When I heard in April that the Fluid were getting back together for a show in Denver, I immediately ran to my old box of cassettes (yes — I still have about 50 or 60) and went right for “Glue/Roadmouth,” suddenly remembering the only cassette player I have now is a child’s player we got for the kids to listen to books on tape. No matter — it sounded fantastic, pulling me back into a sound I hadn’t heard in a while, a sound I now realize I never really left behind.
From the time the press release hit my inbox, my Facebook page has been awash in anecdotes and excitement from the old crowd — all of us aching to take a break from the little league games and day camp arrangements of summers with our kids to get washed in that Fluid noise for a night again (where “Volume Is Job One” — I saw that T-shirt many times on Friday at the Bluebird). This is the crowd that views the Fluid as one of the bands we call our own, part of our Colorado; the coolest band from our punk scene that easily rivaled the scenes around L.A. or anywhere else in the ’80s and early ’90s.
I usually approach reunion tours with trepidation — especially if it’s a band with which I’ve had a good history. You know what I’m talking about: We’re all expecting to catch a glimpse of the same band we fell in love with 20 (or more) years ago, to get a taste of the energy that used to pump and surge through us, spinning each other into a mosh pit, leaping off the stage, carrying band members and crowd members all around the place. Instead we’re usually left with a group of old rockers that have not aged well, and more often than not aren’t even talking to each other, let alone their audience. You just know the last thing they want to do is play for us, and would probably rather be anywhere else. It’s more embarrassing and awkward than waking up in a foggy mist after a one-night stand…
Not so this time. Friday night, it seemed we were all transported directly back to the ’90s among the capacity crowd at the Bluebird. In between bumping into friends I hadn’t seen since the last Denver Fluid shows, some 15 years ago, and stumbling through the liquor-soaked ’90s memories and stories we all relived for a few minutes at a time, the Fluid blasted out a continuous stream of hard-driving sonic bliss that, for a time in those heady days, formed the pinnacle sound of the Denver punk scene before the Denver Gentlemen, 16 Horsepower, Slim and Munly took over.
The band powered through a set that included all of the songs from the “Glue” EP — the Fluid’s best effort, released in 1990 — and more than a few from their seven other albums. You’d have a hard time convincing me it wasn’t the same set we saw the last time they played Denver in 1993. Singer John Robinson and the boys came out as if they’d never left Denver, never skipped a beat. If anything, they sounded even tighter and more polished — even better than I remembered.
After walking onstage much like they would walk into your living room, the band poured itself into “Candy” and the pounding engine was well on its way. They played “Wasted Time,” “Cop a Plea,” “Is It Day?,” “What Man,” “Hooked” and crowd favorite “It’s Cold Outside” (not necessarily in that order), before plowing through eight more songs and leaving the stage for the first time. Somehow they made it feel new again, all the while the members looking into the crowd and catching eyes with someone seemingly every time.
Robinson quipped with one fan about his having “spent more money than anyone he knew” on a Fluid album. Despite the Bluebird’s almost obsessive security measures (I saw at least ten people escorted from the pit and out of the building during the set), it was great to see crowd members actually bodysurfing again. Robinson and the other band members spoke directly to the crowd as if we were old friends. He scored a lot of points, too, for pointing out that the Fluid’s decision to participate in the Sub Pop anniversary show required a visit to Denver first.
When the band came back and belted out “Black Glove” for the encore, I was pretty satiated. Everybody was. It was like having our boys back and watching them play at our own special reunion. Moving out onto Colfax, we stayed for another hour reminiscing before going on to bars and homes, still pumped and excited.
Of course, all the members are showing some age. James Clower looks a little more like an uncle (or your boss) than the skinny punk-rocker he used to. Rick Kulwicki was fortunate enough to have the mic right in front of the fan on stage, and his long, graying hair was being constantly blown out of his face, rather than sticking to his sweat-drenched neck and back. Matt Bischoff and Garrett Shivlack, on the other hand, didn’t look too much different, save for the missing strap Matt used to wear to keep his glasses on.
Robinson used to start shows with no shirt — and often no shoes — and in no time his long hair would be swinging around spraying sweat and beer onto the crowd. He started Friday, however, with a sport jacket, vest, tie and jeans. His hair (all black this time — no bleached-blond top) is now respectably short. Kind of a shock, at least until he started progressively undressing every few songs. Eventually he was left the way I remember him: Shirtless and drenched. Everybody always said Robinson was the good looking one, and he still is.
Discussions invariably led to where the Fluid fit into the whole grunge thing, since they were on Sub Pop and are on their way to Seattle for the label’s 20th anniversary. While I think Robinson might have sounded a little starry-eyed in The Post article Friday, speculating on where the ’90s rock explosion might have gone without the Fluid, I think he brings up a solid point. In the early ’80s, there was a minor vacuum in punk rock where hardcore ended and metal began. The Fluid filled that gap. An argument could be made that they were instrumental in bridging the two sounds together overall, reminding bands about the importance of the raw sound of acts like the Stooges. The Fluid never forgot melody, either — one of the sorely missing elements of most grunge music.
The Fluid came together out of a Denver scene that featured all the sounds from hardcore punk to noise to volume-drenched blues and straight up rock ‘n’ roll. The scene included locally legendary acts like Bum Kon, Happy World, Dead Silence, Acid Pigs, Naram Sin and of course, Frantix (to name just a few). These bands were playing anywhere from basements in Boulder to the burned-out Packing House in Denver, or were supporting regular visits from Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Minutemen, D.R.I. — all the rock traffic from both coasts.
Each member of the Fluid knew the whole punk thing, coming from their earlier punk bands, but instead of throwing together yet another hardcore band with dozens of 30-second songs on each record, they put together a sound that pulled from the Stooges, New York Dolls, the Who, and the Rolling Stones. Robinson’s vocals come more from a background steeped in Iggy Pop, David Johansen, Wayne Kramer, Roger Daltrey and Mick Jagger rather than Darby Crash, John Lydon or even Keith Morriss and Henry Rollins.
And as noted earlier, the Fluid never left out the melodies. Their shows always combined the frantic energy of a hardcore punk show with the power-rock of the giant super groups. These shows attracted all the players in the scene — bands and fans alike (I remember Sonic Youth playing Denver with Neil Young in the early ’90s and Sonic Youth inviting the Fluid to the show), and everyone always left excited after what they’d seen.
The band would hit the stage, exploding with Garrett Shavlick’s drums and Matt Bischoff’s bass into a giant wall of sound. The crowd would spring to life, showering the band with beer, water, sweat and a constant barrage of silly string. The audience screamed all the lyrics to every song with Robinson, like we were in a battle to overpower James Clower and Rick Kulwicki’s constant wah-drenched guitar riffs.
In no time the whole place would turn into a drenched mosh semi-pit, all of us carrying Robinson and any willing audience member around the floor and over our heads, from the stage to the back of the house and up front again. The Fluid would play winter shows that left us shivering outside, covered in freezing sweat, but burning inside with worn-out excitement — usually still hoarsely gasping the words to “It’s Cold Outside” (I hum that tune — especially when the snow starts coming down). I remember thinking about how lucky we were to have our own real contributors to the history of super-fueled rock ‘n’ roll along the lines of the Stooges and the MC5, with a heavy dose of the disintegrating U.S. hardcore scene. Like Jack Endino said in The Denver Post, The Fluid were either ten years too late or five years too early. But we had them — and still have them.
Billy Thieme is a Denver-based writer and Reverb contributor.
See more of Glory Breitweiser’s photography.
VIDEO (courtesy of John Moore):
MORE PHOTOS: “Secret” Larimer Lounge show (Glory Breitweiser)