Column 65 — The past and present punchy…

Category: Blog — @ 1:10 pm February 23, 2006

So I’m just getting started talking to Bob Thornton during our interview at Blue Line and we’re running through the bands he was in and he mentions Culture Fire. I’d forgotten about Culture Fire, than realized that I recognized Bob from the one time I saw that band at the Howard St. Tavern. I mention it to him and he remembers the show, which must have been 13 or 14 years ago. Tell me if I’m getting this wrong, but didn’t you guys call Simon Joyner up on stage to do a number? Sure enough, Bob says Joyner came on stage and did a punk rock version of “Song for D. Boon.” I remember sitting there listening that night and thinking that Joyner’s folk songs are really just punk songs sung solo with an acoustic guitar. The scene back then was The Howard St. before it became The Capitol which crossed the Cog Factory, Bob said, adding that they always had problems playing at the Howard St. because of noise complaints. “And I liked really loud bass amps,” Thornton said.

The rest of the interview is pretty much in the column. Except the part about how music was something he and big brother Bill shared growing up. “We both love it and both have an extremely wide range music we like. It’s probably weird to find two brothers that love Buck Owens and Slayer and anything in between.”

In addition to Past Punchy and the Present, Saturday’s show at The 49’r also includes Midwest Dilemma and The Ointments. Who knows what’ll happen after that.

Column 65: Band of Brothers
Past Punchy keeps it in the family
The Brothers Thornton are at it again.

What they’re up to is the same thing they’ve been up to on and off since the mid-’90s — playing music the way they want to. And to be honest with you, I don’t think they really give a damn if you’re listening or not.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. Bob Thornton contacted me about writing this column weeks ago. He wanted the press in hopes of drawing a crowd to this Saturday’s Past Punchy and the Present gig at The 49’r. He wants it noisy. He wants it riotous. He wants his drummer to be distracted from the matter at hand.

“Usually I don’t do this sort of thing,” Bob said over Americanas at The Blue Line last week. “But I really want our first show to be big and packed, because when you get even 60 people at the Niner it’s a madhouse and you don’t care anymore. This is the first show Bill will be playing drums, and if no one’s paying attention, that would be a good thing for him.”

Fat chance of that happening.

Methinks the majority of people will be at the Niner Saturday night just to see and hear Bill Thornton on stage again, even if he’s playing drums instead of bass or guitar. There are those of us who fondly remember seeing him sling guitar licks next to Gary Dean Davis and Joe Kobjerowski as part of the legendary Omaha tractor-punk band Frontier Trust. But if we’re gonna go back, let’s go back all the way.

Bob and Bill (or Will, depending on who you are) first played together in a little band called Bamboozle way back in ’91. Bob had been playing in bands since he got a guitar after graduating from Millard North. No, he’s not a product of suburban West Omaha. He spent most of his childhood in Saudi Arabia, where his father was a member of the Corp of Engineers. By the time his family moved back to the U.S.A., big brother Bill was already living in Nashville. Bill didn’t make it to Omaha until he was 26 and Bob was 20.

Beyond Bamboozle, Bob kept busy playing in punk band Say No More (which later became Clayface) and in noise band Culture Fire. He also performed solo as Past Punchy, a name that came to him after a co-worker commented on his grouchy demeanor working late nights. “She said I was punchy,” Bob said. “I said I was past punchy.” Purveyors of rare Omaha recordings will find Past Punchy listed along with such acts as Vic Chestnutt, The Mountain Goats, The Bruces and Conor Oberst on the 1994 You and What Army? compilation tape released by Sing! Eunuchs.

But it was in Bamboozle that the two brothers first played together, debuting at the old Lift Ticket Lounge in Benson. That band didn’t last long. And despite touring and critical acclaim, neither did Frontier Trust, which dissolved in the mid-’90s when Bill took off to Manhattan. Bob spent the next few years drifting from band to band. “And then at one point, I sold everything I owned, all my musical equipment,” Bob said. “It was around ’96 or ’97. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I lost this drive I used to have. I thought other people should be using my gear. Now I’m sorry I did it.”

It wasn’t until three years ago that he picked up an acoustic guitar again and started writing pop songs. He quickly realized how much he missed playing and joined the short-lived old-school punk band Carmine with Marc Phillips. Shortly afterward, Bill, who had moved back to Omaha after living in Portland, told Bob that he wanted to learn to play drums. “I was already putting together another band and had a drum kit set up downstairs,” Bob said.

So with friends Kyle Harvey, Reagan Roeder and Alex McManus, Past Punchy and The Present was born. Fans of the brothers’ past adventures will recognize the classic Thornton style — messy and honest, loud and brash, with plenty of rural flair.

You can check out some of their home recordings on Myspace, but don’t go looking for any Past Punchy CDs. Bob isn’t interested in making the band anything more than a fun project. “I might have sabotaged bands before because they were getting big,” he said. “It not unlike finding a favorite hangout that becomes extremely popular; it’s almost like it’s not yours anymore. So then you have to find another place and then another, and then you get sick of it and stay home all the time, and that’s the point where you get rid of your gear.”

That won’t be happening with Past Punchy. “We have no plans to record for real,” Bob said. “We just want to play shows and write more songs. It’s really fun just to be able to hang out with my brother, Kyle, Reagan and Alex and maybe play every once in a while.”

And there ain’t nothing wrong with that, as long as we can be there to listen.

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