Slip into a dark, smoke-filled portion of punk rock history with a 17-song live performance by the RKL of 1989, just before their first of several breakups, and arguably at their peak as a band. This 52-minute set took place on May 12, 1989, in Eindhoven, Holland at a squat-turned-venue called De Effenaar and represents the 10th installment of Fat Wreck Chords’ “Live in a Dive” series.
Michael “Fat Mike” Burkett of NOFX started the Fat Wreck Chords label with Erin Burkett in 1990 with the goal of signing exclusively punk bands. The label grew to be a success – they have released around 157 albums and currently have 49 active artists signed. The label started its “Live in a Dive” series in 2001 and has since released live albums by punk royalty acts such as Bracket, Sick of it All, Swingin’ Utters, Strung Out, Lagwagon, and NOFX.
RKL, which is short for Rich Kids on LSD, were formed in Montecito, California in 1982, their name derived from an insult. According to vocalist Jason Sears in a 2002 interview with Thrasher magazine, “some guy” claimed their band would never amount to anything and they were “just a bunch of rich kids on LSD.”
Their story is steeped in the usual punk rock lore – drugs, alcohol, starving in vans, revolving band members plagued by parental groundings and moves, performing while injured – and features numerous side characters, including their happenstance mascot “Beanie Boy,” born of a Dan Sites sketch. Fittingly, Sites’ depiction of Beanie Boy is featured on the Live in a Dive cover artwork twice.
By the time of their 1989 tour, the band’s lineup consisted of vocalist Jason Sears, guitarists Chris Rest and Allen “Alpo” Duncan, bassist Joe Raposo, and drummer Richard “Bomer” Manzullo, with Manzullo doing the majority of the songwriting. They had just released 1987’s Rock N Roll Nightmare – still lauded as a masterpiece of west coast hardcore – that incorporated elements of metal and progressive rock, which was unheard of at the time.
Rock N Roll Nightmare is cited as a seminal album by many punk artists in the ’80s and ‘90s and is even credited with facilitating the pop-punk explosion of the ‘90s. “This record is a landmark,” Fat Mike said of the album, “I realize that after all these years of touring and recording my band still can’t pull off any of this.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day described Manzullo as an “insane drummer” and references his musical abilities as an example of the under-appreciated talent present in the punk rock scene. Some punks have even credited Manzullo with coming up with the now-standard punk rock drum beat. RKL have inspired so many artists that Brooklyn Vegan author Andrew Sacher referred to them as “your favorite band’s favorite band,” adding that “in a just world they would’ve been way bigger.”
But in 1989, they were just reckless kids having fun on tour overseas. Live in a Dive presents this RKL – youthful punks playing their hearts out and living their dream. The album opens with the cheers of an excited crowd before launching immediately into fast-tempo guitar riffs, frying vocals, on-point bass throbs, and drums played so fast it borders on unbelievable (Armstrong is right – definitely “insane”). This continues without pause for the entire nearly one-hour set, which features many songs off of their then recently released Rock N Roll Nightmare.
Listen to an audio video of “Scab on My Brain” along with a slideshow of old school photos here:
Between songs, Sears banters about acid trip musings, shares anecdotes about police raids, and claims silence is “one of their good songs.” He introduces “Scab on My Brain” with complete nonchalance, saying, “let’s try a little bit of a fast one now.” Before “Life in a Bottle,” he tells the crowd, “Although we aren’t a straight edge band, we don’t believe in hard drug use – but nobody wants to hear preaching anyhow so here’s a song.” The endearing banter really creates the feeling that you’ve hopped in a DeLorean and attended this show. Sears designates at least four songs as their last song, almost as if no one wanted the show to end.
And yet, sadly, the show did end. Shortly after this performance, the band experienced creative differences exacerbated by drug use and inevitably broke up, its members moving on to other projects. The long-awaited RKL reunion never came, as Manzullo died of drug-related heart failure in December 2005 and Sears died just over a month later in January 2006 while attempting a detox treatment in Mexico.
But when former bassist Raposo listens to Live in a Dive, he hears him and his friends in their prime. “This definitely brings back the excitement of those days,” he says, “even the rough times, which were harsh, were still exciting. Dealing with the escalation of heavy drug use was not fun and [was] taking a toll on the members not participating. But listening to this album also brings back all of the wonderful memories of the fun we had on the road.”
He goes on to say, “we were all really young and just going for it. We were in our teens and early twenties and we were literally having the best time of our lives together, you know? It was like live fast, die young, and make a beautiful corpse.”
This installment of Live in a Dive captures a profound moment in Raposo’s life – and in punk rock history. “So, what I really love about this record,” Raposo explains, “is that I can always play it and hear my friends playing and me playing with my friends, hearing us all play together, and sharing that love on stage with one another. That’s the best thing ever,” he concludes, “It’s a great memorial.”
This album basically functions as a DeLorean. So, hop in and travel 33 years back in time to one helluva show!
The 10th installment of Live in a Dive featuring RKL is out now via Fat Wreck Chords.
Purchase the album here.
Recommended for all fans of punk and anyone who wants to feel like they’re at a party for an hour!