Musings and Eats with Mikey

Musing #80
August 7, 2011, 3:22 pm
Filed under: Music, Musing | Tags: , ,

Farewell, Old Friends

A few months back, Rx Bandits announced after 15 or so years, they would be embarking this summer on their farewell tour.  Whether or not this would be the end of the band, was not entirely clear, but surely the band was going to enter into the “hiatus” status (which is often code for, we are breaking up but we want to leave it open ended enough in case we want to get back together at some point) and would not be playing for the foreseeable future.  Though this was sad news, as the world would be losing one of the best live bands playing music today, it did not surprise me, as year after year of relentless touring takes a toll on a band.  Nonetheless, Rx Bandits are one of the few bands that have had a major impact on my life and they will be missed.

My story with Rx Bandits (or “RxB”) starts sometime in 1996 or 1997, and a compilation called “Hey Brother, Can You Spare Me Some Ska” (or at least I think that is what it was called), put out by the now defunct Vegas Records (big ups to Jon).  On that record was a song by a band called the Pharmaceutical Bandits called “Teenage Idol”.  It was the typical ska-punk song of the times, as ska and ska-punk music was the music of the moment in the mid-90’s, and especially in Orange County, CA.  The song was catchy and I took note.  This song would again end up on numerous compilations (the main venue for finding new bands back in those days) and quickly became ingrained in my head, and the head of many others.  Then, I believe in 1998, I caught a glimpse of Pharmaceutical Bandits live at the Ska Against Racism show at Oak Canyon Ranch, but to be honest, I don’t remember much about seeing them at this show.  The first real show of theirs I went was a free show they had at what was then Blockbuster Music in the Irvine Spectrum.  Their first record “Those Damn Bandits” had just been released and they were shooting a music video for “Teen Idol” (a music video that to my knowledge never saw the light of day).  There are two things I remember about this show.  The first was that this was the first time I was ever floated at a show (I think I was probably 12 or 13 years old).  The second was that their performance caused such a ruckus that it ended with people throwing cds off the shelves and stomping all over them and then the store’s manager freaking out, yelling at people, and breaking a plastic cd tower over his knee.  Needless to say, this was the last free show that the Blockbuster Music ever put on (but to be fair, they went out of business pretty shortly after).  I’m going to be honest, the first few times I saw Pharmaceutical Bandits, I wasn’t that impressed.  Their songs were good, but their live show was sloppy.  After this show, I had little intention of buying their record or going to see them anymore.

Back in the mid to late 90’s, in Orange County, there was actually a strong music scene.  Because of this strong music scene, I came across Pharmaceutical Bandits whether I liked it or not, as all the local bands would play all the same shows together.  Luckily for me, this changed my opinion of the band.  As I saw them more, the better and better I saw them become live.  After awhile I was really starting to dig them.  Lucky for me, my friend Dane was the cousin of the sax player, so I was able to get hooked up with a free copy of their first record.  When I finally listened to the first album, I thought it was great and wish I had been on board earlier.  Nonetheless, I was on board now and I continued to see a lot of the band at the local shows.  Eventually, they put out a second record, “Halfway Between Here and There”.  I remember going to the cd release show and the band announcing that Chain Reaction had actually filled the venue beyond capacity for the show.  By this time, they had changed their name to Rx Bandits, and had become a solid live band with good tunes.  They weren’t my favorite band at the time, but I was definitely into the music.   Anyway, the story kind of goes on the same for awhile, as I saw them a bunch, either cause they were playing with bands I wanted to see or because I went to see them.

Then in 2001, the band released “Progress”.  This is when everything changed.  The band started to push music forward and became more than just a Sublime meets the energy of Less Than Jake band.  I started to hear influences of Refused and math rock.  Sure there was less “ska” and “punk”, but they were doing something new and different, and this was exciting to me (as well as many others).  On top of this, they were doing it with precision and with great lyrics.  I recall a time when the record had just come out and the band I was in was driving to the recording studio to record our first album and we were just blasting it all the way to the studio, it definitely pumped us up for the recording session.  This was the point I, as well as some of my friends, started to see RxB every time they were in town.  At this point though, they were a nationally touring band and were playing far less in Orange County.  To that end I remember driving up to the Hollywood Palladium to see them open for New Found Glory, just cause we thought it was cool they were playing such a big venue.

A few more years went by, and right after my freshman year of college, RxB released “the Resignation”.  This album blew me away.  Gone was the ska and the punk, replaced by a sort of post-punk with horns that had amazing lyrical content and melodies, and was completely forward thinking.  Still this remains one of my all time favorite records.  Not only was it a great record, but it was super influential on the music I was making in the band I was playing in.  Also at this time, RxB’s live shows became insane; explosions of sound, great energy, and a new jamming element made their live show a force to be reckoned with.

Basically the story continues in a similar manner.  The band continued to play great shows that were inspiring as a musician, and as a person, and I saw them as much as I could.  They put out two more records, both pushing the envelope musically and doing something new each time.  Though “the Resignation” is still my favorite of their records, “and the Battle Begun” and “Mandala” are both great records that I also love.  Because of this and their live show, which only got better and better (despite losing the horns), I tried to catch the band every time they were in town.  Though my interest in the band has waned slightly in recent years, I still loved going to see them live, as they still put on one of the best live show out there.

Last night I experienced their second to last show (possibly ever), which was at the Glasshouse, their last one being up in San Francisco for some reason (and I also saw them on Wednesday in Long Beach).  For this show, they brought some friends along to play horns and played one of the best sets I have ever seen them play.  It was groovin’, ferocious, happy, and sad, all at the same time.  The band sound amazing and it truly was a great last chance to see them play.

I spent the last 13 or so years of my life being a fan of RxB and I saw the band more than 25 times.  It is rare that I find something so compelling to stick with it this long.  I grew up with this band and it felt like they would always be around.  But all good things must come to an end.  What I take away from this experience is that great music can truly be made without the help of the mainstream music industry if you believe in what you play and continue to push the envelope by challenging yourself in the music you are playing.  But more than the great music and memories of the band, I will take away all the great friendships I have made through their music.  The number of people I have connected with because we both understood what RxB was all about is more than I can count.  I have made great friends because of this band and their music.  Even more so, being in a band that was playing music that had influence from RxB, led us to meet other bands in a small niche that were also playing music influenced by RxB.  These bands became good friends, from many different places, and have made me some great memories.  Some of these friends have also led me to hang out with the RxB guys on occasion (and by hangout I mean, play shows with their side projects or be at the same parties, not that they know me in anyway).  In a small way there was a family of bands that were connected to RxB and we were lucky enough to be on the fringe of this circle (bands like GDB, the Return, Facing New York to name a few).  The point being that this band has fostered a community of people that appreciates a culture of good music and honest things in life.

It has been a great run and I hope to see RxB return some day with something new and exciting (whether it be new projects or more RxB).  If not, it is okay, because the memories and music have already been more than anyone could ever ask of a band.  So with that I say thank you Rx Bandits and farewell.