Art Notes: River City Rebels is an older and wiser punk band

River City Rebels guitarist Patti Botox and singer Dan O'Day rehearse on December 1, 2003, at the house the band members share in Hanover.

Valley News - Edmund Fountain

River City Rebels guitarist Patti Botox and singer Dan O'Day rehearse on December 1, 2003, at the house the band members share in Hanover. Valley News - Edmund Fountain Valley News file photo

Members of the River City Rebels, from left, Marc Coutu, Dan O'Day, Adam Allard and Kody Sanborn, perform at Mohawk Place in Buffalo, N.Y. (Courtesy River City Rebels)

Members of the River City Rebels, from left, Marc Coutu, Dan O'Day, Adam Allard and Kody Sanborn, perform at Mohawk Place in Buffalo, N.Y. (Courtesy River City Rebels) Photo Courtesy River City Rebels

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-29-2024 5:37 PM

The line “Rock and roll can never die” lodges in the mind in Neil Young’s voice, but there are countless examples. Keith Richards, for one.

Locally, the best measure of rock’s staying power might be the River City Rebels. The band celebrates the 25th anniversary of its founding with a show Saturday night at the Main Street Museum.

A decade ago, the Rebels seemed dead. The two remaining founding members, Dan O’Day and Brandon Rainer, assembled the band for a “last waltz” kind of show at Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction in 2014.

“I was a really bad alcoholic,” O’Day said in a phone interview. Rainer’s “favor to me was, ‘Let’s get everyone together for one last show.’ ”

At the time, it seemed like the Rebels had had a good, 15-year run. O’Day and friends had played music all through their years at Hartford High School, aided by a class with a title that seems unthinkable in the post-No Child Left Behind Act era: “Rock and Roll Fundamentals.”

“I took that class like four or five times,” O’Day said. He credits it with keeping him in school and as perhaps the biggest influence in his becoming a musician.

O’Day graduated in 1998, and the Rebels were founded from the ashes of a ska band he’d played in. They were a big unit. A photo of them published in the Valley News in May 2000, when they released their first album on Victory Records, featured seven members: Gabe Rich, Chris Jukosky, Ward Aimi, Rainer, Eric Schmidt, Dan McCool and O’Day. They were unusual among punk bands in including horns, a leftover from their ska roots. They called their sound “brass punk.”

They drew heavily on the Clash and other punk bands from the late 1970s and hardcore from the 1980s. There weren’t a lot of Upper Valley bands scoring record deals in those days. Noah Kahan was 3 years old when “Racism, Religion, and War,” the Rebels’ first record, came out.

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From there, the band had ups and downs. In 2003, they played the VANS Warped Tour, but they lost their record deal with Victory the following year. Though they kept at it, there was an element of self-sabotage in their conduct. By 2011, only O’Day and Rainer were left from the original outfit.

Even so, they were still touring and still going to Europe once a year for shows. The band went on hiatus after the 2014 show.

“My mom had just died,” O’Day said. “I was off the rails before, but then I was really off the rails.”

About five years ago, O’Day got sober, a return to the band’s origins as a “straight-edge” punk unit, a movement that shunned drugs and alcohol. An attempt to bring back the band was squashed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new lineup features players from around New England. Aside from O’Day, only bassist Kody Sanborn, of Bradford, Vt., is from the Upper Valley. Drummer Adam Allard and saxophonist Cody Freedom are from Connecticut and guitarist Marc Coutu, who’s originally from Vermont, lives in Providence, R.I. They meet once a month to practice in Groton, Conn., on Long Island Sound.

As part of its resurgence, the band has released a four-song EP, “Pop Culture Baby,” which is available on Bandcamp as a download or on 7-inch vinyl. They’ve written enough material for a full-length album and plan to record it this fall.

“This album is us breaking new ground and showing what we can do,” O’Day said.

Even so, the new lineup marks a return to the band’s original sound, albeit without the brass.

“There’s always been an evolution,” O’Day said. “I think this is the first time we’ve decided that we’re going back to 2003.” That means fast, loud, guitar-heavy punk rock.

It’s a bit odd, O’Day said, not to be part of a community that’s playing that kind of music. But the bands that have come up in the Upper Valley since the Rebels’ heyday are in the spirit of punk and garage rock — original, noisy and to the left of the dial.

Ultimately, O’Day would like to see the band rebuild some momentum. He doesn’t want to tour the country, but gigs as far west as Buffalo, N.Y., and as far south as Philadelphia seem doable. And he hopes the band can return to Europe. They all have day jobs — O’Day has worked as a prep cook at Molly’s in Hanover for 14 years — but could line up a two-week tour.

European audiences “were supportive of the stuff that we were doing,” O’Day said.

All in all, they might do 15 to 20 shows a year. That’s a far cry from the band’s incandescent glory days, but O’Day is older and wiser now.

“You don’t want to wear it out,” he said. “There’s no illusions of something bigger and grander.”

River City Rebels play their 25th anniversary show at 7 Saturday night at the Main Street Museum. The Phrogs, Dead Street Dreamer, and The Worst will open. Admission is $10, but the museum never turns away people who lack funds, or who want to give more than $10.

Keeping it in the Upper Valley

Cindy Pierce brings her new one-woman show, “Keeping It Inn,” about her parents’ ownership of Etna’s Pierces’ Inn, to the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction on June 7-9. Pierce tells the story of her sprawling family through the eyes of her mother, Nancy Pierce, over the course of 60 years.

For information go to cindy-pierce.com.

Hold the revelry

Revels North announced this week that the Summer Revels, which had been slated for June 9, have been postponed because of “unforeseen circumstances.” This follows the cancellation, announced in March, of this year’s Midwinter Revels, the company’s annual holiday season show.

In this week’s announcement, the company said it has plans for this fall and that it is looking for new participants. For more information, go to revelsnorth.org.