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The Music Gear That Lashes Down A 26-Minute Hardcore Punk Reunion Set
Neon Christ's one-off show in Atlanta after 37 years.
Fourteen songs. Twenty-six minutes. That’s the set that Neon Christ is rehearsing for their Record Store Day reunion show.
“Neon Christ had a sound that can’t be duplicated,” James Demer tells me. The band played gigs and recorded for only a brief period between 1983 and 1985. In Atlanta’s hardcore punk scene, they were standouts: four skinny, kinetic teenagers who played thrash music as if their lives depended on it.
It must have worked: although Neon Christ was short-lived, all four of its members survived the turbulent scene. Now grown men with teenagers of their own, the original members will reunite as Neon Christ for a single show in Atlanta on June 12, Record Store Day 2021.
The gig celebrates the deluxe vinyl reissue of their 1984 sessions, co-released by Southern Lord and DVL, a RSD21 special feature. Remastered in Nashville from the original recordings, Neon Christ: 1984 has a full-color gatefold, along with 12 pages of oral history and never-before-seen photographs.
Neon Christ consists of William DuVall (later of BL’AST, Comes With The Fall, Alice in Chains), Jimmy Demer (Gardens of…, Accidents), Danny Lankford (Gardens of…, GoDevils, Accidents) and Randy DuTeau (Gardens of…).
When the band started, the members were fifteen and sixteen—too young to get into shows at some of the clubs they played.
“I didn’t really know how to play the drums when I joined Neon Christ,” Demer recalls. “I had seen William’s band. He had this band called Awareness Void of Chaos, and they played a few gigs and broke up in the summer of ’83, but I saw them that summer.”
A month later, Demer was chatting with DuVall outside the Metroplex in Atlanta. “He was talking about needing a drummer, and I was like, ‘I can do it!’”
In a process that seems emblematic of the punk ethos, Demer learned to play the “thrash” beat needed for Neon Christ’s hardcore sound on the fly.
“All you do is, like, this crazy sprint,” he says. “You’re hitting as hard and as fast as you can for the 45 seconds that the song lasts.”
Years later, Demer, whose primary instrument is guitar, decided to get serious about the drums and took lessons. “I played drums every day during the pandemic,” he says, “but once Neon Christ started practicing again, none of the techniques that I learned applied. It was just back to playing that crazy thrash beat.”
Still, for the reunion gig, he’ll embrace a few innovations, so to speak: “Velcro,” he tells me. “Back in the day we used cinder blocks to hold the drums still. It never worked. Velcro works. And drum gloves. They look dumb, but they keep my hands from being destroyed.”
Demer didn’t wear them back then: “We were kids, so playing thrash for an hour didn’t tire us out,” he laughs.
DuVall’s gear, too, has evolved. Now a career guitarist with decades of touring and recording to his name, he’s designed a signature William DuVall guitar, called the Talisman, manufactured by Framus.
But at the first Neon Christ reunion practice, it became clear that the Talisman wasn’t the right instrument to stand up to a hardcore punk set—at least, not the way Neon Christ plays it.
“The Talisman sounded amazing,” DuVall says. “But when you’re hitting the guitar really hard, the strings can pop off the saddles. I didn’t want to be on stage getting really crazy and then have that happen.”
What about going back to his original guitar? Well, first of all, he’s been playing since the age of eight. And a lot has changed since the chaotic Neon Christ days.
“Back then I had a Hamer Phantom,” DuVall recalls. “It was a really interesting guitar, very much a guitar of its era—didn’t really transcend the era, but it was integral to the early Neon Christ.”
But the Hamer Phantom met with a tragic end: “In January ’85, I was onstage and having a frustrating gig for whatever reason, and back then, I just didn’t have the mental wherewithal to kind of take things in stride and harness the energy and the rage back into the music,” he recalls.
“So I smashed up the Hamer Phantom. I threw it up in the air, and it smashed behind me... Someone came up to me with the pieces, and the photographer Chuck Gill came up and took this picture of me holding the pieces of the guitar and sort of half smiling. But inside, I was crushed.”
After that, DuVall played a Dan Armstrong, the kind famously played by Greg Ginn of Black Flag – one reason why DuVall liked it. “It’s a see-through guitar—a clear Lucite guitar. I got mine for $250; you can’t find them now for that, they’re four or five grand,” laughs DuVall. Even back then, “I had to put a down payment on it, at a place called We Buy Guitars on 48th Street in Manhattan.”
In the end, for the reunion, DuVall decided to go with a Paul Reed Smith guitar – one the renowned luthier made just for him, after they ran into each other at NAAM one year. “It was really sweet,” muses DuVall. “He said, ‘I wonder why I never made anything for you?’ Then he said he was going to do it... And a few months later, this beautiful Paul Reed Smith Santana model showed up.”
That guitar has a Wilkinson tremolo bar on it, perfect for producing what DuVall describes as “war sounds.” And the strings don’t pop off.
If you happen to be in Atlanta, you can catch Neon Christ reunited, in the parking lot behind Star Bar, Saturday, June 12 from 6-8pm for a free, all-ages show. It’s going to be hardcore.