A punk-rock elder statesman at 41, Rob Henry's version of the "when I was your age" adage doesn't involve walking to school uphill through 40 miles of snow. Instead, Henry -- who was the lead singer of Latrobe's first hardcore band, Direct Action -- had to drive those 40 miles to get to the Electric Banana.
Along with him on those trips to the now-defunct Oakland venue was high school friend and guitarist Tom Jagger. "We would go to New Wave dance places, anywhere we might hear a punk song being played," Henry says. "We started going to the Electric Banana, and after I saw Half Life and Agnostic Front there in 1985, I decided I wanted to form a band."
In May 1987, Direct Action began to practice.
Originally, the band was just Jagger and Henry, both then attending IUP, and drummer Derek Koloshinsky, brought in by their friend George Love. "We were definitely the first punk band out there," Henry says. "There was nothing in Latrobe -- no shows, no zines. Everything came by word of mouth, or on tapes dubbed by friends." With the addition of bassist Dave Kasparek, the classic lineup was complete, and it was time to put out ... a cassette.
"CD technology was still cost-prohibitive, and there was a very limited audience," Henry says. "The first tape we did DIY on a borrowed four-track set up in game rooms, garages and living rooms. There weren't any record labels around -- people bought the demos and starting hearing about us, so we played more shows, which were at a premium back then."
The brief flowering of Danceland -- a venue which successively became Bonkers, Illusions and Planet Bubba -- gave Westmoreland youths exposure to an otherwise distant scene. For Henry, memorable Danceland shows included Fang, Rollins Band and two appearances by NOFX. Pittsburgh acts Half Life, The Heretics and The Cynics also made it out to Latrobe. When Direct Action nabbed a chance to play in Pittsburgh, the band shared the stages of the Banana and the now-defunct City Limits with the likes of Token Entry and Doomwatch.
Besides Danceland, "securing places to play was almost impossible" in Westmoreland County, says Henry. "You had to lie and finagle your way into renting the White Eagle or the Civic Garden Center, and after they saw all the kids, that was always the last time a show happened there. But people supported us and the scene grew."
Over the band's brief, three-year existence, which later included second guitarist John Potiseck, Direct Action made three more demo tapes, including a live recording at the Banana in 1988, and a pro job at Latrobe's Gamut Studios. "By then, our sound had started to change because of [Kasparek's] influence. We became more like New York hardcore, the early Revelation Records vibe, like Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits."
Direct Action broke up in 1990, but the spirit lived on in its members' subsequent projects. After Henry left, the band continued as Third Rail with drummer Aaron Pagdon (now of NYC bands Two Man Advantage and Federale). Gaining a new lead singer, they became pop-punkers Ten Feet Tall and pressed a 7-inch. Jagger and Potiseck were the only constants when the group morphed into indie-rockers Davenport, which released several records before Jagger departed for San Francisco, in 1997.
Henry, though, took more than 15 years to rejoin the punk-rock scene, as garage punkers Kim Phuc's frontman. "I started going to shows again at the Roboto Project, became re-energized and wanted to be ensconced in this [music] again," he says. Kim Phuc put out three 7-inches in rapid succession and is recording its first LP in January, after having returned from a West Coast tour.
Direct Action has sporadically reunited for special functions, although the most recent performance was nearly nine years ago. The current reunion, a benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, was spurred by Kasparek's creation of the West PA Underground Web site (kasparek-music.com/westpa-underground/), documenting the Westmoreland punk scene in words and pictures from 1985 to 2000. "Oddly enough, the Internet got the ball rolling, bringing up memories and interest," Henry muses. "It's an instant way of getting things done -- an odd feeling, but effective."
With bands like Gorilla Biscuits and Youth Brigade also reforming, the idea of Direct Action's far-flung members reuniting to relive their youth doesn't seem that out of place. "We'll just try to do what we do with songs that we wrote some 20-odd years ago," says Henry. "It's a nice, nostalgic look back to play with my friends again, and reconnect with people I haven't seen for a long time."
Direct Action reunion with Brass Chariot. 9 p.m. Sat., Dec. 26. Gooski's, 3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill. $5. 412-681-1658
- Youth of yesterday: Direct Action