Completing my assignment on one of my favorite bands given to me by Chuck West, The Suburbs. If you listen to the national media back in the 80′s you were either a Replacements or Husker Du fan, if you actually lived here you also know that the Suburbs were an option (as was Trip Shakespeare or Soul Asylum). I definitely leaned down the Suburbs path, they were approachable, danceable and played just about anywhere. I was introduced to the Suburbs by Joel Olsen and it was definitely a staple of our church youth group and several other groups that I hung with during high school, I think that was the thing about the Suburbs they attracted a diverse crowd of fans. You could be punk, new wave or just like good pop music and they were attractive to you.
I cannot even imagine the number of shows I have been to but you can break them into two different phases 1) High School and College and 2) The Reunion Years.
First the High School and College Years-Obviously the glory years of the Suburbs, we saw them everywhere from Teen Centers, Valleyfair, Parks, U of M, State Fair and shows at First Avenue. You could always count on two things: a decent mosh pit and lots of cute girls. The crowd was always very friendly and I met lots of interesting people, This was during the phase when the Suburbs were the hardest working band in Minneapolis and were working on launching a national presence. While the national fame never materialized in a way I think they thought it would they could always count on a strong upper-midwest crowd. The music was always tight and I believe the Suburbs were the first band with a horns section that I really enjoyed but I think the most attractive part of the group was the dichotomy of the two lead singers, Chan Polling and Beej Chaney. Chan, was that suave keyboardist that could have been in many new wave bands in the 1980′s while Beej was the Iggy Pop look alike who was the punk influence in the band and perceived as the bad boy. Chan would hold court over the stage while Beej was willing to climb anything and join the crowd in body surfing. The songs could either be traditional (drinking, girls and the like) or off the wall (Cows, Chemistry Set, Tape Your Wife to the Ceiling) but the pacing the band had a live show allowed you to dance your ass off and once in a while take a break and sway with the rest of the crowd. One of my favorite memories is that Beej was always checking on the crowd (You guys alright?)
The Reunion Years-While the band never officially broke up shows became less and less into the 1990′s while members of the band were doing the same things we were; getting jobs, getting married and having kids. I seem to remember that it was around 2002 when they played their first reunion shows at First Avenue and reissued their albums from the 1980s. The vibe was still great but we were all different, many of us did not fit in our Suburbs shirts from college anymore and the mosh pit was a bit smaller and the next morning was more painful. The first sets of shows were great, we had not seen them in a while and a lot of great memories were relived. As they continued to do additional reunion shows they began to stale (it might have been because I went to each one), Beej was not always in prime shape many times and some of the band members were no longer involved. We expected new music and were not getting that either.
But one thing these shows did was not only bring the band back together but for myself brought back old friends and friends who were Suburbs fans that I either did not know back in the day or were not as public with their love of the Suburbs. I saw a lot of old friends and we made a lot of great new memories (road trips to Lutsen).
I believe the biggest change to the band came when Bruce Allen passed away in 2009. Bruce provided that unique Suburbs guitar sound that along with the rest of the solid musicianship of the band made the Suburbs one of the most musically talented bands. Like any grieving process I think the band went through a process that led to some uneven performances. The band has also missed the bass playing of Michael Halliday who was dealing with his own health issues. The positions have luckily been filled by two talented musicians with Steve Brantseg on guitar and Steve Price on bass.
Band members also have had their own individual losses including a divorce for Beej and the loss of Elenanor Mondale for Chan. They band is experiencing the same things we are as we are getting older, loss of family and loves; good days and bad.
After their performance at the Cabooze in 2011 I decided it was time to give up going to every local Suburbs show until we saw some new music. That is the rumor out there, new album and a band that has matured but still knows its fans long for the days of 1980s. I am waiting for that new album and pulling on that classic black Suburbs shirt for the phase in the band.