These days, a band can rarely be considered “broken up” for good. Even a member’s death doesn’t necessarily spell a project’s conclusion. Whether paid handsomely enough to return to the stage to sate nostalgic festival-goers or simply coaxed to reunite because subsequent projects didn’t match the success of the predecessor, with enough money and/or long-lost attention from devoted fans, even the most heated split can be mended. After 15 years of playing stages throughout the world, top-tier Warped Tour billing, a song on the beloved Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack, and untold influence on multiple generations of punk and ska enthusiasts, The Suicide Machines called it quits in 2006.
However, the disbanding was brief, as they came back in 2009 to play occasional sets at notable festivals such as Riot Fest and the like. Now that the initial wave of excitement has subsided, The Suicide Machines remain semi-operational and have seen their legacy-band status bust them back down to a familiar club setting. Friday night, the veteran Detroit ska-punk outfit quietly came to Cudahy, of all places, and rewarded 200-some diehards with a set rooted in mid-’90s favorites (and sobering between-song banter).
Before the headliner came out, Eau Claire’s own Arms Aloft set the tone with a set populated by punchy pop-punk and between-song commentary including jokes that Dave Grohl told a member, and an impromptu Mary Burke rally. Little-known New Orleans punkers Pears seemed to pleasantly surprise onlookers with a blistering (and unfortunately very short) performance. In what’s said to be their final local show of 2014, a variation of Direct Hit!—with bassist Steve Maury switching over to guitar due to the temporarily absence of Devon Kay, and a friend of the band filling in on bass—proved Caron Daly’s “punk rock the way it’s meant to be played” claim correct with a energetic traipse through the best of Brainless God and DOMESPLITTER, which included Galactic Cannibal drummer Ryan Bollis taking over vocal duties on “They Came For Me” whilst crowdsurfing for the majority of the song.
With the tall task of following the three impressive openers, The Suicide Machines quickly endeared themselves to fans (some of whom came from as far as Nebraska) by starting off with a number of cuts from their fan-favorite 1996 debut Destruction By Definition, including “S.O.S.,” “Break The Glass,” and “Islands.” Sporting a scraggly gray beard, singer and only remaining original member Jay Navarro regaled the audience with between-song tales of how drunk he’d gotten in Green Bay the previous night (pledging he was staying sober this time around, between slugs of PBR); recalling an altercation between Against The Grain’s singer and an audience member at Cactus Club while he was playing there with Hellmouth (“One of my favorite punk rock memories”); and touting Spotify for first exposing him to Arms Aloft. Despite being a rare outing, The Suicide Machines were altogether tight and well-rehearsed, as they whipped through more Destruction selections like “Our Time” (after Navarro bemoaned his job and referenced that he and another member had to work in Detroit the next morning), “Hey,” and a rendition of aforementioned Hawk song “New Girl” that sent the diminutive bar’s ever-bustling mosh pit into a frenzy.
As The Suicide Machines’ near-90-minute set neared its conclusion, they made sure to break out some newer material, including the title track from 2005’s War Profiteering Is Killing Us All and “Capitalist Suicide” (from the same record). The politically charged ska-punk selections were echoed by pointed political commentary by Navarro. He split the crowd between cheers of agreement and cries of “bullshit!” by suggesting America is responsible for ISIS and saying, “If we had oil in our veins instead of blood, there would be no war.” Saying he, at 41 years of age, is too old to make change himself anymore, the singer-turned-lecturer asked the crowd to flip cop cars and riot in his honor “to get things done.” Despite the odd, half-hatched anarchist diatribe to end the show, The Suicide Machines (assisted by three quality openers) reminded the kids and 40-somethings alike who crammed into the hot Cudahy bar why they were still legendary in certain circles. Sure, that legend has been downgraded to a “nearly sellout suburban townie bars and bitch about your day job” level, but The Suicide Machines seemed at home in their return to the stage, and a small, wistful crowd was happy to have them.