By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
Savage Republic's subsequent releases -- Trudge, Ceremonial, Live Trek, Jamahiriya Democratique et Populaire de Sauvage, and Customs -- expanded the more instrumental and cinematic aspects of its sound, adding horns, Appalachian dulcimer, mandolin, keyboards, and "monotone" guitar (with the strings tuned to one droning chord). In particular, 1988's Jamahiriyasaw the band in peak form, turning an old Greek song into a punk anthem and adding Middle Eastern guitar to a cover of Alternative TV's "Viva Le Rock n' Roll." Customs was almost as solid, including a gorgeous oud/saz duet, "Song for Adonis," and the wide-screen psychedelia of "Birds of Pork."
While the band's albums garnered a small cult following, the group's live shows became legendary. Underneath huge banners with the seal of the Republic, the half-dozen members would trade instruments, beat on flaming oil drums, and burn figures in effigy. The band occasionally performed wild, apocalyptic shows in the Mojave Desert with the likes of Einstürzende Neubauten, Survival Research Laboratories, and Psi Com, Jane's Addiction leader Perry Farrell's first band. The SR live experience was powerful enough to impress even the hardcore punks who turned up.
"The punk scene then was at times pretty scary and violent, with L.A. cops and Nazi skinheads, which forced us to get more aggressive in our live performances," says Port, adding with a laugh, "It kept Savage Republic from being a wussy art-band."
By 1989, however, Licher was the sole original member, and he decided to break up the band to pursue mellow instrumental epics with a new group called Scenic (which has its third album, The Acid Gospel Experience, coming out on Hidden Agenda in January). Loveless and Drucker concentrated on their side project, 17 Pygmies, while Fuhrmann and Grunke worked on Autumnfair. Port pursued Death Ride 69 before landing in the Bay Area in 1996, where he formed F-Space (and Mobilization Records) with local noise artist Scot Jenerik.
After Savage Republic's demise, the group's albums went out of print, becoming available only on eBay at inflated prices. The band received few critical acknowledgments, save for a favorable mention in Richie Unterberger's 1998 book Unknown Legends of Rock 'n' Roll.
But in 2001 Ethan Port took the money from an Internet stock cash-out and financed an elaborate reissue of the act's four studio albums, complete with letterpress printing. Talk of a reunion to promote the Mobilization Records box set followed. Bassist/guitarist Thom Fuhrmann says via e-mail, "Ethan and I were the catalysts [for the reunion], because we both strongly believe that the band broke up right when we were about to go somewhere. I guess there is a strong feeling of unfinished business."
Scot Jenerik explains, "One of the things that I think really kicked it off was the Beyond the Pale festival last year. They played Savage Republic's 'Birds of Pork' over the PA system. Ethan went up to thank the sound guy for playing it, and he said, 'Oh no, it's not me -- Neurosis has me play this before every show.'"
After Neurosis asked Savage Republic to perform at this year's Beyond the Pale event, Port made a few phone calls to promoters and found that there was interest for shows in L.A., Portland, Chicago, and New York. For this week's tour, the reconstituted band will include Port, Licher, Loveless, Fuhrmann, and Grunke, with Joel Connell from Man Is the Bastard on drums. "We sound better than we ever did," assures Port. When asked if he'll be setting things on fire again, however, he responds, "Officially, no."
The timing of a Savage Republic reunion makes perfect sense, since the current political climate is a throwback to the '80s. Now, a line from Tragic Figures' "Procession" seems more relevant than ever: "The crisis of our country is not caused by external forces/ The danger lies within." Port has this lyric emblazoned on the Mobilization Web site (www.mobilization.com), along with his harrowing account of his experience during the World Trade Center attacks.
"In the months after 9/11," Port says, "I actually found art and music to have little meaning to me. I was completely terrorized and I shut down. But as I healed, I was able to step back from the situation and realize that a terrible act by terrible people should not be allowed to destroy art and culture. My love of Middle Eastern culture and of culture in general should not be destroyed by some very tragic and horrible events."