The endlessly storied 1980's hardcore scene based around Washington DC is a topic I spent a good deal of time obsessing over during my formative years as a fan of the weirdo music. Every rotten generation has musical saving graces of one sort or another, and being a dispossessed and underachieving teenager while Government Issue, Scream, Shudder to Think, Beefeater, Soul Side, and a then-new group called Fugazi (click any band name to stream songs in Real Audio from the WFMU archives) were doing their thing is something that I still feel pretty fortunate for, given that most of my peers seemed eerily satisfied with the flaccid metal and pantywaist pop of that same era.
In 1984, I'd only been to DC once (with my parents, on vacation) but a handful of years later, I could rattle off two dozen miniscule bands, the names of the clubs they played at, what bands the members had been in previously, and all sorts of other esoteric crap that probably contributed to my nearly flunking out of school several times prior to graduation. It's a pretty typical phenomenom, actually, and I can sense a few of you shaking your heads right now with the recognition.
Always being the sort that was drawn to the outsider amongst the outsiders, one DC band that has remained a source of immense joy for me so many years later is Kingface. Although they performed alongside all the fabled bands who propelled the Dischord record label to international prominence as a premier source of underground rock music, Kingface was neither A.) a hardcore band, or B.) part of Dischord's roster of bands.
Weirder still, Kingface played -- what is upon multiple inspection -- music undeniably akin to hard rock. (Click here to stream Real Audio of Kingface performing "Dirty Wings".) Big riffs, guitar solos, pick slides, wailing frontman -- the works. And aside from being ace songwriters, what made them truly unique is that they approached that sound with the do-it-yourself aesthetic of their pals in punk bands. Effectively stripped of the baggage of their corporate rock non-brethren, Kingface's existence exposed those who practiced the MTV method for the lightweights they truly were. They released two brilliant records: the self-titled "black record" (years before Metallica pulled that same trick) and the "Everywhere You Look" EP on the European Konkurrel label. Their music also had a fist-in-the-air fuck-yeah! factor that went miles off the meter, and has aged more stylishly than a lot of other efforts from that era. Moreover, they never felt it was beyond their reach to close a show with an encore of Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love". Party with me, Punker? You ain't just whistlin' dixie, pal.
America at large didn't notice them, of course, and most of the hardcore kids didn't get it either, but within that musical community, Kingface earned some diehard fans who appreciated their unique voice in a universe of screaming bald heads and songs about Reagan. They addressed the political in no less an urgent voice than their peers, but with a very different sense of methodology and discipline. And they had a harmonica intro in one of their songs. (Click here to stream Real Audio of Kingface performing "Crawl into Tomorrow" from the WFMU archives.)
Over the years, my appreciation for Kingface continued to grow (weirdly, since my general taste in music drifted further away from rock & roll), culminating in two events which I remain enormously proud of:
In 1997, Kingface played a reunion gig at the (now-defunct) Brownies nightclub in New York City. At that same time, I was the co-editor of a zine that I like to think was part of some sort of last hurrah for NYC zine culture (it was shortly after we quit publishing that most of our publishing contemporaries either did the same or went online), so the co-editor and I arranged for an interview with Kingface frontman Mark Sullivan, which appeared in the 5th issue. Mark offered some great perspective on the origins of the band, as well as some fantastic stories from his own musical beginnings, including tales from the Teen Idles' (featuring future members of Minor Threat and Youth Brigade) 1980 tour of California, for which he roadied.
About six years later, thanks to the miracle of Google, I hooked up via email with Kingface axeman Patrick Bobst and after swapping some appreciative recollections of the band, he rewarded me with an incredible recording of Kingface recorded live-off-the-board at Washinton DC's 9:30 Club, in 1988. I aired the entirety of this paint-peeling recording on my December 16th, 2003 radio show, and then engaged in a great on-air chat with Pat, the course of which revealed yet more stories from their existence, but with the benefit of some historical perspective. You can stream the Real Audio of my conversation with Pat by clicking here.
The archive of that radio show has, since 2003, generated more email for me than any other special program or live broadcast I've ever done. Usually, the emails are from people who echo the above sentiment in some way -- that Kingface's anomaly status had earned them a special place in the collective memory of those around at the time. And that was usually followed up with a desperate plea for a CD copy of the recording, since WFMU's only permanent record was the 20k Real Audio archive. With full permission of Mark Sullivan (vocals), Larry Colbert (drums), Andy Rapoport (bass), and Patrick Bobst (guitar) I am pleased and honored to now offer the full performance in the form of these thirteen MP3s of Kingface recorded live off-the-board at Washington DC's 9:30 Club, 1988.
Right-click each song title to download: Life Keeps Getting Longer -- I Don't Want to be Anything -- My Only Sin -- Lullabye -- Joy and Poison -- Body is Your Mind -- Crawl into Tomorrow -- Lick the Moon -- Dirty Water Come -- Words Taste Good -- Everywhere you Look -- Read my Back -- Ain't Talkin 'bout Love
Kingface packed it up about a year after this show was played, reforming only the one time mentioned above to play a handful of shows, and to record a 7" for the Akashic book publisher/record label, which is still available here. The two 12"s were re-issued on CD by Amanda MacKaye sometime in the late 90s, but that disc is sadly out of print along with the original EPs. The band members have all gone on to other projects, musical and otherwise. Mark Sullivan did extensive touring with Fugazi, performed with his brother Bobby (of Soul Side) in the group Sevens, and wrote a book called "Jonah Sees Ghosts", which you can read the first chapter of and/or buy here. He is currently a webmaster and tech-columnist for intrust.org and ivillage.com. Larry Colbert may or may not own a drum kit anymore, and is a museum specialist at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, in Washington DC. Patrick Bobst can be found these days hanging out with his family, occasionally lecturing me on the merits and virtues of Led Zeppelin's "Achilles' Last Stand", and playing in a band called Spare Jane. Andy Rapoport is in the Evil Apple, still rocking out with Hoy, who play around town quite frequently and attract multitudes of beautiful 30ish women to their shows.
Ladies and Gentlemen, give it up for King Face.