(L-R) Denny Morrison, Steve "The Boy" Morrison, Marty Lloyd, Steve Hudecek and John Nyman stand together as The Boards in 32 years, still as punk as ever. Photo: Jake Vivori
“What the fuck is that noise?” I’m thinking, as a metallic cacophony erupts from Burt’s stage and spills onto the back patio. I shove my cheap foam earplugs into my ears—I know I’m going to need them for this band—and proceed to investigate. That noise turns out to be Travis Nelson and Ron Ward of Gnawing Suspicion. They’re beating the hell out of some old welding gas cylinders and a steel plate that sits atop a rickety desk. The Salt Lake veteran band is playing dirty, grooving punk, augmented by the crash of metal on metal—“industrial punk” would be a good name for the first half of their set. After a couple of songs, the singer takes a minute to pay his respects to local punk Michael E. Cline, who passed away last week, and dedicates the next song to him. Though this show was already booked prior to Cline’s passing, it has become an impromptu benefit show for Cline’s family. The band plays the uncomfortably fitting “Dead Punkers,” a sad and angsty tribute to the departed. Mr. Ward (whom I seriously think is Ken Sanders for most of the night) saws the edge of the steel plate with a threaded rod with complete concentration and fury. After another of the band’s multiple mid-set lineup changes, they shift gears into straightforward street punk style. One of the guys fires up a metal grinder and jams it into the steel sheet, blasting sparks onto the stage and into the audience. One burst sends sparks my direction, and I’m struck in the face with hot metal. Right in my fucking eye! I back away, make sure I’m not blind, pound my beer so I have a free hand to block the assault, and await more antics. Ward and the other singer are bellowing guttural screams until the start of their last song. The bass player starts pumping out a heavy, gut-tingling dub-style riff, morphing Gnawing Suspicion into an aural cousin of Bad Brains and The Clash. Ward is rocking the keys and Chaos pad, injecting a dose of weirdness and modern style into the dub-punk groove, replete with radical guitar solos.
Next, Avon Calling takes the stage, launching into blistering, classic ’80s punk rock. These are also Salt Lake punk vets who shared stages with the likes of Minor Threat, GBH and Discharge during their heyday in the mid ’80s. Avon Calling shreds with energy and fury—it’s like they are playing Rock Against Reagan all over again, without skipping a beat. I’m just speculating here—I was just a twinkle in my parents’ eyes back then. After a few fast, straightforward songs, the band oozes into a slow and weird Dead Kennedys sound then back to hardcore punk, screaming, “You used to be a punk! And now???” The guys flawlessly play songs from a lifetime ago, each song better than the last as Aldine Strychnine from Gnawing Suspicion dances back and forth in front of the stage. The set ends and I’m left grinning to myself, thoroughly impressed by these punks that are old enough to be my dad. After the set I pay my compliments to singer Jeff Larsen, who says that after only a handful of shows since Avon Calling’s heyday, he’s just glad to be playing and happy to be able to help out Mike Cline’s family. “We’re playing songs that are like 28 years old. We just wanted to get back together to help Mike’s mom,” Larsen says.
The Boards, who are up next, got their start well before Avon Calling, though. These guys were Utah’s first punk band, forming in 1978—the real O.G. SLC punks. Though their original drummer, Mike Anderson, was replaced by Steve Hudecek (aka Stevo/Boot) in the band’s early days, the lineup that’s here tonight includes Denny Morrison on guitar, bassist John Nyman and singer Marty Lloyd (aka Monroe), all members of The Boards back in ’78. John later tells me that this weekend of shows—tonight’s show and the one the previous night in Torrey, Utah—has been the first time the four of them have shared a stage in 32 years.
As these sages of punk rock strap on their guitars and study their set lists, the crowd of two dozen aged rockers (and a couple young punks like myself) watches anxiously, sensing the nervous energy in the bar. The guys haven’t forgotten how to kick ass, though, and they start with some of the oldies—stripped down punk rock n’ fuckin’ roll. Al from Gnawing Suspicion, brimming with excitement (and cheap beer), busts some old school punk dance moves within the crowd in an effort to spark some enthusiasm. We’re all too in awe to move much more than a slight head-bang, though. Even though the band is playing a bit sloppy and subdued, the opportunity to see these local punk originators is all anyone cares about. A few songs in, John hands bass duty to Denny’s brother, Steve (aka The Boy)—The Boy replaced John as bassist in ’79.
Now properly warmed up, the guys rock steady through “You’re So Mean,” “What the Fuck?” and “Into the Future.” Monroe, who looks vaguely like a biker in his wrap-around shades, Hawaiian shirt and cowboy boots, periodically hops off the stage to flail around with his old comrades in the crowd. Now they’re playing “Local Creep,” a classic, upbeat ’70s punk number reminiscent of “White Riot,” and they sound just as good, too. Denny’s repetitious screeching guitar riff is the signal that The Boards are playing the song everyone has been waiting for: “Biohazard”! Stevo, The Boy and Denny are getting sloppy, but giving it all they’ve got, Monroe is barking just as loud as he did back in ’79 and it’s all just unreal—I feel lucky to actually see this happening. Monroe announces the commencement of their last song and Denny starts off with a tricky-sounding riff. Denny fucks it up and stops the band, asking for a re-do. The second time around, they fuck the song up again and start up for a third time. This time, Denny gets it and the boys keep chugging, laughing it off between each other and the crowd. The song wraps up, and Monroe tells us they’ll play one more. After a few seconds of fast, hard rocking, the band stops on a dime. Monroe says into the mic, “Less than ten seconds—now that’s fuckin’ cool!” and just like that, the 32-year reunion is over.
The band is off the stage and milling around the bar, talking with old friends and finishing all the beers that were offered to them on stage. I spot Denny with a cigarette and ask if he wants to go out back and smoke. I grab another beer and we go out to the patio to shoot the shit with John and a couple of the guys from the other bands. “Man, it’s been about 32 years,” says John. “Our last show was in 1980!” I ask Denny why the band broke up. “I went to New York to check it out and never came back,” he says. Both he and John have lived in New York since then with Stevo living in Jersey. According to Denny, Al got the idea for a reunion into his head and Denny said, “Why the hell not?” Denny, Al, The Boy and Mike Kirkland (my long-lost uncle?) all play in the New Evils together, so a Boards reunion made sense. Over the next few beers, Denny reminisces about seeing Dick Dale play back in the day and lets on that The Boards have been writing songs and hope to do some recording in the future. While chatting with Denny, John and a bunch of their old comrades, the film SLC Punk (which appears to be based on this group of dudes and their friends) unavoidably gets brought up. The guys feign outrage, laughingly dismissing it as inaccurate—they say the movie mixed all of them up into the wrong characters. Not wanting to be goaded into drinking even one more beer, I thank my punk elders for their hospitality and for being bad asses. They graciously return the gratitude and I make my way down State Street, honored to have been schooled by the original SLC punks.
To catch up on some old-school punk action, visit myspace.com/TheBoardsOfUtah and check out Avon Calling at Liquid Joe’s on Friday, Sept. 7 with Victims Willing and others TBA.