No surprise, my favorite new band that I’ve come across in recent months had their heyday two years before I was born. I’m referring, of course, to legendary Columbus punk pioneers Screaming Urge, who played their “final reunion show” Saturday at Carabar. The band was so great that I feel like a sleazebag for trying to come up with smartaleky comments to make about the show, but I’ll do my best.
I describe Screaming Urge as “legendary,” but the truth is I never heard them before a week ago, when a friend posted the Youtube video for their song, “Hitler’s in Brazil,” on Facebook. I clicked the link and immediately knew that their show on Saturday would be the most important thing I would do all week. That’s not hyperbole; I’m still looking for work and so I have a pretty relaxed schedule. So I spent a good heap of time over the next week combing the internet for more videos and more info. At first I thought they were from Brazil, but when I found out that they were one of Columbus’ first punk bands who were tragically boxed out of ever having a record contract by legal shenanigans, who rocked in the face of repression from uptight Ohio Reaganites, from the Columbus police and from racist club owners, who toured the country in a rickety van and basically created the local
punk scene around themselves in the late 70′s, well, it hit me that I didn’t know where Brazil was anyway, and that the show on Saturday might be the biggest thing all summer. Needless to say, Facebook was abuzz.
The show was slated to begin at ten, which in bar time means sometime before eleven. We rolled into the dirt lot across the street from Carabar around nine-thirty and tailgated in the Benz with some Jeremiah Weed Roadhouse Tea. Because of my recent digestive problems I couldn’t drink any serious booze, and the slight buzz I got from the tea wore off quick. I
was counting on Screaming Urge to be really bitchen to help me overcome my intense social anxiety. The bar was filling up with half the people I’ve known over the past five years and a disturbing number of people who I knew from years ago but didn’t recognize right away. It was giving me an existential crisis. The milling crowd felt pensive and nervous. I think people were on edge because Damon Zex was in the house. I didn’t live in C-bus when the Zexter was doing his cable access thing, but one friend of mine admitted to being starstruck. Thank god the tension was cut by a barre chord ringing through the amplifier. I looked to the stage and saw Mike Ravage adjusting the mike stand. The time, it seemed, was upon us.
The show would have benefited from an opening act.
Before anyone knew what was happening, Michael Ravage’s daughter Mona said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Screaming Urge,” into the microphone and the band tore into their first song. For a second, everyone in the bar seemed stunned. The Urge opened with a pop-punk barnburner from decades ago that sounded somehow more current and more vital than most of what you hear from much younger bands, as the bar patrons waddled toward the stage like beerholding zombies. We took our spot right up in front of Myke Rock, who, while demonstrating the proper execution of every punk rock bass player move I ever used on stage, was wearing the American flag as a kilt, which, apart from being a punk fashion statement is also a violation of the Flag Code.
Only having heard the three songs available on Youtube before the show, I was expecting most of their tunes to be the sort of plodding, “Richard Hung Himself,” style punk tunes that I had listened to on the internet to get pumped up before the show. Screaming Urge turned out to have a much more diverse sound than my web searches had led me to believe. A good percentage of their songs were fast paced, poppy numbers played with energy and showmanship that didn’t seem to have diminished over the past thirty years. Compared to the band, the crowd seemed like a bunch of deadbeats. We were a diverse group that night, the band members’ families and fans from way back in the day mingling with seasoned scumbags around my age and brand new punks still ripe with the stink of New Mohawk Smell. It was a great gathering and everyone was appreciative even if they did seem scared to dance. To be fair, Damon Zex was right by the stage exhibiting some very Richard Simmons-esque dance moves and people were probably afraid to compete or be associated with him.
Screaming Urge played thirty songs that night, an impressive feat for a band half their age. At one point Ravage invited Don B to the stage and said, “Back in 1978 we were the first band ever to play ‘Batman’ with Don Bovee.” My friend Paul Weaver leaned into my ear and said, “Even if that’s not true, it’s true now and for the rest of time.” So there you go, in the official annals of Columbus rock and roll, Screaming Urge was the first band ever to
play Batman with Don B, a piece of trivia that not only makes you look like a scene genius but also establishes a direct line of continuity between Screaming Urge in 1978 to all the Bernie’s punks of the 2000′s. It’s on the internet now, which means you can link to it, which means it’s the god’s honest truth, so there.
I thought the highlight of the show would be “Hitler’s in Brazil.” For my money, Shandi missed out on the best part of the night, which came when she slipped outside to have a cigarette and the band played a little tune called “War is not OK.” As Rock and
Ravage shouted the song’s simple, effective pre-chorus (“Don’t Go, Don’t Go!”) I mused about why so many of today’s punk bands seem terrified to take any political stand. These days the hipsters stroke their dirty beards and say you’re “too political” if you make any social statement that isn’t backhandedly, “ironically,” anti-political or vaguely fascist. “War” made me long for the days when punks weren’t scared to be anti-American when the truth was on their side. When they followed that tune up with “Kill Poe Leese,” I decided Myke Rock was my new rock roll model. Apart from having a ton of awesome songs (“Hell Yes I’m a Dreamer” was brilliant), he played bass without a pick, which I’ve always considered to be the “right way” to play bass, a prejudice based entirely on my personal clumsiness with my right hand.
Once in a while, some jerk looking for trouble at a bar somewhere will give me a load of
garbage about how “Punk is dead.” People who watch too much VH1 get it in their heads that punk rock has something to do with Malcolm McLaren or that it ended when the LA hardcore scene died out in the early 80′s and the Clash released Combat Rock. But it’s been three decades since then and people are still putting on house shows and cutting the sleeves off their Crass t-shirts. Every year I go to Bernie’s and there’s a new crop of kids with patches sewn all over their jackets bearing the names of bands that broke up in the seventies. Punk manages to survive specifically because it has never been about the music industry or the famous people. It lives on through all the outcast kids who can’t afford guitar lessons and need a place to belong. Punk doesn’t come and go when the fashion magazines decide spiked belts and Chuck Taylors are or are not hot accessories. It was never about being popular. It’s about all the nobodies, all the punks, the communities we formed, and the hundreds of bands, like Screaming Urge, who never had a record deal, who never made any money, who did it for the love or because they had something inside that they had to scream over amplified power chords or because they were too drunk to ever learn to play the guitar. I got to be there for Screaming Urge’s last show, and for that I’ll always consider myself lucky.