It’s a Tuesday morning and the New Bomb Turks are sitting around in Albuquerque. It took them 10 hours to get there from Denver, and when they arrived the night before, they found that the promoter had booked them on the wrong day at the club they were supposed to play—no show, no money. And now another day of driving to get to Tempe for the next show.
“Last tour ever and the bullshit still happens,” says singer Eric Davidson. “We walked into the club expecting to play and they told us, ‘Well, no, tonight we’ve got Shawn Hippystrum and the Funkmeisters,’ or whatever. But it wasn’t too bad, I guess. We took it easy at a pool hall with a good jukebox and stared at cute girls. Pretty much a normal evening, except without the show.”
As AC/DC used to say, “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll.” Definitions of the top vary from band to band, though, and at any rate the New Bomb Turks are currently coasting downhill on the other side of theirs. For most of the ’90s, they were riding high with kick-ass LPs like the Crypt Records Destroy-Oh-Boy!! and a passel of singles that seemed to come out at the rate of one a week on every cool label you could think of. The tunes were fast and catchy, the choruses eminently shoutalongable, the lyrics wry, and the band’s taste in cover tunes—among them Wire’s “Mr. Suit” and the Queers’ “This Place Sucks”—discerning. And you hardly ever saw a live shot of them that didn’t have the lantern-jawed energy ball Davidson completely airborne or surfing a swell of upturned hands or singing into someone’s face from two inches away. To say they put on a pretty lively show is like saying the Bible is a pretty famous book.
Now, after some 12 years of playing together, the punk-rock pride of Columbus, Ohio is hitting the road one last time before they hang up their spurs for good. They’ll probably still play from time to time and maybe do short weekend trips, Davidson says, but after this tour that’s pretty much it for the New Bomb Turks taking their show on the road for weeks at a time. New drummer Sam Brown is also a new father, guitarist Jim Weber is headed back to school (the original four Turks met at Ohio State where they were all English majors), and bassist Matt Reber, claims Davidson, is just getting tired of living in Columbus.
“You get older and you have other things in your life,” says the motor-mouthed singer, adding that while it’s been mostly fun in the last 12 years, there were also times when it wasn’t. Once, in Houston, a fan clocked Davidson in the face with his own microphone after the always-gregarious singer mussed his pompadour from the stage.
“We found out later that he had just gotten out of prison,” says Davidson, about the fan. “That he was like this white power dude who was friends with the people at the club. I was depressed after that.
Sometimes I’ve thought, ‘What am I doing, dealing with this crap? I’ve got a college degree, I’ve got a nice family, I’m not trying to flagellate myself or cut myself with razors or something like that.’ I didn’t say anything to the band, but that was one of the times I’ve been down. Anybody in a band probably stops and asks, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ on a weekly basis. But I also think anybody does that with any kind of job.”
Davidson can laugh about it now, of course, but the incident came as a rude shock to a singer whose good-natured monkeyshines with the audience—trying on their hats and eyeglasses, for example—have always been part of the band’s live appeal. Without the high jinks, it’s just not the same.
“I feel like I’ve always had a fairly decent sixth sense about it,” Davidson muses. “When you shove someone or mess up their hair a little or something, you can usually tell right away it they get it, if they’re going to laugh about it or if they’re going to be pissed. I get drunk at shows, but never so drunk that I can’t tell if a guy’s going to wail on me. Except that one time in Houston.
“And we don’t look like pushovers,” he adds, “We’re not huge or anything, but we’re also not skinny little indie-rock guys. Most of the time people don’t fuck with us.”