A Nuclear Closing for 2008: Divine!
J. Gordon
12/30/2008 11:58:50 PM

If anyone can think of a better way to end 2008 than with about 2000 of your best friends (who you haven’t seen in 15 years), listening to music that makes you feel young, you’ve got me. St. Louis’ Pageant pulled off the perfect year-end, hosting the Pale Divine Reunion, featuring the Nukes as opener.

It’s a little bit of a shock to see some of our hometown musical heroes, permanently emblazoned on our memories as the young, lean rock stars whom we filled floors at Kennedy’s and Mississippi Nights to ogle and cheer for—or in the case of the Nukes, to toss a few beers at, or help along over our heads as they crowd-surfed the place.

The Nukes

The once-wiry Nukes’ frontman Packy Reynolds isn’t fat by regular-guy standards. But at 40 and with a receding hairline to boot, he’s just soft and average enough to make us laugh when the shirt came off this time. Packy said this show was “their last show ever.” Even though we knew it, we hated to hear the words.

In any case, you know it’s gonna be a good punk-rock show when the monitors are covered in plastic. And just as if it were 1990 again, Packy Reynolds spat out the lyrics—and the beer—on a once-rabid crowd that now strained to keep up with him. There were a few weak attempts at moshpits, but… come on… with this group, it’d end up with sciatica, herniated discs, perhaps some heart palpitation. No, no, even Packy didn’t have quite the energy he used to. Instead of a crowd surf (would they have held him up? He wasn’t taking any chances), he jumped in, and sang a few bars standing from the floor. Then, in a true Spinal Tap moment, he tried to leap back to the stage, couldn’t do it, and was lifted up by Security.

Outside of Packy, we’re not sure how many of the band were original members, but the guitarist was definitely the one from Johnny Bliss, the band that kicked our asses opening up for the Unconscious the previous Friday night at Lucas School House. We’re not sure of the song titles either, but the opener had a refrain of “Anywhere but Here.” By the second song, Packy was foaming at the mouth and showering the crowd, and Anywhere but Here felt like the only place to be.

Dressing in the old man clothes of a white shirt, black tie, vest and sweater didn’t do a lot to help Packy look any younger than he was, but just like any Nukes show, most of it came off in a big, gaudy strip tease. The second Spinal Tap moment might have been during what sounded like a chorus of “4-6-4”, when Packy, with outstretched arms and unwavering emotion taking in the moment, suddenly thought to straighten his tie. What a weirdly inappropriate moment.

When the white shirt came off and the soft white underbelly hit the stage, it was hard not to cry with laughter. The lack of grace putting the shirt back on was soon forgiven, as was the know-how of how to button it. (Just get that thing back on, please was the general consensus.)

The sound was great—as if it mattered all that much. One doesn’t go to a Nukes show to catch the faint high notes and melodic texturing. Packy’s gargle with coffee grounds and glass hollers were as perfect as ever against the hard-driving beat, the cool-happy background solos, and the glittery surprise of guitar.

Reynolds led the crowd into a frolic, if not a frenzy. He strutted the stage, foaming and tearing at his clothes like a rabid dog. There were no snot rockets this time, and he kept things reasonably clean. During the “I don’t fuckin’ care” line of “Going Nowhere” he checked his own pulse. The show closed with a version of “Train Kept A Rollin’ that they made their own, an over-done but still fun cover of “Wild Thing,” and a tangential moment or two of Ted Nugent’s “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.”

“I got geese!” Packy screamed. “I got chickens! I got ducks! I got roosters! I got dinosaurs! Mother-fuckin’ long dinosaurs! I got 1988! I got the Nukes! I got Pale Divine! I got road blocks!”

What was the point of it? Who knows. Who cares. It was a blast. As every Nukes show, especially the last one, should be.

Richard Fortus

Pale Divine, who started as the Eyes, were perhaps the first band to make it big in St. Louis and definitely, with their mobs of passionate fans, the first band to create and sustain a scene. In their day, all four of them were gorgeous in their different ways: Michael Schaerer was the Jim Morrison-esque frontman; Dan Angenend, Jr. was the girl-beautiful, perfect bass player with angelic backing vocals; Richard Fortus the dark and mysterious maestro; and Greg Miller the percussive powerhouse. Their sound was so tight, so smooth, with smart, catchy songs full of feeling that would have been sung on for generations, had Nirvana not arrived to change the face of music.

Frankly, we hadn’t expected a lot for this show musically. We were going for the memories. I mean, the band hadn’t played together in a decade and a half. After Atlantic Records dropped them, most of the guys went on to regular jobs and/or smaller, local bands, except for Richard Fortus, who went on to join Love Spit Love and is currently with Guns ‘n Roses. Would they still have the magic? Could they still work together?

The answer, unbelievably, is yes—and then some. Sure, the sexpot looks are gone for Schaerer, who appears more like a chunky teenage boy than a middle-aged man. But the pipes are all there. Richard Fortus, of course, is complete rock star: lean, tattooed, dark and gorgeous. Greg Miller joined another local band that made it big after Pale Divine, Radio Iodine—but they were dropped from Universal’s Radioactive label in 1998 when the mergers had everyone cleaning house. Today, Greg’s formidable size and noble profile has him resembling “Mr. Incredible” of the Pixar flick. But he can still hit the skins like nobody’s business, and bass player Dan, who dresses more like Rivers Cuomo these days, was a better-than-respectable backbone to the songs.

“We used to be a hair band,” joked Michael, noting that his chin-length hair was the longest of the bunch.

At 9:20 p.m.—early for many headline acts, the show opened in fog—classic for Pale Divine. It was impossible to move in the crowd, and the bar was at least three lines deep with people. Spontaneous reunions of old friends burst out like fireworks everywhere.

The band played “a lot of new, old songs” as Schaerer explained. These were the unreleased songs, recorded just before Atlantic Records dropped them. (Watch for our Pale Divine CD/DVD review, to be posted in a few days). A few of the tunes were unfamiliar to the crowd, but they seemed appreciative nonetheless.

Even if he didn't have the same physical vibe, Michael Schaerer sang with the same great force of emotion he used to back in the day. As long as you didn’t look--you wouldn't have known it was however many years later. Or better yet, just look at Rich.

Richard Fortus. Damn, he’s cool. To watch him posture and hit at that guitar, making those incredible, impossible sounds and combinations, is nothing short of a joy. But just because he’s cool doesn’t mean he’s an asshole. No—reliable sources tell us he’s as humble and easy-going as his sweet onstage demeanor:

“About six months ago, I called up Michael,” said Richard Fortus, smiling. “I said, Hey, I think I’m gonna see my parents for Christmas. Do you wanna do a show? Do you think anyone would come?” Then he took in the sold-out crowd, and all the love they gave back to him. “This is amazing,” he said.

Michael, in an effort to take the seriousness away before it got too touching, added, “And it smells a little like Kennedy’s here, too!” Schaerer also joked to Fortus, "Yeah, but can you still play?"

Michael apologized to his mother for a smoke-break midway, explaining, “This is my New Years’ resolution—again.” In addition to the amazing “new old” songs like “Burn Like the Sun,” the band played all the favorites, including “Addiction,” and “Something About Me.” An encore included “One of a Kind” and a cover of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields”. The final song was a strange choice—their only song slow enough that it’s almost a ballad: “Sorrow.”

Given the fact we’ll likely never see either band perform live again, it may have been a fitting close. And it was a great close to the year 2008.


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