By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
In her short time in the Bay Area -- she moved there from Roanoke, Virginia, to be with McBride four months before he murdered her -- Dixie made a lot of friends. Consequently Fang's on-stage comeback at the Trocadero, a San Francisco club, in May 1997 did not pass unremarked upon. Death threats against McBride were phoned in to the nightclub before the show. Ditto at a Fang gig later in the year in Michigan. "Our first show a lot of people were there because of the controversy," McBride says, admitting that, in theory at least, Fang could engender a sort of freak-show phenomenon among audiences as a result of the murder. "There's certainly that possibility, although it hasn't really happened. If somebody does come with that as their only motivation, hopefully they will come away with something else. Just as there are people who won't come [to a Fang show] because they hate me or they hate what I've done, and that's totally valid. But I wish they would come too, because they might come away from it with something else as well."
While both Fang's San Francisco debut and its Michigan shows went off without serious incident, McBride recalls that at another gig, this one in the northern California town of Danville, east of Oakland, someone in the audience started to taunt him about his past, then spat at him. In true punk rock style, McBride spat back. When the guy wouldn't relent with his heckling, though, McBride appealed to a mutual friend in the audience, who calmed down the outraged party, and the show proceeded apace.
So far the band has performed mostly around the Bay Area -- plus in nearby San Jose, with jaunts to Chicago and Los Angeles -- playing a set that evenly mixes old and new stuff. "It's been so long since we've played," McBride points out, "that a lot of people really want to hear that old material. They were too young and never saw us perform it live, or that's all they know." From that dusty back catalogue, Fang has pulled out "Landshark," "Skinheads Smoke Dope," "An Invitation," and "Suck and Fuck," among others. And, apparently, the band can be obliging about requests. "If somebody comes up and says, 'Hey, will you play "Drunk & Crazy,"' we'll do it," McBride notes.
But given the presence of three new members, a peck of new material, and an association with a hideous crime, it seems odd to revive the Fang name. In such a situation a whole new identity would seem to be in order -- a complete reinvention. "That certainly was in essence the idea," McBride explains, recalling how he and Levine discussed various options when they began playing together in November 1996, eleven months after Sam was paroled. "But in thinking about it -- and over time when we talked about it and were trying to decide what to do -- it occurred to us that people want to hear the old Fang songs. I guess we could call it something else, but why?"
Which sort of raises a couple of questions. Why re-form Fang at all? And why, just shy of turning 33 years old, give yourself over to punk rock -- again? A wife, a kid, another kid on the way, a steady job. Why not forget the past? Why not just, you know, go gently into that good night? All that. While still in prison, McBride figured he wouldn't play in a band again: "I didn't expect to." Then after his parole he began to attend a few punk shows, most of them in San Francisco. Not much: a gig every few weeks in the months after his release. "I eased back into things," he remembers. "And I saw what punk rock had become. It had become the things that I didn't like, the things that made me a punk rocker in the first place. It had become a popularity contest, and it had become a case of who's more politically correct than whom. I wasn't impressed. I didn't see anything that lit me on fire, that made me think, 'Yeah, this was what I was missing while I was away.'
"Punk rock was supposed to be about being open-minded, about looking at things differently, thinking about them differently. And questioning. Not questioning authority as a whole -- everyone jumps on that bandwagon -- but do they question all authority. If somebody says, 'This is wrong' or 'This is right,' well, that's an authority too. As musicians, we need to push the idea that too many people use PC as an excuse to not really look and not really make up their own minds about things.
"And it's also about questioning yourself. About what you think and what you believe. And because of the checkered past of this band, we do force you to think -- whether you want to or not, and whether it pisses you off or not."
That accounts for the motivation. The catalyst for re-forming Fang came from an entirely different art form: film. In 1996 McBride played the role of a prison gang leader in an indie movie -- still unreleased -- called Down Time, written and directed by an ex-con friend of his, someone with whom he used to deal drugs. "He asked me if I wanted to write a song for the soundtrack," McBride recounts. "So I got some musicians together [including Levine and Babcock] and we wrote a song. We went in and recorded it, and Josh said, 'This is great. Why stop here? Let's keep playing.' And that made sense to me."