BY THE TIME Bangs delivered their spunky debut Tiger Beat in 1998, Kill Rock Stars was a rather dour place to be. KRS catalog releases that year were from the recently defunct Bikini Kill, the howling Sabbath stoner rock of C Average, Unwound side project Long Hind Legs, and the tragically underappreciated Julie Ruin solo recording (the nom de plume of Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna—an early precursor to the biting feminist call and response she'd deliver a year later with Le Tigre).
In contrast to their Olympia labelmates, Bangs never intended to carry the underground upon their shoulders. Composed of Sarah Utter and Maggie Vail, plus more than a few drummers along the way, Bangs stood in the long shadow of the riot grrrl movement without ever committing to the lyrical urgency and political leanings of the genre. Ironically, despite their integral ties to Kill Rock Stars, Bangs would have probably been a better fit on yet another iconic West Coast punk label of the time, Lookout! Records.
"I always thought of us as more power pop, like Cheap Trick or the Undertones—which is why we covered those bands. I think I initially described us as 'the Go-Go's meets Black Sabbath' and that sort of holds up," says Vail. From their initial days covering "Teenage Kicks" to their split six years later, the Bangs delivered a pair of fine LPs (the aforementioned Tiger Beat, and their best work, 2000's Sweet Revenge) plus a final EP as well. While their straightforward rock leanings might have never resonated on par with Bikini Kill's cries for revolution, Bangs' catalog is thick with both furious punk numbers (most notably Sweet Revenge's unhinged "Into You" and "Death by Guitar," the rambunctious anthem that closes out Tiger Beat) plus more than a few songs that take advantage of the trio's ability to change pace mid-recording (namely "Undo Everything," the sentimental ballad that highlights Sweet Revenge).
Now after a half dozen years spent dormant, Utter, Vail, and Peter David Connelly (the band's final drummer), are reuniting. Yet unlike so many band reformations spurred on by age, Bangs are reuniting with only the most noble of intentions.
"Natalie [Cox] is one of my oldest and closest friends, we go back at least 16-17 years," explains Vail. In addition to their friendship, the ex-pat Cox was a longtime fixture of the Olympia music scene and a former Kill Rock Stars employee who has been recently diagnosed with a particularly brutal form of cancer known as angiosarcoma. "When she told me that her treatment was over in the UK and she had to fund anything additional out of pocket, I immediately thought maybe Bangs could play a show and it would help out." For this series of one-off benefit shows—in Portland, Seattle, and of course, Olympia—Vail recruited former label luminaries C Average, Thrones, and yet another group very dear to Cox, the Need.
"Rachel Carns [of the Need] and Natalie are also old friends and Rachel had been diagnosed with breast cancer last spring. The community rallied around her to help pay for treatment, so I thought the Need would most likely be up for it," says Vail.
While it's a cause that is ultimately bittersweet, these reunion dates offer an inspiring glimpse at the generosity of all those involved. Even as the majority of the once close-knit Kill Rock Stars community broke up their respective bands, packed up their belongings, and fled Olympia, their devotion to each other still remains.