Return of the Living Dead

The noisemongers in East Bay's Dead & Gone revel in their split personalities

The Bay Area bludgeoning post-hardcore group Dead & Gone is -- ironically -- back from the dead. After the band's premature breakup in 1997, three members of the quartet -- bassist Brian Stern, guitarist Rockey Crane, and drummer Joey Perales -- formed an offshoot called Creeps on Candy with a new vocalist. But just as soon as that band got up and running, releasing a debut album in mid-1999 with tour plans in the works, its singer backed out of the lineup.

In an unusual demonstration of goodwill, the three recently reunited with former Dead & Gone vocalist Shane Baker. Since late last year the band has played a handful of shows in the Pacific Northwest and Southern California, and Dead & Gone will also make a short trek to Texas in March to appear at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, with a March 10 show at the CW Saloon prior to the trip.

None of the members is willing to discuss the specifics of the breakup; in fact, no one says anything bad about each other. But, Baker recalls, "There was bad blood for quite a while. But after a long time, we couldn't remember what for. It was just one of those things; a lot of bad attitudes on both sides."

Stern says the band's breakup was merely a matter of unusual circumstances and unprecedented interpersonal tension. "Dead & Gone never had any arguments, ever," the bassist insists. "But then when we finally didn't agree on some things, they seemed insurmountable."

Formed in 1993, Dead & Gone's members sprang from Gilman Street hardcore bands like Filth, Blatz, Jack Acid, and Special Forces. But unlike any of those acts, Dead & Gone exhibited the mature, precise talent of blues-noise revisionists, mixed with the thousand-yard-stare intensity and dark melodies of Bay Area heavy-drone innovators Neurosis. The strength of the quartet's 1995 debut album on local Prank Records, T.V. Baby, mixed with the band's energetic live shows, made Dead & Gone a popular attraction within the local and national underground. Dead & Gone released its second album, God Loves Everyone But You, in early 1997 on San Francisco's punk rock flagship label Alternative Tentacles before abruptly disintegrating toward the end of a nationwide tour that same year.

Nonetheless, Stern says the musicians fell back into old habits shortly after returning from the band's disastrous tour. "Within a couple weeks we were calling each other up saying, 'Do you want to practice?'"

Creeps on Candy launched headlong into songwriting before inviting their housemate Matt Decker to lend his sneering sarcasm to the band's lugubrious lurch. The group's debut album, Wonders of Giardia, was released by Alternative Tentacles in mid-1999; the 13-song collection featured grumbling, twisted, precise noisecore like the finest of underground legends Steel Pole Bathtub, Clikitat Ikatowi, Neurosis, Laughing Hyenas, and Circus Lupus. And, even though there was a familiarity to its slash-and-burn style, Creeps on Candy was so solid and menacing the group just sounded like a natural combination of these predecessors.

"We started a few months after Dead & Gone stopped playing," Stern explains. "We didn't have any sort of defined, planned sound. We tried to stray quite a bit [from the style of Dead & Gone], but obviously, it didn't get that far." Even before Dead & Gone stopped playing, the trio of Stern, Crane, and Perales was writing songs, and had stockpiled an arsenal of intense, pugilistic sounds. The newly formed yet entirely familiar band wanted to veer off its former trajectory to explore different genres, with a focus on slow, heavy themes. However, Stern says, the band wasn't satisfied by consistently playing slow music. "By the time we recorded our first record," the bassist says, "we had already dropped all the 10-minute songs. I just don't think I'd have fun playing that stuff live."

If fun was the goal of the Creeps on Candy live set, its earliest San Francisco shows demonstrated a sadomasochistic bent. An appearance in late 1998 at the creaky North Beach nightclub the Purple Onion ended in playful violence when a drunken and rambunctious fan continually taunted the band by lunging toward the foot-high stage. Stern explains, "I put my hand up and just said, 'Stop!' But he kept coming again. So, I just took my bass and smacked him with the front of it." The assailant was later identified as the bass player in another semipopular East Bay punk group whose street garb had suggested to Stern that he was just a drunken spectator out of his element and looking for a fight.

But Stern is no stranger to unusual circumstances affecting a night's performance. Prior to Creeps on Candy's first San Francisco show at the CW Saloon, the bassist says he had fallen sick with a rare cell infection caused by a tattoo, which left him bedridden for over two months. "I was just dying to get out," Stern recalls, "and we hadn't even practiced. I had to sit in a chair to play, and people were just looking at me like I thought I was too good for them."

With such beginnings, Creeps on Candy seemed destined for notoriety on the strength of its visceral live shows and the careening crunch of its debut album. But those details weren't enough to convince vocalist Matt Decker to remain with the group. Shortly after the release of Wonders of Giardia, Decker quit the band to dedicate his energy to an already sturdy career in oil painting. "The band was really a no-strings-attached deal with him," says Stern. And, once the group had rediscovered its enthusiasm for touring, recording, and all the other time-consuming aspects of being a full-time band, Decker was pressured to follow suit. But, as Stern diplomatically and succinctly explains, Decker "was more inclined to focus on his own interests."

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