Loud Soft Loud
Liquor Bike Returns
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When Liquor Bike finished its last show in March 1998, bassist Colin Preston put an exclamation point on the band's career as the ruler of Baltimore's mid-'90s "loud rock" scene by smashing his instrument against the stage. "Just like the cover of [the Clash's] London Calling," he says. The band had already broken up in the summer of '96, and singer/songwriter/guitarist David Koslowski was leaving Baltimore for North Carolina. It seemed unlikely that the quartet would ever have another chance to play together again. "I was all done with music," Preston says.
Now, a decade later, Koslowski, Preston, guitarist Mike Gaitley, and drummer Eric Dixon are coming back together, not only to roar through the Liquor Bike songbook but to celebrate the scene that nurtured the band with an exhibit of photographs, posters, and fliers that documents Baltimore's rock underground during the band's heyday. "I kinda thought that there's gonna be a lot of the old scenesters [at the show] anyway," Koslowski says. "So how could we make it even cooler to have a little walk down memory lane--so to speak."
Memory Lane, as those who know their recent Baltimore musical history will recall, was the Southwest Baltimore bar that served as the de facto center of local indie rock for a few years in the mid-'90s. It was not unusual for Liquor Bike to mount Memory Lane's stripper-pole-equipped stage two, three, even four times a month, wallet chains swaying as it blasted out its trademark blend of punk-inspired agitation, metal-derived riff crunch, and--the secret ingredient--pop hooks. "I totally wrote pop songs," Koslowski, 41, acknowledges by phone from Durham, N.C. "I was all about the hook. It didn't matter how fast and how loud we played it, it had to have a hook."
Preston had never played bass--or any instrument--before roommate Koslowski talked him into forming the band that would evolve into Liquor Bike circa 1991; Dixon and Gaitley solidified the lineup soon after. The foursome's love of loud guitars and pummeling rhythms dovetailed with the rise of bands such as Mudhoney, Jesus Lizard, and Helmet--groups that put unabashed rock back into indie rock. Local label Merkin Records released Liquor Bike's Lowborne album in 1993, impressing upstart national label Grass Records enough that it released the band's second album, Neon Hoop Ride, in 1994. Out on tour, the band built a following one club show and merch table at a time. Back home, the members reveled in a Memory Lane scene that was small, intense, and alcohol-soaked (one of the band's T-shirts repurposed the Rolling Rock beer logo). "We were all friends," Koslowski recalls. "A lot of us were drinking buddies that just happened to form a band.
"Our goal was to maybe be as successful as Jesus Lizard," Koslowski continues. "That's all we wanted to do." With major label BMG scooping up Grass as part of the post-Nirvana feeding frenzy, that goal seemed almost within reach. But while on the road to promote the imminent release of its The Beauty of Falling Apart album on Grass/BMG in the spring of 1996, Liquor Bike learned that Grass had been gutted and it had been dropped from the label. Gaitley soon quit, and after a brief attempt to continue as a threesome, Koslowski decided he'd had enough, too. Merkin eventually released Beauty, the band played the reunion show in '98, and that was supposed to be that.
The pending Liquor Bike reunion came about, as many things involving the band did, over beers. "Mike came down to visit in the early summer, and him and I were sitting around just talking about the old times," Koslowski recalls. When the subject of a reunion show arose, he adds, "I said, `Eh, I don't know. I don't even know where Colin is, I live out of state, how would we pull it off?'" But the idea refused to die.
Koslowski, Gaitley, and Dixon had all continued playing music when not working day jobs (web designer, Paul Reed Smith Guitars, and Guitar Center, respectively). Preston had not, leaving his bass broken in its case while he worked for a health care company and focused on raising a family in Cecil County. "I went the square route," the 44-year-old says over the phone with a genial laugh. When Gaitley and Koslowski got in touch with Dixon, they learned he had recently seen their old bandmate and had his contact info. Soon Preston was taking his smashed instrument to a luthier for a heavy application of wood glue and teaching himself bass all over again. "About a month ago I was pretty worried," he says of doing justice to Liquor Bike's hurtling repertoire, but he adds that practices with Gaitley and Dixon are shaping up; Koslowski will join them in the days leading up to the show.
The nice round number of 10 years since the last show obviously provided some impetus for the reunion, but Koslowski also notes that the sound of the scene as he knew it is reverberating anew. "I hear a lot of that stuff in music currently, and I wonder if it was older brothers that listened to that stuff--the Amphetamine Reptile [Records] bands, `loud rock'--or is it just a cyclical thing where you go through the loud-quiet-loud," he says. "It's almost like a second wave of that '90s stuff is starting to happen."
The wave of Baltimore bands that included Liquor Bike, Iron Boss, Seade, Candy Machine, Butt Steak, the Lee Harvey Keitel Band, Roads to Space Travel, perennial outsider Lungfish, and more rolled through right before the internet changed the way bands and fans interact forever. As a result, the evidence of their existence available to contemporary music nerds is often limited to a posthumous MySpace site, if that. Getting Liquor Bike back together for one night got Koslowski thinking "about all the cool photos that [City Paper contributor] Jeff Steele and Nick MacIntosh and [CP contributor] Sam Holden had taken of us, and I realized, Man, I've got an assload of fliers." After a quick call to Ottobar co-owner/former Butt Steak member Mike Bowen, the reunion gig was joined by an accompanying Koslowski-assembled sampling of scene art and artifacts from the mid-'90s.
"It's been challenging," Koslowski says, "because a lot of people have stuff, but everybody's so busy with life that to go through and rummage through and dig it up is another thing--`Yeah, I know I've got a box of that shit somewhere. It might be up in the attic. I'll have to look.'"
Koslowski keeps up with Baltimore enough to know that the music scene here has proliferated into scenes, plural, many of them more hotly hyped than Liquor Bike or any of its peers. He's hoping that a younger generation of Baltimore scenesters will show up to check out what the previous generation got up to. "I would have been one of those people who would have gone, say, if in '95 someone would have done a Marble Bar reunion show with Null Set or Thee Katatonix," he says. "I know of those bands, but I never got to see those bands, and I would have gone to that show to check it out."
But a big part of the Liquor Bike reunion inevitably revolves around old friends and renewing connections, not least onstage. Koslowski reports that any tensions lingering from the band's ungainly demise have evaporated. "It's been like nothing ever happened," he says. And talking to Preston, one gets the idea that he's not putting himself through months of relearning the bass just because he loves playing music so much. While the reunion must be, by necessity, a one-off, he notes, "I'd love to be in a band with these guys again."