Fork in the road
One-time East Bay punk crew commemorates 20 years
“We have a history of disastrous tours,” Black Fork vocalist Robin Indar tells me over the phone, just three weeks before the band challenges fate by embarking on a five-date reunion tour that will take them from Chico to south of the border. “We’re hoping to keep the bad juju away this time.”
She’s not exaggerating, either. Robin and her hubby/bandmate Josh—known around these parts for their many artistic endeavors, including fronting their current rock trio, Severance Package—are on speakerphone rattling off mishap after mishap from Black Fork’s early days on the road.
I remember hearing some of these back in 2006 when I was playing in another band with Josh … probably just hours before sparks began shooting from the van’s battery compartment on our way back from a show in Seattle.
But that was nothing compared to Black Fork, the now semi-retired ’90s East Bay punk band that endured classic van breakdowns—from flat tires to a drive shaft coming loose (and attempting to hold it together with a belt). Stolen gear—they played their first show in 1994 using a drum set made out of boxes, a few pieces of wood and coconuts. And brushes with Johnny Law—getting busted near Fargo, N.D., with no insurance or registration, and traveling illegally in the back of a U-Haul trailer with temperatures hitting 150 degrees, hiding behind amps as they crossed the Oregon-California border.
“We were young and stupid,” acknowledges Josh. (I can guess what’s coming next.) “Now we’re old and stupid.”
In anticipation of the band’s upcoming 20th anniversary shows with longtime tourmates Los Canadians (kicking off in Chico, Saturday, June 28, at Monstros Pizza), both bands are releasing a hot-off-the-press split 7-inch—on the Indars’ newly acquired label, Shut Up Records—appropriately titled Tour of the Curse. Black Fork’s four speed-freaky contributions—which clock in at just under five minutes—were originally recorded with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong at Berkeley’s Catbox Studios when the four-piece was knee-deep in the legendary 924 Gilman Street scene that spawned bands like Blatz, Screw 32 and Operation Ivy.
Between disintegrating tours, Black Fork recorded one more full-length with Armstrong, 1997’s Rock for Loot for Lookout! Records, before they checked out the following year. The band was snotty, smart and short-lived. And, listening today, still unsung.
“I think some of those lyrics are more relevant today,” Josh says. “Health care sucks, and the country is still run by assholes.”
Over the past few years the band—which also includes East Bay-based drummer Jim “Nastic” Anderson and bassist Cyrus “T Nails” Comiskey—has gotten together for a handful of one-off shows. Now they’re going for it—for five shows at least. The Indars just returned from a weekend of rehearsals in the Bay Area, where they also were interviewed for an upcoming documentary on Gilman (financed by Armstrong). Josh says the reason to do these shows is pretty simple.
“We still love hanging out with those guys and playing. And I realize it’s still a really great punk band,” he says. “Plus, if we don’t get together and do it now, it may never happen.”
One stop on Black Fork’s current West Coast run will be Tijuana, Mexico, where—in grand tradition—the band had all its merch stolen some two decades ago. Shitty at the time, but it turns out all of those records and T-shirts floating around made them some new fans, and Josh says the band still has a following there.
Of course, those who know Black Fork know that they are remembered by fans on this side of the border as well, and there are a fair number of them still out there. Whether that’s enough to keep the band around beyond these five shows remains to be seen.
“We’ll see what happens. It could be great—maybe people will throw money at us,” Josh says, only half-joking. “Maybe it’ll be a total disaster. In music you can’t say, ‘never.’”
As for avoiding any disasters, they sound a little more certain about that. “That’s not going to happen again,” says Josh with a laugh. “Now we have credit cards.”