Back from the dad
A road trip with State, (very) grown men who, after 30 years, conceal zero punk rock illusions
Published: May 11, 2011
"The main model for me was the MC5. ... They were so intense and loud and explosive," Woodward says.
Hours of conversation are filled with personal anecdotes about the Stooges, as a band, as individuals, as acquaintances, as gods deserving of immortal status.
With the new personnel, the band began "bottling" Tendler's raw power — the proof of which is in the No Illusions EP, where, backed by explosive, lock-step riffing, Woodward concisely rants against any form of tyranny, be it a U.S.-backed Middle Eastern dictator in "Subvert," American neo-cons in "New Right" and, even more cerebrally, false reality in "No Illusions." The record came out in '83, and the band supported it with trips around the Midwest and East Coast, including shows with Reagan Youth at CBGB and with Dischord's Iron Cross in Virginia. Before that, they'd stuck mostly to Detroit- and Ann Arbor-area shows, including a successful string of punk outings they helped organize at Michigan's Union Ballroom, featuring such acts as SS Decontrol and the Misfits. They also did shows at the State house, which was wherever they were living and rehearsing at the time (for a while on State Street).
But when most of the bands who made hardcore famous were crisscrossing the country in vans, Woodward, who speaks fluent French and German (he teaches the latter at the collegiate level at Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College), took a semester abroad in France, where he met his first wife, and started bouncing between there and Michigan. He admits it had a negative effect on the band.
"It's a little hard to imagine if you weren't there," he says. "Fads were coming and going day by day. Hardcore punk was like a real intense thing for a couple years, and then there was all sorts of other stuff. The scene we were part of got pulled in different directions."
State fizzled in the late '80s, but the members kept in touch and even played together in various projects (Destruction Ride, the Bitter Pills) throughout the '90s. Then, one night in '03, Woodward and Tendler needed a fill-in drummer for a new project they'd started with Navarre, the Black Letter Saints, for a show at Ypsilanti's Elbow Room, so they asked Murray. They found themselves playing State material. Soon after, someone at the show asked if they'd re-form and play a benefit show to help pay off debt for State Control Records, a collectively run, now-defunct shop in Ann Arbor. The guys obliged, with Navarre now on bass, and, much to their surprise, found themselves bowled over by a packed house and charged atmosphere. Some fans had come from as far as Canada and New York. "It was like, 'I guess we had more going for us than we realized,'" Woodward says. "No Illusions had become this kind of minor classic. It had been bootlegged by half a dozen labels."
Hence, the guys iced their other music project and jumped back into State. They set to writing and releasing new tunes, reaching out to a new audience of underground punks and railing against topical injustices, playing in bars, basements and living rooms. They'll play just about anywhere, including a "punk rock haunted house" in the middle-of-nowhere (see "Jonesville," Mich.), but find their most success in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Chicago. Tendler says wherever kids are wearing spikes and leather they tend to go over pretty well.
Stepping into Strange Matter, the downtown Richmond bar hosting tonight's final "Winter Apocalypse" fest show, it looks like the band will do fine; there are plenty of punk-army accoutrements, including studded jean jackets and belts and impossible-to-read patches. At the peak of the night, just before a noisy, adrenaline-fueled, female-fronted group from Georgia called Nu-klear-blast Suntan hits the stage around 11:30 p.m., there are probably 200 in the bar.
When State hits it at 12:45 a.m., the crowd has thinned some — it's been a long weekend of thrashing, screaming, bellowing and breaking it down — but a contingent of die-hard fans and curious first-timers stick around.
The drive was exhausting — these guys aren't 20 anymore — but they sure as hell don't show it. Woodward warms up the crowd with small talk about his family's Virginia roots (on the drive down, he shared that a distant relative had walked the state, county-by-county, collecting folk songs for a book).
During songs, Woodward stalks the stage in dark jeans and a black T-shirt, tracing imaginary needle tracks on his arms during the song "Drug War" and making crosses of middle fingers during "Christian." At one point he runs down the stairs into the crowd to incite some reaction, shoving a smaller guy en route (he feels bad about it later). Back on stage, he extends over the crowd to howl gang choruses ("You're a Fascist!") and heady verses ("There is no justice, just law!") alike. Unlike Woodward's peers, you can make out most of his words, which makes them all the more powerful.
Likewise, Tendler's Les Paul cuts through the stuffy club air still heavy with the muddy chug of earlier bands. His first ear-jerking bend shaves 30 years off his face.
Earlier in the day I'd asked the guys if they are still moved by playing live. What else would the logic be behind driving 20 hours to play a show?
"I think we're not as bummed-out as we'd be if we weren't doing it," Tendler had said, laughing.
But Woodward chimed in with a more telling: "It's kind of an addiction."
It's this drive to create that impressed the hell out of Ryan Cappelletti, head of the Punks Before Profits label out of Grand Rapids, and a fixture in local punk scenes. After seeing them "lay waste" at a show in Chicago, he invited State to play a Grand Rapids gig in the mid-'00s. "Preston [Woodward] said they'd come, and they asked for nothing," Capelletti says. "I just moved to town, and the scene was very small. About 15 people came out, and I was really worried that these guys would never come back. Well, they took the floor and played like we had 500 people screaming their names. To me State are what punk is and should be all about."
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