Face it, it’s a fact of life. Sooner or later, you’ll have to drive too far and pay far too much money to see a band — you know, someone from back in the day, one of those bands that struck a nerve, that makes your heart go thumpa-thumpa still, that makes you grit your teeth and feel those feelings again, the ones that made you feel alive, lighting you up in a way you barely remember now, with the mortgage and health insurance to deal with, right? Even if you weren’t really there, like Dropkick Murphys frontman Al Barr intimated in an interview about, among other things, the Bruisers, the Portsmouth/Newburyport punk band he founded back in 1988, a band that bashed its way out of regional obscurity with a brutal, punishing, as-hard-as-you-can-get street punk sound, a band that built a name for itself here and a virtual cult-status in western Europe. Which is not to say they ever achieved mass popularity of any sort, because they didn't. Despite the legion of fans the Bruisers have now. Which was Barr’s point exactly when he was talking about the last Bruisers reunion. Which was seven years ago, at this point, when the band filled the Roxy, drawing close to 1,000 fans — unheard of in the day, like five times what the band would get, on a good day, back in the day. ”It's cool to like a band when they don't exist anymore, as long as they're not popular," he said earlier this year in an interview for the gimmenoise blog.
Interesting reading, especially on the eve of the one-show-only reunion that finds the boys hurtling down way more than 40 Miles of Bad Road to headline Day One of 2000 Tons of TNT, the massive three-day punk/oi! festival, a kind of punk Woodstock, without the brown acid presumably, on Labor Day weekend in Hartford. And, yes, I do hear the jeering from all corners of the punk universe at the hippie reference, but I don’t care about you, to quote Fear crooner Lee Ving, who won’t be arri-ving for Day Two of the festival because he’s way too busy working on the new Dave Grohl/Foo Fighters album. And, judging by the way the folks at Brass City Boss Sounds, the production company putting the thing together, used the words “breach” and “contract” in the announcement, probably consulting with his lawyer between sessions. But, yeah, this show is a big deal, especially from close-to-the-earth punk standards, and a bit of a surprise for Port guitarist Jeff Morris, who started rattling local cages more than two decades ago with the Port hardcore band NPD and made his bones a few years later with The Bruisers. “I guess I'm still stuck back in the early ’90s frame of mind when I would agonize over the few dozen diehards that showed up to each gig, wondering WTF we could do to bring in more people. I always had that anxiety setting up shows. I guess you take it personally, if people show up and enjoy it you feel validated and when they don't you feel rejected. That's probably both ridiculous and narcissistic, but it's the truth. It's a strange thing, having your identity and self-opinion so inextricably linked to the music you make. That's been a lifelong struggle to separate them. I don't think about it anymore, but for a lot of years it was like a ball and chain.”
It was a surprise because Morris and Barr had been talking about doing a series of reunion shows, maybe even a reunion tour, last winter. "We were throwing ideas around and even had a booking agent looking at it,” says the guitarist, who moved to Chicago for a job three years ago. It looked like they might possibly pull it off, but the thing fell apart. Intertia took over. Then in April, out of the blue, Morris got an email from Pete Morcey, the singer for Forced Reality, an old Bruiser label-mate back in the Patriot Records days, who, "essentially made us an offer we couldn't refuse, so we didn't," says Morris. The idea was to recreate the Patriot records showcase show from 1989 at Bunratty's, where Bruisers opened, followed by Forced Reality and headliners Stars and Stripes — Choke from Slapshot's oi! band. The kicker was, this time out, Stars and Stripes would open and the Bruisers would headline. Then they sweetened the pot, adding Bruiser buds The Uprisers, the Portsmouth-based band with "some of our oldest friends” from very important Portsmouth punk bands back in the day — The Radicts, VFW, Outlaw Poverty, Murderers and Funeral Party — and original Bruisers drummer Rodger Shosa.
Been a while, but everybody is still active in music, "so it's not like we needed to scrape the barnacles off the amps and drums first," says Morris, who, since the Brusiers, has performed in two instro bands, Cadillac Hitmen and Zuni Fetish Experiment, and one straight-ahead rock outfit, Death & Taxes. But don't call them barnacle, some band time was necessary. The boys got together, flew back home for a long weekend of practice at the home of Port drummer Dan Connor, who played with Morris in NPD — a not-so-subtle dig at the hometown fuzz — who joined the Bruisers in 1989, right after their first record came out on Patriot Records, and was with the band through the "Still Standing Up" record in 1997. Mostly everybody, anyhow. Johnny Rioux, who was with the band through the last couple of albums, was on the road, in Europe, with Street Dogs, his new band. Rioux's tour eventually pulled into New England, giving him a chance to practice with the guys too. "The first day we were pretty tight, but sloppy and racing everything," says Morris. “Second day we had burnt off some of the adrenalin and settled down to a really good pace and sounded damn good. The trick is we all have to do our own homework so that when we do get the chance to play together it's rehearsal, not practice. So far so good... We're going to make sure we rise to the occasion by putting on the best show possible. We said it the first time around, and it goes double this time... if we're going to do a reunion show we need to play and sound at least as good as we ever did back in the day. And that's exactly what we're going to do.”
So, they're ready. Are you?
The thing to take away from all this rambling is this: The last Bruisers show was the previously mentioned Roxy gig, seven years ago. And that’s just the thing. Fans, real or imagined, don’t know when the next gig will be. Even if the musicians wanna get out there, even if they can do it without taking a bath, financially, it’s just not that easy any more, locked into their lives and the bullshit responsibilities that grow up around a musical career, if you survive it. And that, the fact that seven years between shows, is a solid reason for driving three hours and spending scads of cash, when you figure in hotels and food and, ahem, other amenities, whether you’re a real fan from way back, or just wearing the brand. Screw the details, forget everything, like we do whenever the Plastics are threatening to tour. The band’s in town or some place close enough, you gotta treat it like it’s very possibly the last time you’ll ever see them. Because, who knows, it may be.
And, oh yeah, there will be "new" product. Rock and Roll Disgrace, a small Bay State label, will release the band's 1990 seven-song cassette EP "Independence Day" as a 12-inch on colored vinyl. "We want it to look and feel as it would have had it been released in '89," according to the website. It's a limited edition. Only a 1,000-piece run. The band has also signed on to include a two-song unreleased practice from '89 as an add-on for the first 100 mail orders. And hopefully there will be some tees, so old fans, real and imagined, can prove they where there when …
The lineup will be Al Barr, vocals, Jeff Morris on guitar, Dan Connors on drums, Scotty Vierra on guitar and Johnny Rioux on bass.
JUST THE FACTS, MAN: The Bruisers will headline Day One of 2000 Tons of TNT, the three-day punk/oi! music festival, Aug. 31 at The Webster Theater, 31 Webster St., Hartford, Conn.The festival line-up will be The Bruisers, Stars and Stripes, Forced Reality, The Uprisers on Friday. The Meatmen, Anti Nowhere League, Evil Conduct, The Templars, Close Shave, Pist N Broke, Giuda, Noi!se Yellow Stitches, Hammer And The Nails, Hatin'Em, U, on Saturday; The Dwarves, Infa-Riot, Negative Approach, Menace, Patriot, The Warriors and Bitter End on Sunday. The concert is presented by Brass City Boss Sounds. Tickets are $110 for a three-day pass. The theater is located located in Barry Square, just off Maple Avenue. For information on the venue, call 860.246.8001. For ticket information, call 800.447.6849 or log onto www.2000tonsoftnt.com.