I was on a solo tour this spring playing a show at a coffee shop in Seattle when I first heard talk of an A.K.s comeback show.
A.K.s guitarist Justin Parker had come to the show, we hung out a bit, and he mentioned that someone in D.C. was trying to get all of the original members of the A.K.s in the same place for some kind of a reunion show. I commented that they’d never technically broken up, and he agreed. He said, “It’d be more of a comeback show.” Instinctively I quoted LL Cool J, and said, “Don’t call it a comeback.” Justin laughed and asked me if I thought it was a good idea. I told him, “I don’t know if it’s a good idea or not, but if it’s happening, you better believe the Max Levine Ensemble is playing.”
Maybe two days later I got a “Facebook invitation” to an “event” titled “(don’t call it a) COMEBACK SHOW featuring THE A.K.S!!”
Although I hadn’t actually asked my bandmates, the Max Levine Ensemble was listed as an opening band.
Before getting to the show review, I’d like to dig a bit into the history of the A.K.s.
By all accounts, the A.K.s pummeled into the DC punk scene to strikingly little fanfare in 2001.
Early on, their maniacal performances featured profound lyrics such as “I wanna kick it!” “I don’t wanna do anything!” and “I hate everything!” They were met with a lot of blank stares. I heard multiple stories of them performing at high school talent shows and being kicked offstage or even out of the school. Their singers, Noah Foster and Alexi Peterson, would end up thrashing into the audience, wrapping microphone chords around each other’s limbs and wrestling one another to floor.
I can’t count the number of times this behavior cleared the room.
I remember watching them play a show at Fort Reno in 2001, debuting the song “Money” – to which the only lyrics were, “We want your money / Give us your money,” repeated for a minute and a half – and thinking, “Is this band joking, or are they serious?”
In spite of the initial lackluster responses their performances garnered, the A.K.s worked to book shows at many classic D.C. venues such as the Kaffa House, the Death Star, the Electric Maid, the U-Turn, the Black Cat, Garybird’s parent’s basement.
Though “Are they serious?” probably crossed the mind of everyone who saw them, more and more people became aware of the irrelevance of that question and learned to embrace the sheer punk genius the A.K.s tapped into.
With the lyrics “I love divorce court! / Fuck divorce court! / But I really hate the Redskins! /Yeah! Yeah! / The Eagles are better! / Yeah! Yeah! / Fuck the Redskins!” the A.K.s’ song “Divorce Court” became a non-sequitur-filled anthem for D.C. punks.
Many D.C. bands would take “Divorce Court” as their own anthem for years to come, and it was common at their later shows for audience members to force the band to play the song two or three times in a set, before the audience took over the instruments altogether and played it once or twice more.
As the members of the A.K.s went off to pursue colleges and careers, their tenure as a D.C. punk band seemed to wind down without much ado.
Many of the shows they played from 2005-2007 featured members of the Max Levine Ensemble filling in on bass or drums.
Famously, at their last scheduled show, only Justin showed up, and instead of the A.K.s playing, members of the Max Levine Ensemble lip-synched to an A.K.s CD playing over the P.A., and then, before anyone knew what had happened, they were gone: A myth of D.C. punk’s past … until September 3rd 2011.
Credit is due to Robin Zeijlon of the new D.C. punk band Guilty for coming up with this crazy idea and inviting the A.K.s back for a show.
The show was held at St. Stephen’s Church in the sanctuary. Honestly, the setting was a little strange for a punk show. The high ceilings made for less than optimal acoustics, and though a good number of people turned out, it felt sparse in the giant room.
Guilty, The Overprivileged, the Max Levine Ensemble, and Supreme Commander all opened the show, and all gave spirited performances. Especially noteworthy was the Overprivileged reunion – another blast from the past – featuring Scott Pasch’s always endearing drumming style – that is, he nearly fell off the drum stool just about every song. One of the opening bands covered “Divorce Court,” by the A.K.s.
The main event was clear to everyone once the A.K.s took the stage. Since they’d stopped playing shows their reputation had grown. Much of the crowd had never gotten a chance to see them before.
The tension was thick as we waited. Watching them pick up their instruments, there was a clear sense of triumph simply at having them all in the same room again.
Any awkwardness that the space may have caused disappeared as the crowd collapsed into chaos and the A.K.s ripped into their classic opener, “Save D.C.”
It was clear that the band had prepared for the show (this is maybe the first time I can honestly say that). They plowed through songs like “Lazy,” “Kick It,” “I Hate,” “The Balance of Power,” and “Bite the Wound” with an intensity I’d never seen before.
Likewise, the crowd reacted unlike any I’d seen before. Sure, later in their career the A.K.s played to some enthusiastic crowds, but never to a chorus of 50-100 kids screaming “Bite the wound! … Bite it! Bite it!”
It was the A.K.s show I’d always wanted to see.
They even debuted a never-before-played song, “One False Move,” which you can also listen to on facebook.com/DestroyTheAKs.
During the song “Punishment” (unauthorized music video here), Black Cat bouncer and well known local badass Rio Grande may have fallen on his drunk ass running around with me on his back.
The band tried to close the show with “Divorce Court,” but the crowd kept chanting for more and forced the A.K.s to do a couple of numbers they seemed not to have rehearsed – “Liberty” and “Mutiny” – to an enthusiastic response.
Once the band had clearly exhausted their material they announced the end of their set, which was met with a rousing chant of “I love divorce court! / Fuck divorce court!”
Shamefully, A.K.s drummer Ben “Tall Guy” Richardson disassembled his kick drum pedal to demonstrate that they wouldn’t be doing a repeat performance of “Divorce Court.”
At this point, various audience members rushed the stage and started playing their own rendition of “Divorce Court” sans kick drum. The entire time Tall Guy continued to disassemble the set, while various fans were still playing it. By the end of their second round through the song, the person playing drums was down to just a snare drum, but the adrenaline of the A.K.s show hadn’t worn off and even after all the equipment had been broken down, the audience continued through one more version of “Divorce Court,” this time a cappella.
The pure insanity of the moment was a completely appropriate ending for the first A.K.s show in years.
If you missed this show – or if you missed any of the A.K.s’ shows – shame on you, but rest assured, after the success of their comeback show, there was much talk of an annual A.K.s event, so you may have your chance yet.
Until then, I highly recommend that you seek out their back catalog, and get studying. Either way, in the words of the A.K.s: “If you are not punished … You will be punished!”