By Danno Pugatch
It was May of 1999, my senior year of high school and the apex of the Boston punk and hardcore scene revival. There were many great bands and countless venues within a thirty minute drive of Boston where you could see bands every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night with some random Tuesdays and all day Sunday matinees (Noon-10pm!) thrown in for good measure. Soon I would graduate and escape the dead end suburbia I was struggled to survive in. Sure, every kid had his own outcast story, and mine is not much different. I found myself at eighteen full of anger and disgust, losing hope, and on the brink of exploding taking out anyone and everyone in sight.
In the suburbs there are soccer moms who drive kids to games in their mini vans, or fancy BMW SUVs as it was in my hometown of Easton, Massachusetts. My mom was a show mom: she would cart me and my friends in her station wagon to shows in far off VFW halls, Knights of Columbuses, church basements, and train stations. I was allowed to wear whatever (as long as it wasn’t explicit) because I had a job at the library, and in the car we listened to the badly recorded cassette tapes I made of my 7-inches. I was organizing shows in my own hometown monthly, often filling the bill with Zippo Raid, Darkbuster, the Bends, 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, the Skullys, Petty War, Mortar Blast, and whomever else would play for free since hall rental and a police officer (town rules) cost more than we got at the door. Most bands were happy to play for free beer from the Knights of Columbus. Life was perfect Friday night through Sunday, but hell the rest of the week.
When my then- favorite band the Trouble announced online it was going to be their final show, I skipped the senior prom- which was the same night- and showed up at the Greek American Club in Cambridge to dance as hard as I could one last time. That afternoon was just like many I have spent before taking the commuter rail into Boston, then walking from Downtown all the way to Harvard Square hitting up at minimum seven record shops that sold only vinyl. Picking up a mix of current bands and punk classics for next to nothing, I stuffed my backpack with a Clash album, Vigilantes single, Unseen split with Toxic Narcotic, and made my way to the Garage to get cheap pizza upstairs. After dinner I headed back towards Central Square, always walking to save money.
Back then I worked six hours a week for minimum wage, reshelving returned books in the library is not a career. I stopped in at Hubba Hubba, the bondage fetish shop next to the Middle East Club, and spent my hard earned cash on a spiked bracelet. Even for a punk rocker I was an oxymoron… plaid bondage pants covered in zippers and band patches my grandmother made me for my seventeenth birthday, a straight edge windbreaker, leather bondage and studded belts, a shaved head with a winter hat (I wore them year round). I preferred hardcore music but the punk fashion, the dichotomy of two scenes that often merged but insisted on staying separate. As I walked out of Hubba Hubba I headed toward the Middle East. There was a pay phone there and I wanted to call and see if some show friends were coming tonight. Show friends is what I called people I hung out with at shows or before shows if we ran into each other, but never knew otherwise. Often I didn’t know their real name, just a moniker or what band they were in.
As I was crossing the street a police cruiser’s siren went off and the car pulled down a one-way street the wrong way right in front of me. An officer yelled at me to stand still and exited his car then pushing me against the wall. I had no clue what I had done wrong and was pretty annoyed, but way too chicken to say anything other than, “yes sir.” The officer demanded that I hand over my brand new spiked bracelet I just purchased from Hubba Hubba and began to tell me how it’s against the law to wear in public. Massachusetts considers it a weapon like brass knuckles. The officer confiscated the bracelet and told me he was going to be at the show tonight and if I showed up with another my parents would be picking me up from the station. I am pretty sure I pissed myself slightly. This was my first run in with the law.
A little shook up and intimidated, I mulled around Central Square waiting for the doors at the Greek American Club to open up. Just like in the lyrics to “Saturday’s Kids” by the Trouble, I was always “the first to arrive and last to leave.” I danced hard and fast to every band, bought a demo from just about every band I saw, and had quite the shirt, patch, and pin collection. Not bad for $35 a week paycheck! I had never been to this venue before or since, and climbing the stairs all the way up was intimidating at first. Never before have I had the full city experience, most of my Boston shows were in churches in Quincy. Upstairs the venue was the size of a basketball gymnasium with a full size theatre stage at one end. In the back were tables upon tables of a punk rock flea market with people selling every record, zine, and shirt you could imagine. I made connections with Food Not Bombs and became vegan shortly after. I also started my own zine the very next day; I was in punk rock heaven.
I do not remember much about the opening bands (we are talking about almost fourteen years ago, and over a thousand shows I have been to). I do remember a few of them: the Vigilantes and Disaster Strikes, as well as some all girl band from NY that played in only panties. As a hormone- overloaded teenager I was definitely one of many up at the front row pumping their first and checking out the bouncing breasts ten feet above us on stage. At this point in my life I made out with a girl once three years prior on a hayride. I never saw one naked except in a magazine or on a computer screen. If you asked me that night I would have told you I was in love with the singer/guitarist.
The Trouble came on halfway through the night, and as the opening bass notes were played for “We are the Blood” I came rushing though the crowd like a freight train, knocking over anyone and everyone in my way. Maybe it was the edge jacket, maybe it was I danced like a jackass often unintentionally kicking, punching, or knocking over everyone in the crowd who wasn’t in the pit, but the skins were a little tougher and meaner towards me that night. A few punches were on purpose- when you have moshed hundreds of times you know when it’s a directed punch to the nose or an accident. My feet did not stop moving their entire set: from pogo dancing to going the wrong direction against the circle pit (I still don’t know why I always did this, perhaps it was from not wearing glasses and I just didn’t have a clue which direction everyone was moving until it was too late), I couldn’t have moved faster if someone had a gun to my head. And then as quickly as the Trouble came into my life they were gone with their anthems, glass bottle chortling bass lines, and razor ripping guitar licks. My favorite local band was done. Of course I had many close seconds: the Showcase Showdown, Toxic Narcotic, Ducky Boys, and Darkbuster to name a few. But it’s kind of hard to enjoy the rest of the night knowing you will never see again the band that just exited the stage.
The rest of the night was cut short by the chaos that ensued. The Anti Heroes took the stage and someone called them Nazis, to which they began to defend themselves saying they are not and that the movie American History X did not have permission to use their song. We have always had a skinhead contingency in Boston, but most of them were SHARPS- aka anti racist. Only in Boston would you find African or Asian American skinheads and god bless them. A few songs into their set a huge fight broke out. I didn’t see most of it, and all I know is second and third hand accounts over the years. The gist of it is that there was racist vs. non-racist skins fighting and someone starting a fire in the bathroom. Before you knew it police with nightsticks and shields were storming up the staircase and that is when I knew it was time to get the hell out of there. I prayed that all my vinyl in my backpack did not shatter as people pushed and shoved their way down the few flights of stairs out onto Green Street.
I took the train home mellowed out by the end of an era instead of being all pumped up, as I normally would be after a show. My senior year was almost over thankfully. I was moving a hundred miles away for college, and despite hating where I came from, I was struggling to hold onto the scene in Boston. I barely went to any shows that summer; I was too busy working full time for my dad’s friend down in Rhode Island making as much as I could to buy a computer and books for school. Every now and then I put on the Trouble’s only full-length album, which was released after this final show. At thirty-one I can still mosh around the living room and sing every line to “This Ones for You” while my two-year-old stares, wondering what has gotten into me. I am pretty sure when I am old and in a nursing home there will be complaints that I am rocking out too loud during nap time. No matter how old I get, I will never hang up my boots.
Read our interview with The Trouble’s Gibby Miller here.