Thirty years since the pinnacle of punk rock, and that infamous fire that burned so hot was followed by decades of perversion, imitation and cultural interpretation. Through the many casualties of the genre, the raucous energy of those early live shows has been the gravest loss. Until now. Luis Illades, the man behind the kick-drum of formative punk band the Avengers and seminal queer-rockers, Pansy Division, returns this week with both bands as part of one of the fall’s most anticipated reunions. The prospect of propelling two ferociously high-energy bands back-to-back, night after night for a month doesn’t phase him one bit. “I’ve actually done six sets in twenty-four hours before. To be able to do this on tour is a blessing—so many musicians never get to play out of their hometown.”
Recruited by the Avengers during a shared bill years ago, the drummer has his roots in San Francisco queer-core outlet, Pansy Division—a group with a reputation for relentlessly raunchy lyricism, writhing undertones of social awareness and an affinity for wailing circles around the hetero-rock sect. Although Alternative Tentacles released the thirty-one-track/DVD retrospective “The Essential Pansy Division” early last year and four tracks have already been laid for an upcoming record, it’s been four years since the band was on tour. Leagues of queer-associated acts hit the scene in the early nineties, although none toured as hard, recorded as much or carried the spirit with the gusto of Pansy Division. “There’s been a really strong queer female movement,” Illades explains, “but I’m surprised that no one has taken the torch from us.”
As one of the few women in the early punk movement, Avengers vocalist Penelope Houston also had a heavy hand in shaping that Riot Grrrl offshoot, but the band’s legacy is firmly embedded within its message. “A lot of the lyrics from Avengers songs are more timely now than they were before,” Illades says. Indeed, when faced with defining the current state of the union, the ever-wielding face of American patriotism and an invasive government’s over-reaching hand, early Avengers tidbits like “It’s the American in me, says it’s an honor to die in a war that’s just a politician’s lie,” and “Ask not what you can do for your country, what’s your country been doing to you?” couldn’t be more apropos.
Although this is their first nationwide tour, recent years have seen the Avengers play for select American cities, headline two European tours and close out CBGB’s. This isn’t your typical reunion bravado—Illades stresses that neither band is content to just go through the motions. “This is an organic event that’s very much alive—rather than a band just stomping through their old catalogue.” (K. Tighe)
Avengers and Pansy Division play October 20 at Reggies Rock Club, 2105 South State, (312)949-0120, at 7pm. $12.