By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
For the first time in some 15 years—and, more than likely, for the final time ever—the Buck Pets will play Trees on Saturday night.
This comes as a surprise to many, chiefly those who recall the band's ascension from suburban comers to downtown rock-and-roll gods in the mid- to late 1980s, and the subsequent meltdown that ultimately resulted in their producing, in total, one astounding debut on Island in 1989, one disappointing follow-up the next year and a shrug of a finale in '93 among assorted other forgotten odds and sods.
Theirs is more legend than legacy at this late date, a distant memory resurfacing for one last time so it can be given a proper burial.
2709 Elm St.
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Whatever thrill the old-timers will get out of the evening is beside the point. This isn't for us, but for them.
"It's been a goddamned long time, for sure," says Chris Savage, who more or less wrote the entirety of the debut—a savage, superb slice of vinyl. Savage is serving as the spokesman for this reunion, which was called to order by drummer Ricky Pearson—the fan who became the band's second drummer just in time for its final record. Savage has spent the last few years assembling a collection of early-days demos and unreleased recordings that will be released in a limited-edition pressing at the Trees show—200 copies only, so act fast.
Which is amazing, when you think about it: The very man who says the Buck Pets "fucked me up" for years is now preserving its forgotten past and ushering it into the future one final time. The reason? Savage says there isn't just one. And so, as we talk for an hour, he offers several. Like this one:
"I didn't appreciate it enough the first time around, and now I appreciate it a lot more," he says. "I am thankful for another go-round. That's all it boils down to. I didn't think it would happen. I grew up with those guys. I stopped growing up with these guys. Our development was arrested together. ... And things didn't end in the most positive way, as band things have a way of ending. It did not end the way I would have had it end. So, in a psychobabble way, it's a good way to put some healing ..."
He pauses. "A cathartic sort of thing."
"Not closure," he says. "Don't believe in it. Hate it. Closure's a fucked-up word. It's nice. This time, we won't be breaking up afterwards. We'll still be together forever. We just may not play again."
There is no reason to expect the flashback to extend beyond this single performance: Singer-guitarist Andy Thompson has his own restaurant, not to mention a family, in Virginia; bassist Ian Beach likewise has retreated into the culinary arts (he was once chef de cuisine at the Mansion on Turtle Creek) and moves around the country like a Southwest flight. They've got other things to do, other lives—that rock-star shit was forever ago and best left in the past, where pretty young boys never grow old and the girls stay the same age.
And then there is Savage, who was more or less birthed by the nascent Dallas rock scene in the mid-1980s. He was a kid who hung out at the Nairobi Room and the Theatre Gallery, who adored Three on a Hill and End Over End and who couldn't believe there were guys from his fucking hometown writing their own fucking songs and playing fucking concerts and holy shit how do I get in on that?
In time, he and his band would become the scene—the sound of Deep Ellum, natch, if the title of Island Records' mediocre-in-retrospect comp was to be believed. If the New Bohemians were the darlings, the Buck Pets were the white dopes on punk most likely to succeed. And they did, for a while.
Island put out the first two records—the first is the best, what the Replacements might have sounded like if they'd suckled on Lone Star—till, one day, label higher-ups suggested putting Dobermans in cages on stage during the live show. Savage told the boss: "That's the stupidest fucking idea I've ever heard in my whole life."
It wasn't long before they were shown the door.
Savage was the first one in and the last one out, after Thompson up and abruptly quit the band not long after the '93 release of To the Quick on Restless Records—or, as Savage calls it, "Useless Records." Just like that, that was that— boyhood pals were friends no more. The two wouldn't speak for years.
"The rest of us wouldn't have ever quit," Savage says. "It might not have been the best idea to stick it out, but I know I wouldn't have quit. And the other two wouldn't have either."
Savage and Beach and Pearson—who replaced Tony Alba, still God knows where—carried on for a while under the moniker Atlas Throat, the sole evidence being a MySpace page that features a few songs. After all the ups and downs and downers, Savage didn't want anything to do with a reunion. It was the last thing on his mind, literally: He says that, till not so long ago, he couldn't even look at the word "pets" in a newspaper advertisement without wanting to vomit.