A music scene is lucky to have a room that serves as its training ground, proving ground, breeding ground, epicenter, and clubhouse.
In my tenure in the Washington, D.C., alternative independent hardcore arts and lifestyle community, I’ve seen a few such spaces emerge.
In the earliest of the 2000s, the Kaffa House was that place. In 2010, the Corpse Fortress was D.C.’s underground sanctuary for the wild and free. And between the heydays of those venues there were a few years where the best, most consistent, and most welcoming venue for the kids, the vets, the curious, and the freaks was the U-Turn.
Down the block from the large and popular Ethiopian restaurant Dukem and across the road from the historic jazz venue Bohemian Caverns, the U-Turn was an Ethiopian restaurant at the corner of 11th and U Streets, in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., USA.
The U-Turn was a chill, slightly shabby Ethiopian restaurant with a small bar and a medium-sized performance space on its second floor. The U-Turn hosted all kinds of events in that medium-sized room, and from 2002 to 2006 weekly hardcore shows at the U-Turn were booked, promoted, and refereed by Johnny Bones and a rotating lineup of Bones’ friends and other members his band, the Screws.
I made more of the most important friendships I currently cling to inside of that weird venue above U Street than anywhere else in the world. And one of the many friendships that began in that usually cool, often funny, and occasionally violent mid-size room was the one that I formed with Trey Gares from the Unabombers — a band that was a consistent force in the Norfolk / Virginia Beach region for more than 20 years.
Trey was influential in keeping his scene exciting and full of life. He booked the shows, he played the shows, he supported the bands, and he was a promotional machine, too. He wanted the world to know about his band, but he also wanted the world to know about his scene.
Trey Gares was an excellent ambassador for his scene.
I probably played around 30 shows with Trey in the years between the U-Turn’s demise and 2018. I remember those shows, and I also remember the phone calls and emails where we talked about everything under the sun. I remember his smile, which always seemed impossibly large. I remember the hundreds of times that we hugged. I remember his annual birthday party (and Unabombers’ anniversary show). I remember the shows that Trey booked for bands that he loved as musicians and the shows that he booked for bands that he loved as people.
Over the years, the weekend around Trey’s birthday became a consistent event, party, and holiday in the eyes of many of our friends. Those of us who lived in the Baltimore / Washington area started to refer to our annual trip four or five hours south as our “Epic Beach Weekend.”
What I took for granted is that the most epic part of those weekends was spending time with my friend who I will never see again.
I am far from alone in the feelings I’m experiencing and I know that there are people who knew Trey much better and loved him even more, and I can’t imagine the hole in their hearts and in their lives.
His wife and family and other loved ones; his bandmates; his closest cronies, aides, and accomplices: My entire heart goes out to them.
And my heart goes out to the music scene down there, because they lost a giant, a fact that was evident in Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday, June 8th, 2019, when we gathered to celebrate Trey’s life and his friendship.
We gathered to dance and drink and sing and scream and cry in his honor.
We gathered to celebrate the life of a better person than most of us.
One of the things that really hit me in the chest that day came as soon as we arrived at the venue, because for once Trey wasn’t running around at a thousand miles an hour making sure every last detail was perfect — making sure that everyone had everything they could possibly need, that the gear was back-lined and ready to go, that everyone knew all the important information about the venue, area, the plan for the evening and the plan for the implementation of the plan for the evening, etc.
There could be no failure at the Unabombers’ Anniversary Show, and watching Trey demonstrate the importance of the event through his energy, skill, and attention to detail was a reliable part of the experience for me.
These annual celebrations were probably the most stressed I ever saw him get, because those shows meant a lot to him.
Every year Trey left our mysterious pre-show ritual (of drinking beer and playing in the water) hours before everyone else in order to arrive at the venue and get to work.
I don’t want to say I took any pleasure in seeing him stress out (I kind of did), but it was simply part of the experience, and one that I noticed the first year and every other time that I made the trip.
For what it’s worth, this year the staff at the Taphouse Grille took care of everything in a way that would have made Trey proud. When it was time for Chainbreaker to take the stage, everything was right except for the one enormous thing that wasn’t.
Chainbreaker is a Virginia Beach hardcore band I’d never seen before, but I talked to Trey about them just a few weeks ago.
Trey was excited for me to see them and now I understand why.
Chainbreaker is an extremely tight and aggressive band that had the whole room going nuts. Their set reminded me of those mid-’90s hardcore bands that seemed impossibly big. Chainbreaker put on a great, high-energy show and their music put the audience through all the paces (brutal breakdowns where the whole room acts up, fun little two-step parts where the whole room acts up, fast parts where the whole room acts up).
Despite everything good that was going on inside the venue, my favorite part of their set occurred when I smoked a cigarette outside the front door and watched a really young kid wearing super-cute hearing protection earmuffs straight THROWING DOWN to this band. I hope that she has a mirror in her nursery so she can practice hardcore dancing at home. She is going to be scary in the pit in like 17 years. Watch out, punks of the future: This girl is going to spin-kick your whole life. I hope Chainbreaker provides the soundtrack to that event.
God bless the Taphouse staff for all their hard work behind the bar, running sound, and doing security (which primarily consisted of a) ensuring that people paid a cover, and b) stopping drunk people from destroying themselves by tripping over the yellow caution tape surrounding the outside area where people holding drinks were allowed to stand). These people were busting their asses (not the drunk people, the staff), and the sound was pro, as anyone can tell from the millions of Facebook videos from the show where you can hear everything clearly (as opposed to most phone videos from a show, which sound like both the person recording the show and the person listening to that recording swallowed their cell phones).
By the end of the night the bar was sold out of most of the popular beer and liquor selections. I’m glad that the bar’s owners and employees did well, because they certainly did well by us.
Like No Tomorrow is a band that really benefited from the venue’s conscientious approach. I’ve known LNT for years and count them as friends and have watched and listened to them in a wide variety of environments. When the room sounds good, LNT sounds great.
When you play fast and awesome skate-punk and the sound is on-point the proof is in the pit, which is why Trey Gares used to run around the way he did for all those years.
LNT played a set that had a good mix of songs I know well and newer songs which (outside of the songs off the new album that they made videos for) I’m less familiar with. “Skate Rat’s Revenge” and “Grand Delusion” are two standout new songs that I do know, and at this venue they sounded like a million bucks.
One part of Trey’s legacy was visible during LNT’s set: The crowd was a whirlwind of punk rockers and hardcore kids running in a circle laughing and beating each other silly, as Trey intended.
Earlier in the night, when I first saw my buddy Ray Tomorrow (from Like No Tomorrow), I tried to greet him and he walked right past me! I even reached out and kind of grabbed him and tapped his back after he was past me and still — no response.
At that point I realized that I’d recently shaved off a probably seven-year-old beard and was now walking around Norfolk like a bald-faced goon. Therefore, many of these people had never previously witnessed my mug in all of its horrible glory!
When I finally did grab Ray and make him aware of my presence he responded by gesturing toward my face and saying, “I don’t like this.”
Even though Ray is not good at recognizing people or disguising disgust, his bandmates Matt and Kevin recognized me and did not seem disgusted and that is enough to insure a good show review, because LNT is bona fide.
During all the years that the Unabombers were a band the thing that struck the most important chord with me was that no matter how much the music mattered — and it really did — what mattered even more to them were the relationships they formed with other musicians which over the years grew into true friendships.
The Unabombers didn’t just sit around playing the same few bars in their local area like most bands do. They went all over, played their hearts out, and made friends damn-near everywhere they went.
And then they made sure that their new friends had opportunities to play good shows with other cool bands when they wanted to play Norfolk / Virginia Beach.
And then the guys in the Unabombers made sure that these new friends were taken care of in every way when they played those shows.
That was what Trey was about.
All of which is relevant to the next band, MAAFA, which is a really impressive afro-progressive (“af-gressive”) hardcore band out of New York City fronted by one of my favorite humans on earth — and which is also a band that traveled a huge distance just to play one cool show at a pretty nondescript bar in a small city in honor of Trey.
Flora Lucini grew up in the Maryland suburbs of D.C. and met Trey at the U-Turn when she was still in middle school.
Over the dozen or so years since the U-Turn transformed from a cool and kind of enigmatic Ethiopian restaurant to a bland and generic bar (with a different name) for bland and generic people (with different backgrounds), Trey was there for Flora as an older friend and positive influence, and Flora credits him with helping instill the values she picked up as a teenager and built upon as an adult.
Trey was one of Flora’s biggest cheerleaders and part of her support system of “punk rock elders,” and Flora referred to him as “Uncle Trey” for as long as I can remember.
These days Flora has left the many D.C.-based af-gressive bands of her youth in the past and moved to New York City (and before that, she studied at Berklee College of Music, in Boston), and she has surrounded herself with New York-based musicians of a very high caliber.
MAAFA performs music that has fury, toughness, and aggression, but is also so thick with groove and talent that you find yourself standing there, amazed.
Flora and the rest of MAAFA laid down a really impressive set that was interspersed with Flora talking about her relationship with Trey over the years. As someone who bore witness to some of that relationship in real time, it was very emotional.
Flora’s set was probably the hardest and also the most cathartic part of the evening for me.
The Unabombers were a band for 23 years.
In the world of punk (and in the world of many other things) that is remarkable longevity.
23 years of making friends.
23 years of helping make their friends better people.
23 years of laughing.
23 years of that smile.
Another thing that has been consistent for those 23 years is the tenacious existence of the Screws, D.C.’s most reliable too-punk-for-D.C. D.C. punk band.
The Screws closed out the show in Trey’s honor in their usual style: fast, intoxicated, funny, and fun.
I’m so thankful for the network of friendships and even kinships that have been forged by the Screws during their shows at the U-Turn (and a lot of other places, too).
Some people try to write the Screws off as a “joke band” (and a lot of their songs and antics, as well as certain aspects of their presentation, definitely are comical) but, overall, they are very serious about their music.
Ultimately, the funniest thing about the Screws is probably that they are a joke band that is still better and cooler than your band!
There are a bunch of different things about the Screws that make them noteworthy in the history of D.C. punk, but one of the most important things about the Screws that doesn’t get talked about as much is their dedication to fostering a place where everybody belongs.
Let’s be honest: The D.C. punk-rock scene can be really snobby, especially if you don’t look the right way or aren’t fluent in the right lingo.
A lot of people talk about diversity and inclusivity, and the ones who chant about those types of things the most are usually the ones who host the least-diverse and least-inclusive events.
Back in the U-Turn era I used to hear at least one Screw repeat the slogan “Don’t talk about it — be about it.”
Well, I don’t think I’ve heard the Screws discuss the importance of “diversity” or “inclusion,” but the band’s shows (and especially their shows at the U-Turn) brought together some of the most alarmingly diverse crowds I will ever see.
The shows at the U-Turn attracted a mixed crowd of all races and walks of life (criminals, people of the street, neurotic outsiders, cool insiders, teenagers, college students, blue-collar workers, furtively upwardly mobile professionals, downwardly mobile professionals, military veterans, Chino, a hippie who kicked me in the face, a huge janitor who accidentally tossed me across the room, people with “good” politics, people with suspiciously ambiguous politics, people with complex politics, people with insane politics, people really into the politics of personal responsibility, people adamantly against politics, hard mofos, chill mamajamas, straight bamas, ne’er-do-wells, creeps, cads, scallywags, single-issue voters, patriots, enviros, nihilists, bald people, etc.).
United, we all laughed at the Screws’ singer.
I once brought a very nice, talented, and sane lady to a Screws show and tried to get her to write an article about the experience.
She never finished the article, but she did write this memorable introduction: “Before I entered the bar to see ‘the Screws’ I knew that the show would be loud, smelly, and white. I was pleased to discover that it was only one of those things.”
(It was loud.)
The Screws have given us many things over the years: lifelong pals, wild memories of nights good and bad, and a nearly complete memorization of the lyrics to a Screws’ set.
Yes, naysayers will harp on the fact that the Screws’ setlist has remained remarkably consistent over the years, but the Screws’ fans know that this is only because they already wrote good songs. How many really good songs does one band need? It is very kind of the Screws to leave some cool songs unwritten, for the other bands to use.
Also, the Screws’ steadfast refusal to alter their setlist in the face of changing trends is yet another thing that makes them more punk than you.
That night in Norfolk the Screws played pretty much everything I’d heard many times before, yet still wanted to hear again, and the crowd sang along at the top of their lungs, sweaty and tired and covered in beer.
Trey and the guys in the Screws were similar in many ways and it’s obvious why he gravitated toward this weird group of dedicated punk rockers that has employed about 100 different guitarists over its long history.
After the show was over a lot of us stayed at the venue laughing, crying, and remembering our friend Trey, a friend who I probably didn’t deserve.
He was the real deal. He was a man who passed away suddenly and left us with a million memories, a million smiles, a million laughs, and a million hugs. He was a man who left us with a hole in our lives, but also with a blueprint for how to be a better person.
Thank you for everything — even for yelling at me for fucking up (maybe especially for yelling at me for fucking up).
I will miss you forever, Trey Gares.
— By Dave Poole