also offers a kind of appealing sincerity. "Everyone into this type of punk rock or post-hardcore can definitely see when a band is being honest," says Pianos Become The Teeth guitarist Mike York. "They meant it 110 percent." It's that passion that's part of the appeal for York. "That's one of the coolest things of this kind of music," he says. "It's an honor to be included in it."
As much as today's torchbearers admire PG. 99, Taylor certainly appreciates their work, too. "It's definitely really cool because it gives us a platform to come back and do it again and it still has meaning," he says. A quick look at YouTube videos of the group's first reunion performance last week in Richmond during Best Friends Day demonstrates that.
"It was incredible, it was pretty overwhelming," Taylor says. "But at the same time it was kind of funny cause it didn't hit me that we were doing this PG. 99 show until I was checking out the shirts." Taylor has been playing with his PG. 99 cohorts Johnny Ward and his brother Chris in the dark folk project Pygmy Lush, so their time together preparing for the reunion didn't feel like it was out of the ordinary: While inner turmoil caused the band to break up in the first place, Taylor says that PG. 99's members made their friendship a priority, and it's part of why getting back together was pretty easy.
Taylor says the band had gotten offers in the past, but it wasn't until a festival organizer named Curtis Grimstead, who runs Rorschach Records, asked him in January. "I asked him and he said 'haha, that's really funny,'" Grimstead says. "Later that night he said 'actually maybe we could do that.'" Taylor says, "We liked the idea, so Curtis didn't really have to do much convincing." When all 1,000 tickets to their Best Friends Day set at Canal Club sold out, the band decided to schedule a second show in D.C.
After months of planning and learning all of document #8 for the show, the band delivered a 30-minute set that still affects Taylor. "It seemed more real and authentic to just get up there and make a whole bunch of blistering noise, and that's kind of what happened," he says. "It was beyond my expectations. I didn't expect us to play as well as we did. It was really something special, the crowd and the band kind of wrapped itself into one yet again."
That sets a pretty high bar for tomorrow night's show. The band won't play document #8 again, at least not in order, but Taylor doesn't want to skimp on the performance. And this could be a deciding factor in whether or not PG. 99 plays another show soon. For Taylor and the rest of the band, the future seems pretty up in the air. "I guess we'll just let this D.C. show come and pass and see how that feels."
PG. 99 performs with Circle Takes The Square and Thou tomorrow at 9 p.m. at Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW.