At CBGB In New York and TLA In Philadelphia

When searching band itineraries for the publicity company I work for, I by chance found out one of my favorite bands, Discharge, was playing a festival in California. I scratched at the computer screen to see if it actually said what I was reading. It didn't rub off so I immediately began surfing like a crazed porn addict to see if Discharge had any east coast shows. Finding information about Discharge online is like Martin Sheen tracking Brando up the Danang River in "Apocalypse Now".

I finally stumbled across a post that said Discharge was playing New York and Philadelphia. I checked the CBGB and TLA websites and indeed these were confirmed shows. My mind started racing wildly at the prospect of seeing the closest thing to the original Discharge lineup that has been stateside in 19 years. True, Discharge toured the U.S. in 1986, but without the original brothers Terry "Tezz" and Tony "Bones" Roberts on drums and guitar respectively. The '86 lineup played only tracks from the release "Grave New World", with its Robert Plant/King Diamond-esque vocals, was about as far away from punk as the band could get. Seeing Bones and Tezz along with original bassist Roy "Rainy" Wainright and their mate Rat from The Varukers on vocals was close enough to the real deal for me. Cal, their original singer, sang on their last album entitled "Discharge" released last year on Sanctuary, but chose not to tour.

"Cal promised me that he would tour for the record, but he let me down," said Tezz when I spoke to him after the Philly show.

After dealing with traffic and searching an hour for a parking spot, I sat through five bands and chatted with Discharge's merch guy and a guy named James that came from England to see Discharge play in New York. Weird, but true.

Having nobody to introduce me to the band, I notice a guy with a mohawk sitting in one of CBGB's tiny dressing rooms. I see Bones in there, too, as well as a skinhead playing bass with his ear to Bones' guitar neck, straining to hear the riffs. I give him another look and it hits me that it's Harley Flanagan from The Cro-mags. Is he playing bass for Discharge? Where's Rainy? It turns out that Rainy got off the plane in California, went through customs, and got flagged for something.

"A big cop took him away", says Bones, and they deported him back to England. By some weird twist of fate, Davey, Discharge's driver for the tour, plays bass and he was going to all of the shows anyhow; so Bones taught him their set in three hours and off they went to their first show.

By the time Discharge hit the stage, there was a good crowd of 100 or so punks, most of them jammed up front. They opened with "Fight Back" followed by "Ain't No Feeble Bastard". I stood side stage and stared in awe at the banner behind Tezz of a dove impaled on a sword. That very same picture is tattooed, immortalized forever, on my back. I was grinning ear to ear, snapping pictures like some overbearing mother taking roll after roll of her snot-nosed brat at Disneyland.

Rat's shouting style is reminiscent of the vocals on Discharge's early singles. He spins and flails around like he's got bees in his trousers, but it works for him. Bones and Tezz have played together for many years and it shows. Although this is only Davey's fifth show with the band, he sounds great and he even sang backing vocals along with Tezz.

They played "M.A.D." and "Accessories By Molotov" from their latest album and those two tracks remind me more of Broken Bones (who have a new album coming out this year), which was founded by Bones after he left Discharge in early '83. Bones' guitar style is very haunting and distinct. Discharge's music seems chaotic, but after a few listens the hooks shine through and his solos will jump out. Punk and metal bands alike have borrowed Discharge riffs. Metallica are big fans of the band and the mighty Discharge guitar style was a big influence on the (James, Metallica) Hetfield / (Dave, Metallica, Megadeth) Mustaine era, especially on the songs "Four Horsemen" and "Fight Fire With Fire". Metallica even paid tribute to Discharge on "Garage Days Re-revisited" by covering two of their songs.

Davey leaves the stage and Harley plays four songs with the band. He is a huge Discharge fan and I don't believe this was a prearranged appearance. He just showed up and asked Bones if he could join them onstage. Harley was as happy as a punk in a vat of Pabst Blue Ribbon. To think that I saw him 17 years ago at CBGB for the Cro-mags "Age Of Quarrel" record release party, where they served Krishna cookies and iced tea, is mind-boggling.

The last song before the encore is "Decontrol" and Rat screams the final line ("Decontrol, Decontrol, we're being shit on far too long!") and leaves the stage while Bones, Tezz and Harley lock in and jam on the tracks' simple yet devastatingly evil hook. After a short break, Davey rejoins the band and they play "The Possibility Of Life's Destruction" and "State Violence State Control" for the encore. On the final chord, Davey slips on the sweat/beer-soaked stage and falls flat on his face. Needless to say, he was the last one to leave the stage.

I talked to Bones and Tezz a little after the show. I showed Bones my tat and told him the last time I saw Discharge was for the disappointing "Grave New World" tour. It's not every day that I get to tell a band one of their albums sucks and not end up on the floor with someone holding an ice pack to my jaw.

"Thank God I wasn't a part of that," Bones said, agreeing with me.

Bones gave me Davey's cell number and I leave New York with a phone number in my hand and a plan in my head. I had to get this band some publicity. People need to know that Discharge is back.

The next night I went to see Discharge at the Theater of The Living Arts in Philadelphia. Davey got me and my girlfriend, Kellie, in for free and got me a photo pass as well. Discharge played another lightning-fast, 45-minute set, but the PA sounds better than CB's and I got to go on the other side of the unnecessary barricade and took some more pictures. The band looked a little lost on such a big stage, especially since Bones only moves about six inches to his left or right, but Rat took full advantage of the space and spun and flailed around even more.

The band spit out song after song, barely stopping. Discharge songs are short and usually have only 10 lines or so of lyrics. Their rapid-fire style just floors me. "The More I See," "Protest And Survive," "The Nightmare Continues," and "Doomsday" kept the pit whipped up.

After their set, I talked to Bones a little more and he put his guitar in a garbage can and wrote down his email address for me.

"That's where that fucking guitar belongs", jokes Tezz.

Ah, brotherly love. Tezz and I talked a great deal about the future of Discharge.

"We have a lot to prove," Tezz said, referring to the definite loss of fan base when Cal led Discharge into metal territory.

"I saw it coming," he said. "In the eighties, they all started growing their hair."

There will be no hair growing for Tezz. He's a punk 'til the end, having been in Broken Bones, UK Subs, and Battalion Of Saints. Tezz will have a mohawk until he dies.

The band has five more shows after tonight and then they return to England. Tezz says they are all very positive about the future of Discharge. There taking this reunion day-by-day, but a new recording will be in the works with Rat on vocals and there is even rumblings of a tour with their punk partners in crime GBH. Bones and Tezz are supposed to record some songs with Harley before they fly home as well.

"We're going to call the band Cro-charge or maybe Dis-mags," Tezz said.

So, now you know. Discharge is back.

Chris Bade

Chris Bade is a Contributing Writer for Chorus and Verse.