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On a recent Saturday night at Hollywood Alley, after Vin-Fiz and The Threads have run through their sets, Jared Christy, singer for The Liar's Handshake, is perched on a stool onstage, smoking a cigarette. His bandmates Billy Culbertson and Nolan Thompson are setting up their acoustic guitar and upright bass, respectively, when I stop by the front of the stage and jokingly make Christy promise me he won't be taking off his shirt tonight.
See, the trio, which plays folkified country tunes, is three-fifths of much-lauded but defunct punkers Bullet Train to Moscow, and as front man, Christy was infamous for his shirtless, sweaty performances. But the skin show just doesn't fit so well with the new band, in my humble opinion.
Sure enough, though, a few songs into the set, Christy's half-stripped, and I'm compelled to offer him my hoodie, which he doesn't accept. Fucking hilarious.
I'm convinced this country trio is the best thing to happen to punk rock in this town in a long time.
The local punk rock scene has become fractious in recent years, sometimes violently so. There's a gulf between the hardcore, metalcore, street punk, screamo, and various other scenes. Even within those cells it seems like there's been an increase in violence, culminating in a shooting death at a hardcore show in Tucson a couple months ago. Add to those elements the fact that punk rock has become more of an elitist fashion show than a place where outcasts and misfits can feel accepted -- much of this because of teenagers' misunderstanding of what punk rock really is -- and the diagnosis looks rather grim.
The Liar's Handshake understands this. So while the band could easily be playing at the Yucca Tap Room or Last Exit or any of the y'all-ternative-friendly bars around town, they're still playing punk rock and hardcore shows.
"This is supposed to be a positive scene," Christy tells me while we're drinking beer at Four Peaks one Saturday afternoon. "To me, there's no hardcore scene, no metal scene -- it's all punk rock. You like going to shows? I like going to shows. You like listening to music? I like listening to music."
Hence, when Bullet Train broke up -- when the trio decided to "kill it" after the other two members left the band -- they went acoustic and decided to try country music.
"We did it in a joking way," Christy says. "We're like, 'We're gonna play this music so you can stop kicking the crap out of each other for 20 minutes.'"
When they're playing, Christy can vacillate between a Shane MacGowan bark and a Mike Ness snarl, with Thompson's bass compensating for the lack of a drummer. It's the polar opposite of Bullet Train's maniacal barrage of sound. The music doesn't stray far from traditional folky country, and it's conducive to singing and clapping along, which the band encourages.
"I like playing music with my friends. We're all friends up here," Christy continues. "You want to be our friend? Let's all be friends, let's all hang out. It's about getting people to come out of their shells. It's about clapping your hands, singing along, putting your arm around the person next to you. It's like a campfire feel. I don't care about being hard, about being old."
Christy doesn't need to worry about being old; all three members are barely in their mid-20s, though compared to bands that The Liar's Handshake plays with, like local metal phenoms Job for a Cowboy, that makes them elder statesmen.
Thompson jokes with me about how they've all turned into hippies since Bullet Train dissolved, but it's hard for me to overemphasize how much the punk rock scene or the hardcore scene or whatever you want to call it needs some fucking positivity. I'm just thankful that The Liar's Handshake is bringing it, and maybe broadening some scenesters' musical horizons in the process.
"We're all supposed to be outcasts, not this big accepted whatever. [Our band] is a reminder for those kids that it's about being different," says Christy, who, if you can't tell by now, can pontificate on the subject as well as I can. "How much more different can you be than to be in the middle of a hardcore show, and here's this country band that's gonna play for you now?"
"I would just like to expand their minds on music," Thompson tells me once Christy's got a pint of beer to his lips. "Listen to good music and judge it for what it is, not the scene that surrounds it."
The Liar's Handshake just completed the mixdown of a nine-song demo CD the day we were drinking at Four Peaks, and Aaron Wendt, who recorded the band for free at his house, shows up with a copy about halfway through our conversation. For a three-day project, the CD sounds awesome, and hopefully the boys will have it available for everyone soon.
It's got their cover of Minor Threat's "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White," as well as all of their originals, like "Trading In Your Friends for a White Belt and a $60 Haircut," a sarcastic commentary on the scenester kids, and "You Know What Happens When You Talk Shit, You Get Your Ass Whooped," which they tell me is a love song.
After some ribbing about the studded belt I'm wearing (not white, thank you), Culbertson tells me, "The difference I want to make, studded belt man, is in the music and how different the music we play is. I do hate the fact everyone dresses the same, though."
The Liar's Handshake has a touch of righteous indignation, and I'm hoping that everyone else who hears the band shares my exuberance about how Bullet Train's demise led to this injection of genuine concern for punk rock and the teenagers who are increasingly populating the shows.
Christy sums it up well: "The day I go to a show and somebody who's 16 and doesn't know shit about shit makes me feel like I shouldn't be there, that's fuckin' wrong."