In which I analyze why reunion shows are so punk rock

Listening to: “Vacation” by Bomb the Music Industry!

ADVICE

Don’t get food poisoning or a stomach bug or anything with similar symptoms.  I don’t think there’s anyone I would wish that on.

NEWS

So much has happened since the last rudie-Tuesday! New music from Samiam, Hot Water Music and Bomb the Music Industry!  Also apparently OAR and Zebrahead also have new albums coming out.  So I guess they still exist?  And the US government survives another few months!  There’s that.  With a deal no one seems to be really happy about.  And another fight likely coming up in a week or two about the FY 2012 budget that needs to be passed by October 1.  Which will probably need a continuing resolution so we don’t face another shutdown.  And FAA workers continuing to work without pay and pay their own way while they wait for the government to decide on their agency’s budget.  While it costs more billions of dollars to be shut down than it would’ve if some budget had passed.

But I promised a different focus for this entry, and it certainly would be a terrible entry if I spent the entire post writing in whiny sentence fragments.  So, onwards!

“STATE OF THE REUNION” (Did you read it? If not, here’s the link so the rest of this post makes sense.)

DC knows hardcore punk.

The District has been a center for the genre since Ian MacKaye sang/screamed his straight edge mantras in Minor Threat.  Henry Rollins did the same in Black Flag, and though I won’t pretend to have been in this city or even alive for it, the influence on these first area hardcore bands still sticks in the capital today.

These guys were and are a big deal, vital to the music scene, without whom there would be no post-hardcore, and certainly, of course, no Fugazi.  That’s why my one big qualm with this article is the focus on The Dismemberment Plan.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love those guys.  But they’re simply not a hardcore punk band.  Here you’ve got an article whose title seemingly boasts a commentary on reuniting hardcore bands and a picture of an old punker with a walker roughly Photoshopped in front of him, for crying out loud.  No, Fugazi has not reunited–technically they never broke up and are on an “indefinite hiatus,” although I don’t think anyone would complain if they did decide to play again and I’m sure the show would sell out as fast as Virgin Free Fest–but that’s the kind of band I would want to hear about in an article with such a title and subhead.

Paarlberg does clear this up a bit a few graphs in, when he takes out the word “hardcore” and writes “We are living in the golden age of the reunion gig.”  I don’t dispute that many bands like D Plan, Samiam and HWM that come back for reunions are most likely seeing some much larger crowds than when they were together.  Many of us caught on to these bands too late to see them when they were first together.  There’s a ton of ageism in the “scene,” especially as the bands get more obscure (the topic for a later blog entry).  But there’s also a ton of people who love a band’s music but never got to see them even when they were around originally.

Sometimes a fan is always in the wrong place at the wrong time and forever misses her favorite band.  Does that make her any less deserving of seeing that band play live than someone who saw the band when all their shows were still in the basements of punk houses?  Sure, you can toss around the “I saw them play back when…” street cred, but if the music is equally moving for the one who has seen them play before and the one who hasn’t, what’s the difference?

At the Black Cat’s sold-out Dismemberment Plan reunion show this past winter, the energy in the room was undeniable.  The crowd could have easily outnumbered ones from any of their previous shows, but having never seen them live before then I couldn’t say for sure.  Still, climbing up on the stage, carried by a wave of people itching to recreate a singalong moment during “The Ice of Boston” (which I concur with the crowd as being one of my favorite D Plan songs) was one of the coolest moments I’ve been a part of at a show or concert of any sort.  There’s something different about reunion shows that doesn’t exist before the band breaks up.

WHY REUNIONS ARE SO PUNK ROCK

It’s not hard to speculate where this energy comes from:  The excitement of both bands and fans to see faces and hear songs that they haven’t heard in a live performance setting in years.  The nostalgia of past shows.  The wonder of what the set list will contain, who will get to high-five the vocalist, whether the drummer will throw his sticks into the crowd at the end of the show.  The elite feeling of making it into a sold-out, one-time show.

Any time a band I love is coming through town is exciting.  But when it’s a rare appearance, a special event that may not come around again any time soon, I get that feeling from the top of my stomach to the bottom of my toes that consumed me the first time I was supposed to see Bad Religion live.  Or the week leading up to the Kid Dynamite reunion-benefit at CBGB’s in 2005.

Even when the Arrogant Sons of Bitches were having an annual last-show-ever reunion, I experienced the adrenaline rush that only a show could bring.  The Samiam renunion in Brooklyn last October, when they played to a nearly empty Williamsburg Music Hall, was the most intimate reunion I’ve been to and the room couldn’t have felt more full of sound and energy if it had been packed (and we wouldn’t have all been able to stand right up in front of the stage either).  The Bouncing Souls shows in July, not reunions, but a succession of days in which they played their full discography, were a celebration of a legacy, progression, growth, and love of music–and certainly the best Souls show I’ve been to since the first time I saw them play back in high school.

This love of music, this willingness to return years later and play for a sold-out crowd or a few dozen aging punks, is what makes reunions so punk rock.  The “State of the Reunion” article touches on it–a reunion show held solely for profit could never have the same feel, drive and passion as a reunion where tickets are still 12 bucks.  If the reunions of late are spurred by that itch, that craving for music, then yes, I’d say it’s a “Golden Age.”

And that’s pretty punk rock.

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