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In his cover story for this week’s Washington City Paper, Mike Paarlberg thinks hard about reunion culture, and how it’s trickled down to include a pretty astonishing number of reunion shows by old-school D.C. hardcore bands—-several of whom have been able to pack venues like the Black Cat in recent years. For a lot of bands, there are strong economic incentives to reunite—-they’re probably making less money on their back catalogs as record sales continue to decline—-but I don’t think that’s the case with a group like, say, Marginal Man, who will play the Black Cat on Aug. 20. They may draw well, but it’s probably not translatable to audiences in many other cities.
Then again: I spoke with Rock & Roll Hotel booker Steve Lambert about some of the themes of the article, and he reminded me that when he booked Government Issue in 2007, the crowd was hardly huge. “It wasn’t a big deal even then,” he said. Fast-forward to 2010, and Government Issue is able to sell out the bigger Black Cat Upstairs.
Lambert’s theory? We’re having an ’80s hardcore moment, not just in D.C. but everywhere. One piece of evidence is the indie-level success of OFF!, a new group led by former Black Flag and Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris. At the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, apparently the group was a welcome tonic. “OFF! songs are small explosions,” The New York Times wrote. “First, they are small, rumbling for a minute or so, then stopping quick. Second, they explode — Mr. Morris holds his microphone only as someone with three decades of hardcore behind him could, and he’s not even the most furious guy on stage.”
The writers from SNL seem to be occupying a similar headspace. In his piece, Paarlberg writes:
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?”
If D.C. Space magically re-opens in 2012, I’ll really know Lambert is right.