Monday, March 28, 2016

Today and Tomorrow -- March 20 is Jon Bunch Day / Memorial Concert Reviews

Jeff Caudill of Gameface guests with Sense Field. (John White photo)

What you have here is a pair of reviews and photos from There's Something Hard in There friends who attended the Jon Bunch Memorial Concert on March 20 at The Yost Theater in Santa Ana, Calif.

By Ben Merlis

It’s hard to believe Jon Bunch is no longer with us. When David Bowie died, it was difficult to comprehend, as well, but the difference is Jon was a punk rock kid from Los Angeles. He was a part of an actual community that we can call Southern California hardcore -- a tight knit scene of zines, labels and bands that often didn’t play anything resembling hardcore, but it doesn’t matter, because it is a community nonetheless. The difference is Jon was one of us.

I sort of knew Jon Bunch from seeing his band Sense Field over the years. He would also trade in CDs at Aron’s Records in Hollywood, where I worked. To say he was a nice guy would be a massive understatement. Bunch, standing 6’ 6”, radiated positive energy.

One time at a Knapsack show, someone in the audience taunted the band, telling them to “Play faster, pussies!” Bunch approached this creep as a friend, kindly telling him what he was doing wasn’t cool, and that this was their last show ever, so it was really important to let them play without conflict. It worked, and the creep shut his mouth for the remainder of the show. He had that kind of charismatic power about him.

The last time I saw Jon was in 2012. He was drunk. He was also SO happy to see me. I was just happy he remembered me at all. I have a feeling this is how he was with a lot of people. Jon embraced humanity. Judging by his temperament during his last interview ever (, he maintained that enthusiastic spirit until the very end.

I won’t get into the timeline of Jon’s bands. All that is Google-able. Here are the important points I’d like to make regarding his music:

* His first band Reason To Believe is the most underrated hardcore band ever. This has been my stock answer in this debate for the better part of the last two decades. They introduced a level of melody and complexity to the sub-genre without sacrificing one bit of the ferociousness and intensity that defines it. Why they remain obscure is beyond comprehension. Is it because their records are out of print? The first thing I would always ask Jon is, “When is that Reason To Believe discography coming out?” It’s a crime that he didn’t live to see it happen.

* He is technically the greatest singer in hardcore music of all time. In a scene that didn’t necessarily value vocal ability, Jon could really sing.

* It is a minor tragedy that Sense Field never “made it” commercially. They certainly had what I would consider mass appeal, although the cynical side of me would say they were too good for normal people to “get.” I know Jon would never think in these terms. His friend Richie Birkenhead of Into Another said on stage that Jon was never cynical. How many people can you say that about?

Immediately after the news broke that Jon Bunch died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Feb. 1, his friends Joe Nelson, Casey Jones and Chris Lisk (all former and current members of Orange County hardcore bands) assembled a day of remembrance in which 27 bands would play on three stages over the course of 7.5 hours on a single day. These are almost entirely bands that Jon was friends with and peers of, the lone exception being Scream –- a group that pre-dates Jon’s participation in music. Jon looked up to Scream and was even pen pals with frontman Pete Stahl. Jon’s bands had a reputation of not fitting into any one sound, and this event was reflective of that. The music was a total mishmash of traditional hardcore (No For An Answer), emo/indie (Texas is the Reason) and even ska (Aquabats).

Because set times overlapped, attendees were forced to make difficult choices. Walk out on Scream after five songs in order to catch the beginning of Into Another’s set, and then miss Outspoken altogether? Walk out on Rocket From The Crypt during their second song to catch the second half of A Chorus of Disapproval? I was at peace with this dilemma. The two alternatives would have been worse –- either drag it out over two days or deny Jon’s friends a chance to perform.

The entire event was a giant late ‘80s/’90s hardcore family reunion. Virtually everyone I remember seeing at shows 20 years ago was there, mostly looking a little older, a little balder and a little fatter, some with kids in tow. It was overwhelming. There was rarely a dull moment, and in that rare case, one could just watch a different band play or catch up on old times with people they normally never see anymore outside of Facebook. I barely found time to drink water or go to the bathroom for several hours. The overall vibe was absolutely festive. No one was sad. This was a celebration of Jon’s life.

There were a handful of highlights for me personally. One was seeing Ignite with all original members perform with their first two singers -- event organizer Joe Nelson and Randy Johnson. Having only seen them with their third vocalist Zoli Teglas, this was a real treat that I never thought I’d witness. Another was seeing Into Another perform their 1992 ballad “Without a Medium” –- a song they have only ever played live once or twice before. It is fittingly about a dead friend.

Richie Birkenhead of Underdog/Into Another with Sense Field. (John White photo)

Without a doubt, the band that stole the show was the headliner. Sense Field performed with a revolving door of guest singers standing in for Jon Bunch. On paper, this seemed like a train wreck waiting to happen. How could ANYONE else do the songs justice? We’ve already established that Jon was the best hardcore singer ever. Richie Birkenhead went first, who is also an extraordinary singer. I figured it was all downhill from there, but I was very wrong. Zoli Teglas read lyrics off a piece of paper, but it didn’t matter, as his voice was probably closer to Jon’s than anybody else. Jon sang for Ignite once on a tour after Zoli had hurt his back, so here it was the other way around. Jonah Matranga of Far hyped up the crowd, even stagediving at one point while singing the title track off "Building," a high point in Sense Field’s discography. Much to my delight, Sense Field even performed two Reason To Believe songs with vocalists Jae Hansel (Outspoken, Blood Days) and Matt Caughthran (The Bronx). Several guest singers came out and sang “Found You” as an encore.

I found Joe Nelson after the whole thing was over and I told him, “I can’t wait for next year.” He laughed. As far as I’m concerned, March 20 is Jon Bunch Day. Turning this into an annual event would be a great way to celebrate Jon, and ensure that he’s never forgotten. There are so many more bands that could play at these future events (any number of Jon’s other bands, Shades Apart, Engine Kid, Insted, Justice League, who mysteriously dropped off this bill). The possibilities are enough to sustain many Jon Bunch Days to come.

Jon Bunch. (Josh Schwartz photo)

Postscript: I often think about this photo my friend Josh Schwartz took at a Sense Field show we attended in either 1995 or 1996. Jon Bunch is pouring his heart out in this moment, as he always did. Josh was a terrific artist who dabbled in photography for a year or so, and then began suffering from mental illness while attending Cal Arts. I fell out of touch with him about a decade ago, and at this point I have no idea if he is even still alive. This is a HUGE long shot, but if anyone knows of his whereabouts, please get in touch with me.

True love always,
Ben Merlis
Xbenedgex at yahoo dot com


By McHank

Jon Bunch’s memorial was a swingin’ wake, but it got advertised as a concert.

I’m not gonna say it wasn’t a good time -- it was, but it was also a weird time. I suppose it was a healing thing. You forget that, when you don’t go to a memorial for a while, that it can be a nice place to reconnect with people that care about you, and meet people you haven’t met but you already have some sort of spiritual connection with.

It was also cool to see bands, some that I had seen a lot recently (Rocket From The Crypt -- there is NO better live band right now. Period. I’ll take your arguments), some that held up really well after not seeing them in twenty years (Knapsack!!!, and Samiam), some that I’d never seen that were as powerful as I’d ever imagined (Scream! Yes, the actual DC hardcore legends, Scream) and some that I’d never seen that were a good time for all of the families there (Aquabats). And then, y’know, all of the other bands, I mean, it’s really cool they came because they all meant a lot to Jon, and Jon meant a lot to them.

Knapsack, top, and Scream (McHank photos)

It kind of made me think, this is actually the best memorial I’ve ever been to, because it’s all these people that cared so much about this guy, they all paid to make sure his family would get a little bit of support, and everybody got to have that healing experience. I’m sure everybody there had a completely different concert experience than I did, because there were a zillion bands, and I am pretty sure almost nobody saw all of them.

The real highlights for me were a couple of the stories:

Pete from Scream saying Jon wrote them a letter and they were so stoked -- a letter came from California!

Speedo from Rocket From The Crypt talking about how Jon invited his then fledgling band, Pitchfork, to play their first shows outside of San Diego. How encouraging they were, how enthusiastic Jon was. Even though Rick and John from Pitchfork didn’t look cool because they didn’t have cool bleach blond hair and pukka shell necklaces and shorts, the guys in Reason To Believe (Bunch’s early band) still thought the Pitchfork guys were cool.

This is where it gets hard, and a tear wells up in my eye. I was definitely a fan of Sense Field. The first thing I heard from them was the record, “Building”, and I kept an eye out for them, got the one record that the rumor was the label squashed, got everything, got in touch with Jon, got to be his friend, got to see who our mutual friends were, and he even had me do some initial artwork for his band, Lucky Scars. He was always friendly, always approachable, and seemed to always genuinely WANT to be approached. He learned about you and liked things about you -- he was your fan right on back.

What a cool guy. I hope you know people like him because the world needs more of them.

Samiam, top, and Rocket From The Crypt (McHank photos)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Trying to pin down the Replacements: good luck

Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson in Seattle 2014. (Andy photos)

By Andy

OK, so this one won't be perfect.

After all, you notice who I'm attempting to write about, and you'll understand why: the Replacements.

How can you even put a finger on this rough-and-tumble, ragged, screwed-up and yet chaotically winsome and inspiring troupe of misfits, drunks and marauders?

You don't. You just speak from your soul and try and get as close to right as possible. (You may sort of succeed for a moment, but then you'll probably mess it up, veer off course and have to salvage what still remains and throw your torn and frayed hat into the ring again.)

That's the 'Mats for ya, and that's why Bob Mehr's "Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements" is a book all fans should devour, even though you know you'll be glad, pissed, frustrated, angry and weepy along the way. We know what's coming, but we strap ourselves in for the long haul because we want to feel close to the band, even if we're pummeled by the emotions the 'Mats dealt with along their rocky road of life and death.

I'm not going into details here about the band's near rise, but always shortfall. Settle in, read the book and take the ride. There's so much within the 'Mats' walls and you'll break in with Mehr as much as he could (no sledgehammer necessary, it seems) -- which was farther than anyone else has ever done. But there's still more, there's always more that could be divulged, right? (It will never be complete, but that's also the allure of it... we can make our own assumptions, decipher things ourselves, in our own way... just like with Paul Westerberg's lyrics.)

It's real-life stuff. It helps you grow and learn from your mistakes. There are no answers, no correct way of doing things, but you give it a shot, try and pave a new course and ... keep trying.

I came late to the Replacements' swingin' party.

I knew who they were through fanzines and from a small mention here and there from Bob Mould when we hung out back in the early 1980s. It wasn't until "Let it Be" was released that I finally put my ears into their world via a tape of that album and "Hootenanny" from a movie-theater coworker. (He also made me an REM tape, which I find funny now since the two bands were rivals, but friends, as well.)

I wasn't completely sold on the 'Mats from the outset, however. I dug a bunch of the hard and soft songs on that tape ("Unsatisfied" was tops alongside "Favorite Thing"), but some of the tunes missed the mark for me. At that time, I was mainly locked into the more razor-edged fare from the Huskers and others, but I eventually came around to those 'Mats songs that didn't initially resonate with me. I gave them many chances... just like the 'Mats had in their career .

I followed the 'Mats throughout the rest of their twisting and turning existence (mostly twisted with alcohol, drugs and chaos on tap) and learned to appreciate nearly everything they offered fans. They might not have been reliable to management, producers and record executives, but they were always there when we needed them with some stellar tunes and brutally honest lyrics that were woven into our lives. (They weren't gospel or anything, but they sufficed when you cracked open a beer and pondered whatever situation you were in at the time. If you didn't nod your head, smile and utter an "a-ha" during bits of their songs, you weren't listening close enough, or maybe they weren't the band for you.)

I turned to these lyrics from "Achin' to Be" copious times during my final semester of college:

"She opens her mouth to speak ... What comes out's a mystery ... Thought about, not understood ... She's achin' to be ... Just like me."

"Talent Show" was also apropos:

"It's the biggest thing in my life, I guess ... Look at us all, we're nervous wrecks ... Too late to turn back, here we go."

I saw them live three times: once at the Country Club in Reseda, CA (1987), another time at One Step Beyond in Santa Clara, CA (1989) and lastly at the Bumbershoot festival in Seattle (2014). I didn't know what to expect each time, and that's what made each show memorable... you got what you got -- mostly shenanigans, but some stunning moments, as well -- and you had to be content with the 'Mats even making it to the gig in the first place. There was always a big question mark swirling throughout their career, but at least they provided a few answers along the way to keep us somewhat satisfied.

And for the record, in true 'Mats' fashion, a few buddies and myself were drinking in the car prior to the Santa Clara gig and ran in halfway through the first song because we had to drain our beers. Better late than never.

Checking in with The Defenders | Interview

Ken Helwig of The Defenders, top, band below. (All courtesy photos)

By Andy

A red T-shirt with an old-school Social Distortion logo emblazoned on it: the spraypainted-like one with the grinning guy donning a pork-pie hat.

That's what I was wearing in a Santa Clara, CA bar in the mid-1990s while Cat and I were engaged in a heated doubles pool game.

A patron, Ken Helwig, spotted us across the bar, pointed us out to his buddies and came over to talk Social D and other classic punk bands that we all dug: you know, Stiff Little Fingers, Sham 69, X-Ray Spex, the Jam, Adolescents, CH3, Shattered Faith, etc.  We also raved about our local modsters, the Odd Numbers.

That's how we became aware of a band that he played bass for: Slip. Then there was The Forgotten. We caught both bands in our San Jose days and hung out and drank with Helwig and the boys, always discussing our favorite punk groups and gigs we frequented.

We witnessed Helwig's band The Emptys a few years ago in San Jose and were stoked that he was still proudly waving the punk flag, this time on guitar and vocals.

And now, here we've got The Defenders, Helwig's current solid punk unit. They're making a name for themselves on the Bay Area scene, and Helwig's here to tell us about it via an email Q and A.

**Who’s in The Defenders and when and where did you form?

Myself, Ken Helwig on guitars and vocals, Ryan Allbaugh on bass and backing vocals and Ryan McGilloway on drums. Funny thing about  how we started this band. I briefly had a band called The Emptys that were playing a few shows and practicing in San Jose. I wanted to play closer to where I live, which is near Santa Cruz, CA, so I placed an ad in Craigslist and both Ryans replied within a week. We all have never met prior to this ad. We have been a band since January 2015 with our first gigs coming a couple of months later with one in Santa Cruz with some local bands and then opening for CH3 and The Crowd a few weeks later.

**Tell us about the songs, what’s on tap music-wise and lyric-wise?

Our songs......well, I write most of the stuff and bring it into practice where the three of us arrange the music. I am pretty lucky that my bandmates give me so much leeway. They do a great job of helping shape the songs. We all live an hour apart (Ryan-bass in Oakland and Ryan-drummer in Carmel) so we send stuff via email for ideas, then meet up in Santa Cruz where we rehearse and hash out the songs.

Basically we are influenced by old UK punk from the late '70s, Oi!, UK82 stuff and early OC hardcore and bands like The Swingin Utters and Hudson Falcons.

Lyrics tend to be more on the personal side and how life affects us. We are in the process of recording two songs for a compilation album, then we head into the studio in early summer to record songs for split 7" records as well as a full length.

**Kenny, you’ve been around the punk scene forever, are you just as excited about rocking out these days as before with your other bands? What was the impetus for starting The Defenders and what’s your game plan in today’s punk landscape?

I am having the most fun I have had since maybe later period Slip or when I was in The Forgotten. We have been a band for barely over a year and we have been quite fortunate with what has happened to us. Starting The Defenders was just an idea that has become a reality. It has been so much fun playing with my bandmates. We all get along really well. I mean, we might have a disagreement, but we are all pretty level headed and just don't take it too seriously.

Pretty much we just want to continue playing around the San Francisco area, continue playing higher-profile shows and do more recording. Ultimately we would like to play out of town from Seattle to San Diego....we shall see. I have a mortgage and bills, so who knows. We have been pretty fortunate to play on so many great gigs this past year.

**You’ve shared stages with the Dead Kennedys, Stiff Little Fingers, UK Subs and more so far, how have those experiences been on stage and off, mingling with some of your favorite bands?

Man, if someone said to us during our first month of existence that we would be opening for the UK Subs and Stiff Little Fingers in 6 months, we would have laughed. That was pretty surreal hanging out and playing those shows. Since I am originally from San Jose, we are kinda considered a South Bay when SLF got booked into The Ritz in San Jose, there was no question as to who would open for them. I'm joking....but man was it cool. Playing with The Dead Kennedys was pretty damn cool. We played The Catalyst in Santa Cruz to a sold-out house of 1,000 people. We had a separate backstage room, but had like 3 cases of beer, pizza, soft drinks, etc. Thanks to Anti Social for getting us on that bill.....I swear I was like a little kid with a big smile on my face that whole has been a thrill meeting some of my musical heroes, especially SLF as they are one of my all time faves.

**How did the “Power Split” record come about with The Civilians? How’s the record been received so far, is it doing well?

Well, we released the songs digitally on Bandcamp and got some fantastic reviews. I thought, hey why not send it to some labels and see what happens. Crowd Control Media were kind enough to offer us a deal to do a split 12". We were going to do it with a band from Detroit, MI, but they broke up. The label actually had the artwork almost done too! After that, the label looked around and came upon The Civilians from Las Vegas.

The whole product looks amazing. From the colored vinyl to the insert ....everything!! I cannot be more pleased on the way this came out. It is perfect in my eyes. Love it. How has it been doing? Well, we are half way sold out of our allotment and it is selling well on iTunes and Amazon digital too. CCM just got a nice distro deal so we should be seeing more of their releases in the stores soon. I am always shocked when someone posts a picture of our record on Facebook. It is a pinch-me moment.

**What’s next on the docket for the band?

We have our record release coming in April in Santa Cruz, We are playing with Demob from the UK in May when they come out for Punk Rock Bowling, and we play Underneath The Underground in July with The Generators, Old Firm Casuals and The Forgotten (as well as other great bands, too). We are appearing on a compilation called California Scene Report. It's coming out on a great label from Germany called Last Punkrockers Records. Just keep playing and writing and recording, really. Who knows what the future holds!

**What’s the coolest thing someone’s told you after seeing your band play that has made all the hard work worthwhile?

Just people giving us compliments, coming out to see us. We have one friend that bought all three vinyl colors, patch, test pressing from us. That was pretty cool. He also named his cat after us!

Check out The Defenders at:

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Face-melters: Bongzilla, Black Cobra, Lo-Pan and Against the Grain in Seattle | Photos

Against the Grain... more like against your skull. (All Cat Rose photos)

The bands' names speak volumes... no need to discuss the situation any further about what transpired within the walls of the Highline in Seattle on Thursday. And volume? Yeah, there was plenty of blistering power doled out by these stoner-rock, doom dudes.

Cat Rose photos: