Be true to your school

Union of the Dead delivers potent punk spirit to Chico

SAY IT LOUD Gerardo and Cliff share vocal duties in the local punk rock trio Union of the Dead.

SAY IT LOUD Gerardo and Cliff share vocal duties in the local punk rock trio Union of the Dead.

My first contact with local band Union of the Dead came on St Patrick’s Day about three years back. They were playing a backyard party at a corner house on Warner Street during an evening that was a melee of chaos and confusion. I remember people milling about and an impromptu mosh pit in the leaf-strewn mud bowl that butted up to the rickety wooden stage. But what stands out most about that event was an energetic, fledgling punk band that was just cutting its teeth playing one of its first live shows. Since that fateful party, Union of the Dead has come a long way.

To say punk rock is just a genre of music is to oversimplify. The general consensus among those in the know is that it is more of a lifestyle, an ethos, if you will. From the mohawked gutter-punks bedecked in spiked chains and tattered Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers—throwbacks to the neon-and-leather anti-cool of the Sex Pistols invasion—to the vegan, straightedge skinheads of the Dischord, Ian Mckaye neo-political movement, factions of punk have become disparate.

The trio UOD has grown from just another nameless face on the punk scene to a recognizable force in the Northstate music arena. Gerardo, Cliff and Fred (no last names needed, thanks), have converted naysayers with a well-practiced, tightly wound barrage of punk-tinged rock and screaming vocals.

Stocky vocalist Cliff tends to smile a bit too much for a punk band front man. He doesn’t brood, as has become fashionable for singers these days. He enjoys explaining how punk has come such a long way and how he tries to shape his music in a way that is punk in attitude and rock ‘n’ roll in soul. These guys will be the first to tell you that punk rock is clichéd and doomed to burn out on its own nihilistic conflagrations.

“I heard it said somewhere that rock ‘n’ roll is music you can dance to, so we’re trying to bring that back to punk,” asserts Fred, hard-pounding drummer and anchor for the band. Since the conception of the band a few years back, the members have proudly gone about doing just that.

“We met from going to a lot of live shows in the Bay Area together,” Cliff says. “At first, when we decided to start the band, we wanted a distinct style, something between The Misfits and Rocket From the Crypt. Then it developed into our own thing from there.”

“We were going to these shows together,” continues Fred, finishing his band mate’s thought, “and seeing what was out there and finding it uninteresting, and then wanting to do it out own way. Our music became a product of that.”

Guitarist Gerardo, who looks every bit the greasy punk model with his jet-black hair slicked back, explains that the formula is simple: “The Beatles played three chords, Green Day plays three chords. They know how to write songs. That’s it.”

His jump from the Beatles to Green Day is a bit much, but is the comparison that far off? At first glance, the Beatles were a threat to the good old-fashioned American values we held dear then, with their long hair and innuendo-laden lyrics. Elvis, too, shook his hips so much they were forced to show him from the waist up only on The Ed Sullivan Show.

UOD’s eponymously titled CD, released on the band’s own label, is angry, loud, energetic and honest. With a tight style that can be described as part rock, part head-on punk, it’s both melodic and furious in the same breath. No easy feat for a young band.

“If we’re dancing to it, then that’s enough. Then we think it’s OK,” Fred explains, “We’re just trying to be true to ourselves.”

While the sound may be more straight-up rock, the punk ethos is alive in their carefree attitude and their lack of concern with critics, trends or labels.

“We really don’t care what anyone else thinks about our band,” Cliff says. “I mean, it’s nice to hear good things, but for the most part I don’t really care. I’m making music for me. I was writing when I was pissed off on a lot of the new stuff. Much of that feeling comes across on it. It’s a little darker because when I would go through a tough time I would just write and it would make me feel better.”

With UOD’s local shows becoming more and more crowded, it would seem that many others are also finding therapy or release in this explosive music. At a headlining Duffy’s gig, one of the highlights of the Nowhere X Nowhere festival, several tumbling fights broke out from the small but active mosh pit on the intimate dance floor. Glass broke, speakers rattled, but the band played on, loving every minute of it.

Just don’t expect fans to start going by the tag of "Deadhead" anytime soon. (B-doomp, chh!)