Ah yes, reunion shows: the big, eternal question mark of rock 'n' roll. Can they still play? Will be as good as they were back in the day? Were they even really that good back in the day, or is your youth simply playing tricks on you? Do the songs still hold up now, even though you and they are x years older? Most importantly, do you go and find out or do you let everything just stay cool in your mind, untarnished by second shots at glory?
To be fair, the D Generation reunion was a safer bet than most. In the years since the band's 1999 demise, I've seen singer Jesse Malin perform live about a million times; while his singer-songwriter gig may not sound exactly like his former band, his chops have only grown in the time away. I've also seen most of his former band mates guest with him for a song or set here or there. Ability wasn't a question, nor was the material: the three albums and smattering of singles left behind by D Generation have never strayed far from my music playback apparatus of choice in the past twelve years. Really, there was only one unknown quantity: would this be the explosive live act of yore, or would the band be content to stand there and play.
For me, either would have been fine: we are all twelve years older than the last time around after all. Still, there was the question of my fiancée Rhea, who has listened to me rave about how these guys were the best live band of the '90s bar none for more years than we have been dating, let alone seriously committed. I've long since converted her to the cult of Jesse Malin's equally distinguished solo career, but she'd never seen D Gen before their implosion. In the back of my head, I wondered if she'd be getting the full deal.
Lights down. The band takes the stage in darkness. Malin steps up to the microphone: "Has anybody seen my boy?" The band blasts into "Degenerated", their longtime set closer; hearing it used to kick off the gig initially throws me for a loop, then makes perfect sense: WE ARE BACK, it screams. So they were: the next hour and a piece flew by like it was nothing, one neglected classic after another resurrected, brought comfortably into the present by a band who may be twelve years older, but who haven't lost one iota of energy or unpredictability to time. Malin, Danny Sage, Richard Bacchus (both guitar), Howie Pyro (bass), and Michael Wildwood (drums) - the lineup responsible for the majority of the group's studio output - did the bit and then some, and the fever-pitch crowd responded in kind. If it's at all possible, we may all have shaved off at least a couple of those twelve years that night.
Rhea's jaw hit the floor early and stayed there. By our car ride home, she was talking excitedly about how she wished she'd found the band in their '90s heyday, about what a welcome respite from grunge ennui and shoegazing disconnection they must have been in their day. In many ways, it's Rhea's reaction that counts; aside from wanting me to come away happy, she had no emotional connection with D Generation before they took the stage. This band took a newcomer and made her a believer in under ninety minutes. That's no mean feat for any band, let alone one that has been in hibernation for longer than they were around in the first place.
For me, the old die-hard, it was worth every minute of those twelve years' wait and then some. I can't tell you whether D Generation ever "got their due" or anything like that - the world, as so many folks are fond of pointing out, is not a fair place after all - but I can tell you that they were easily the best band of their era for my money. I can also tell you that they are the best band of 2011 for my money, and I really do love speaking of them in the present tense once again, for however long it ends up lasting.
That last subject is the focal point for quite a bit of conjecture at the moment: a quick Google search tells me everything from they'll be doing an album in 2012 to these shows are it. Obviously, I'd be pleased as punch with the former, but even if the latter turns out to be closer to the mark it does nothing to negate the fact that this music that I've held so dear for so long lived again, and did so in fine style, for one night in Manhattan. If you missed it, well, Malin did promise another New York show before all is said and done in his stage banter; cross your fingers. If you live in or near California, go buy your tickets right now for this weekend. Twelve years is a long time to wait, you know.
Setlist (many thanks to setlist.fm; I was way too in the moment to take notes.) Degenerated / She Stands There / Feel Like Suicide / Guitar Mafia / Capital Offender / Cornered / Major / Working on the Avenue / Helpless / Scorch / Stealing Time / Vampire Nation / Frankie / Waiting for the Next Big Parade / Wasted Years / No Way Out