Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Thoughts on RePunk 3 - Belated but true

Playing right now: Tim Berne - Five Year Plan (which I won in an auction last week, for a decent price!)

It's been over a week since RePunk 3 happened, but it was followed by a week of interviews for an article, the ensuing task of transcribing, some actual job application work, the current part time work and the heat in general. So today is really the first day that I've had a chance to write about it.

The origins of RePunk go back a decade, which, much to my surprise, I didn't blog about at the time. Of course I was even less diligent about this blog than I am now. But back in 2006, my brother John - who had been in the first punk band in Pittsburgh (the Shut Ins) - and Stephanie Vargo (of the Deliberate Strangers) contacted a bunch of people he knew from the late '70s/early '80s music scene, and talked about having a get-together in Pittsburgh. This was about a year before Facebook was the monolith it would become, so emails and discussion groups were the way to connect back then.

The idea took off, and a two-day event was staged. The first night was at the Quiet Storm coffeehouse, where people could eat, and people got up and played. The evening highlight was my brother, the man once known as Johnny Angola, tearing through a choice set of covers like "TV Eye," backed by members of the Five. But there was also poetry, free improvisation and... me, accompanying John's one-time roommate and musical adviser to me, Michael Butscher. The following day, a cookout happened at South Park, with more music and a screening of Debt Begins at 20, a film that captured those early days of the music scene through a combination of live footage and semi-scripted drama.

A low-key RePunk 2 was held a few years later, but #3 was organized by someone who has been in attendance at a lot of shows over the years but was never in a band and hadn't been to either of the previous RePunks and thought there should be another. (I'll omit her name from her only because she didn't want it mentioned in other media outlets, so I'm following suit.)

At first it seemed like pipe dreaming, but things really took off on a grand scale this year, with a whole weekend full of events. It included: dinner at Zarra's, the site formerly known as the Electric Banana; an exhibition at the Irma Freeman Center full of pictures, flyers and zines from years gone by;  an afternoon cookout/show in Schenley Park; an evening show at the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern; and a screening of Debt and a plethora of videos of bands from way back when.

Personally the biggest part of it for me was the reunion of Bone of Contention, the first band I ever played it, and one that dates back 30 years to an inauspicious debut at the Banana (although it was a BIG DEAL for me, the kid who had wanted to be in a band of any sort since grade school). The group drifted apart 21 years ago, when my two bandmates both got pregnant within a few months of each other. I've secretly hoped for about the last six years (when our debut album was 20 years old), that we would reunite someday. When it was first brought up, a few of the players seemed lukewarm, at best, on the idea. So I didn't get my hopes up.

But Barb, our drummer, was involved in early conversations about RePunk and must have mentioned having us possibly play at it. When that got around to the guy who was helping to organize the shows, I decided to step up to the plate and poll everyone. Barb and guitarist Lila - who were in the band the whole time, along with me - both lived in Pittsburgh. But guitarist Sean and his successor Bart were both out of town, though they're still in touch with us. I figured if I asked both, I'd be sure to get at least one of them to do it. Turns out, they were both up for it.

Not only was my dream coming true, my dream to be Moby Grape - a band with three guitarists and five people who all wrote and sang - was sort of coming true.

Before our first practice I did have a rather involved anxiety dream with a few "chapters" in it. The one that is easiest to explain  involves my counting off Deep Purple's "Child In Time," which I was supposed to sing. As the intro started, I realized that I couldn't do any of the high-pitched shrieking that Ian Gillan does in the original. By then, it was too late, though. I WAS TRAPPED!

In reality, nothing like that happened. We got in several practices, even doing two a week, just like the old days! Bart was in town a few weeks prior for one of them. he night before the show, we had one with me, him and Lila (Barb was out of town). it caused me to miss the art show, but hey, duty called. Sean - who can pick up everything with just a cursory listen - got into town Saturday afternoon and met us onstage ready to rock. As usual, he didn't disappoint.

We were preceded by Buster B., a wild singer who was once in a band with my brother (at the time that Johnny was playing the bass that I now own!), as well as the Shakes, one of the best bands of the early days. I felt so lucky to be playing with them because their hopped up edgy pop went well with us. I caught them at RePunk 1, but they didn't an even fuller set this time.

Of course there were some hurdles along the way to the stage, much like the anxiety dream: running home to get another mike stand and a keyboard for the Shakes, which I luckily found out they needed as I ran to my car; the original drum kit that was mediocre which may or may be replaced but we weren't sure at first (it was); feeling rushed to get onstage to make sure we didn't have to cut anything from our set; choosing my introduction words carefully only to turn around and realize Lila was counting off the first song before I had a chance to introduce ourselves.At one point I read the set list wrong too.

Did I mention that I had consistently been drinking cold brewed coffee all day, which might've added to the intensity?

But once we hit - it was wild. It was loud, frenzied and pretty cohesive all at the same time. One thing about this band, in retrospect I feel like we always had a good idea of what to do and where we were, musically. There were never any second thoughts, at least onstage. No looks of "where are we?" Some of the set was a bit of a blur because it takes a while for me to get situated into a set, getting my ears adjusted to the stage volume, not to mention the feeling of being onstage with these people for the first time in over two decades, more than 25 years in the case of Sean.

I fully expected to go through a little bit of post-gig letdown the next day. All that work and anxiety, all for 40 minutes - and then it was over. There was a little of that, but not as much as I thought. Plus I had the videos of bands to check out at Filmmakers on Sunday afternoon. It was good, but loooooooooooong - two hours, in fact. I guess I noticed that because I was hoping to see more footage of Buster and brother John live with Gates of Wrath. Oh well, good times nonetheless. But I had to split before Debt started. 

Thanks to all who had a hand in this.

And I'm hoping that the Bone, as we call ourselves, we reunite again for my 50th birthday. The die has been cast.

Addendum - Since this post originally went up and I saw Stephanie's comment (which resulted in a revision), my mind went back to a particular moment at the cookout. Stephanie and her husband Tom Moran were doing songs, and she introduced one that she used to sing with "Scratchy," aka Erin Hutter, who passed away in October 2014. Hearing the song, and their whole set, took me back to the early days of the Deliberate Strangers. It was so great seeing a guy who I revered as a teenager now playing this new thing - and with Stephanie's and Erin's vocals, they were doing this music the right way - feeling, respect and knowledge of tradition, as well as their own stamp.

Then sometime last week - maybe even a day or two after RePunk for all I can remember - Erin came to me in a dream. Nothing elaborate, more like a quick greeting you might give to someone you see in passing. But she looked happy. The Irish fellow in me can't help but think there's a deeper meaning in there.

1 comment:

stephanie vargo said...

Mike. People always forget that it was your brother and I who put together the first RePunk. We were equal partners in crime, and I am feeling a little left out in all the hype about the event. Thanks, Stephanie Vargo