It seems like every day in recent memory has been met with the announcement that another iconic music group is getting back together, despite so many of these acts having so often addressed the possibility of a reconciliation with a "highly unlikely" or "no, never!"
Between the draw of reunions for major music festivals and the way time (and money) heals all wounds, the unexpectedly back-together band has become commonplace phenomenon these days. Nevertheless, for influential, South Florida-bred hardcore heroes Poison the Well, playing again seemed more and more improbable with each passing year.
To the outsider, Poison the Well's exit from active duty was tumultuous. It had been a tough year. In the summer of 2009, the band released The Tropic Rot, an album that was far ahead of its time and received as such. That fall, the group embarked on a nearly endless slog of a tour. And then, devastatingly, the band's van and trailer (loaded with all of the members' equipment and worldly belongings) was stolen from a hotel parking lot in Detroit.
By the summer of 2010, Poison the Well had announced an indefinite hiatus to "explore other interests."
As time marched on, the band's core membership joined other touring acts, took on serious music-industry jobs, and subsequently scattered itself about the country. The exact reason for the hiatus was never publicly discussed in depth, and it all calcified into what appeared to be a very real ending for an essential group that had set the standard for its generation's metallic hardcore while proudly flying the flag for South Florida's scene.
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However, anything is possible in the reunion-rife world in which we live these days, and it was revealed earlier this year that Poison the Well would be playing New Jersey's Skate and Surf Festival, as well as an additional show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. According to frontman Jeffrey Moreira, who spoke with New Times at soundcheck for the band's Brooklyn performance, the return was something that he and bassist, Brad Grace, had discussed often. "A year went by after we went on hiatus, and Brad and I started talking about how much we missed being in Poison the Well and how awesome it would be to play some shows again. But nobody else was ready, really."
As Grace explains, a reunion in 2011 “just didn't fit in with anyone's lifestyle, even mine. At the time, Ryan [Primack] was getting really busy touring and Chris [Hornbrook] was doing a lot of touring himself, so it just wasn't feasible."
On the precise cause of the band's hiatus and whether or not it was still-open wounds that kept a reunion from happening, Grace says: "We were all pretty fucking burned out. We had just done a crazy, crazy run of a tour, and the theft didn't help. It certainly wasn't the reason we went on hiatus, but it did nothing to boost morale. And honestly, I think we went into the hiatus thinking it was going to be a whole lot shorter than it ended up being. I don't think we had any idea that it would be over five years."
Moreira adds: "I think we had just toured so much; it's hard to have any sort of normal relationships with family and friends. I mean, I had been on tour with Poison the Well since was 18 years old."
The show in Brooklyn — which had sold out weeks earlier — proved that distance truly does make the heart grow fonder and that there had actually been acres gained for Poison the Well since throwing in the towel. As the band took the stage and kicked into the somber, spooky blues of "Nagaina" off the should-have-been revolutionary record Versions, the Music Hall of Williamsburg seemed to expand with kinetic energy, just waiting to explode.
Poison the Well was back — for the fans that had missed the band's presence over the years, for the young fans that had never even had the opportunity to see a PTW show, and for the group’s alumni in attendance (which included former bassist Andrew Abramowitz and former singer Duane Hosein) — and the performance was positively savage. The moment when the band let loose the distinct opening chords of “Botchla," the audience was completely unchained, turning the venue into a churning mass of stage dives and mosh moves.
Founding member and guitarist Ryan Primack paced the stage between songs like a caged animal, seemingly possessed by being reunited with these people and these songs. He was completely overcome with emotion at one point late in the set, confessing to the audience: "It's a pretty interesting evening for a lot of us. There are a lot of people in the room that helped make our lives what they are. We grew up in this big little town called Miami.” Then Primack drifted off a bit as he broke into tears while recalling the band’s days coming up in South Florida.
The set touched on every period of the group's discography and asserted beyond any doubt that Poison the Well's unique melodic, musically dexterous take on a genre plagued by bands pushing stale regurgitations and derivative bullshit is just as potent as it has ever been. We've missed this band, dearly.
The set ended with the members of the band (which included Glasseater's Ariel Arro filling in on rhythm guitar) exiting the stage one at a time as Primack repeatedly plucked out the haunting final chord of "Apathy Is a Cold Body."
It was an emotional finish, but Poison the Well's return to the stage for an encore came with another heady dose of emotion, because the band was suddenly joined by former guitarist (and current Sleigh Bells mastermind) Derek Miller, who was brandishing a guitar and bouncing, uncontrollably, as the band ripped into "Ghost Chant."
To close the show, Miller tagged Arro back in for the band's classic, possibly perfect testament to the musical device that is the breakdown, “Nerdy," as the audience reached a fever pitch of stage dives and scream alongs. Then Primack smashed his guitar — the sunburst Gibson hollowbody he had performed with since before the band split — into his amp. It felt oddly pure, authentic, and perfect for the moment.
The night was an absolute triumph for a band that represented South Florida so well for so long, and though the future is still uncertain for Poison the Well, Moreira assures us that a proper homecoming will have to happen at some point in the near future.
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Poison the Well’s Setlist
May 15, 2015, at Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
-"Zombies Are Good for Your Health"
-"To Mandate Heaven"
-"For a Bandaged Iris"
-"Parks and What You Meant to Me"
-"Slice Paper Wrists"
-"Antarctica Inside Me"
-"Artist's Rendering of Me"
-"Apathy Is a Cold Body"