There isn't a punk scene as vibrant and thriving as the punk scene in Columbus, Ohio! It's underground still, and the big bands don't know about it YET, but they will know. They will hear about it. Fifteen percent of my monthly readership comes from New York City and Los Angeles, the soon-to-be former punk rock capitals of the United States. Sometimes the stars simply align, our destinies are revealed, and fate takes the wheel. In 2019, The Stoop opened. Just one year later, Punkerton Records entered the arena. In 2021, Bands in the Bus was born. What bountiful blessings will the year 2022 bestow upon the Columbus punk scene? Only time will tell. But at the very least, on Saturday, March 19th, Joe Strummer and the Pantheon of Olde Punk Gods in the Sky consecrated us with the release of a Prime Directive album.
But the story behind of how I ended up at the album release show actually starts on Valentine's Day when when guitarist Bryan Sedlock reached out to invite me to the event. At the time I received the invite, I had no idea who Prime Directive was. Let's get real, until recently, the Columbus punk scene was unintentionally one of the best kept secrets in the world. It literally took me years to stumble upon it, but I immersed myself quickly. Upon receiving Bryan's message, I ran downstairs giddy to tell my husband the news! I just got invited to my first record release party. This was a sign of progress, this was a sign of things to come.
Sedlock's understanding of the Columbus punk scene makes him acutely aware of the benefits and challenges within it. On one hand, it's incredibly tight knit, there is so much cross pollination and it seems like everyone goes to everyone else's shows. On the other hand, it’s hard to grow your following if you literally know everybody on the scene. Luckily times are changing. The Stoop is bringing acts in from across the country and Double Happiness has reopened. Summit Music Hall is giving bands the VIP treatment while on stage with lighting effects and a smoke machine that makes new up-and-coming artists feel like world renowned rockstars. And while I might be the world's most mediocre musician, I am a fairly talented writer who has worked in marketing for over a decade. Now, I am using that experience to promote the bands and venues that I love. However, I can only be one place at a time, which is why Sedlock's decision to reach out to me more than a month before the show was so incredibly smart.
The week leading into the Prime Directive album release show was one of the busiest of my life with a show almost every night along with ambitious endeavors at the day job. I wasn't sleeping much at night and I was overworking myself. For me, hypomania expresses itself with huge bursts of almost superhuman productivity before I crash and burn. By Saturday evening, I was in what I like to call the "free fall." It's a brief period when to know you are about to crash but you know you have one more free burst of energy that you can burn. When you haven't been sleeping or eating well for days, eventually your body’s desperation will overpower your brain. Luckily, the band chose The Summit Music Hall for their debut, where one can steal a seat at the bar and order delicious food from the quick service restaurant next door when in need of a pick me up.
Lustkill kicked the show off and while I was impressed by their performance, I initially felt like they were they were the least congruent band in the line-up. That being said, I was eventually won over by their bubblegum pop vibe with an adult millennial twist, especially when it comes to their lyrics. My husband joked during their set that nearly every band in the Columbus scene either sounds like the Queers and Screeching Weasel, and while he isn't wrong, I think there's more to this band. I often find it amusing how a seven year age difference can give us different perspectives. Sometimes, when gnarled older punks hear how my husband indoctinorated me into punk they like to call me a poser, as if I simply mirror his musical tastes. In reality, we listen to entirely different bands most of the time despite there being some overlap. So where he hears The Queers and Screeching Weasel in Lustkill's sound, I counter that what he actually hears is the Methadones.
This, of course, is ironic because there is ample cross pollination between the members of all three of those bands, but the Pandora and Spotify algorithms apparently understand that we experienced our adolesence in radically different times. However, we will explore this in greater depth in the coming weeks because Lustkill has unlocked the secret to getting a feature on Bands in the Bus faster than any other band. The secret is simple: play more shows. The bands that play out the most, will ultimately receive the most coverage. I was able to see Lustkill just days after the Prime Directive debut and enjoyed that performance even more. So stayed tuned for that post.
Next up came the Villiantinos, and if you know me at all, you know I am a sucker for a female vocalist. My dad always had the hots for Lita Ford (I mean, who didn't?), so I was allowed to listen to the Runaways and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts as a child despite their more punk influences. I doubt he even knew that one Runaways song was originally written by Steve Jones and Paul Cook for the Sex Pistols. But I digress, the Villiantinos, when firing on all cyniders could quite possibly be the hottest band in Columbus right now.
Unfortunately, the Summit Music Hall doesn't serve all bands equally. The venue can make just about any band look like international superstars and their sound mixing is great. However, the incredibly high stage and guardrail (which I do appreciate as someone who photographs bands) doesn't lend itself to the feeling of intimacy that you get at some other venues, especially when your vocalist is particularly petite. The band put on a killer performance and I could totally hear flavors of X and Blondie in Leah Pugh's vocals while the band seems to have taken inspiration from The Damned, The Cramps and possibly even the Dead Boys and Buzzcocks. I just think the band would have more bite in a more intimate venue with a lower stage. I look forward to hearing them again, so I can focus more intently on their lyrics.
On the other hand, Summit Music Hall, is probably the perfect venue for Bundy and the Spins whose frontman performs as if they were playing a sold out show at Madison Square Garden. This band was my overall favorite of the night purely from the standpoint of first impressions. This high-octane rock 'n' roll act effortlessly incorporates all of my favorite elements of 90s rock. From the rabid bite of the early Subpop Seattle Sound to the ferocity of White Zombie, Bundy and the Spins’ set packs plenty of heat along with a heavy dose of Midwestern rustbelt grit. However, what I enjoyed most about this band was their unrivaled intensity. This band came to slay and they truly showcased their rockstar swagger and showmanship. The only downside is that all that confident charisma and fervency can overshadow the music at times. But I will be sure to provide you with a more in-depth analysis of their music (and possibly an interview with the band???🤔) after their performance at Hell Is Ohio Fest.
Finally, we get to the piece de resistance, Prime Directive. Now, I have only been covering the Columbus punk scene for the past few months, and I know that there is plenty more for me to discover. However, if you were to distill the entire scene into one quintessential punk band, I think that band would likely sound, look, and act a lot like Prime Directive. This is likely due to the fact that Prime Directive is super-group, of sorts, composed of members of other prominent Columbus punk bands both past and present.
These seasoned veterans make performing at this level look easy and I have never seen any band consume so many shots of whiskey on stage and still put on such a rousing and relatively clean performance that has the audience fully engaged. I say "relatively" because one of the secrets to the Prime Directive formula is the fact that these veteran musicians play incredibly loose. This dynamic allows for spontaneous improvisation and collaborations with surprise guest stars like Joey Yates of Lustkill, and overenthusiastic audience participation—including their entire friend group storming the stage for some clothing (mostly) optional shenanigans.
This band makes balancing their cheeky, irreverent humor with biting social and political commentary look effortless even when many of their songs serve as very personal reflections of the unprecedented times. This delicate balance is perpetuated and replicated throughout their setlist with verses that sardonically critique the society we are forced to participate in or our banal subjugated existence combined with catchy choruses that are easy enough to chant along to with even when seeing the band live for the first time.
Unfortunately for Prime Directive, being a hyper regional super group comes with one particular disadvantage. After years, possibly even decades, of cross pollination between bands, their target audience is an incredibly condensed fanbase that doesn't scale to the level of their talent. It's hard for word of mouth to spread when contained in such an impermeable interconnected echo chamber. However, I think there is a relatively simple solution to this unique dilemma: a really good gimmick. As I have stated before, I love me a good gimmick band. A good gimmick will market itself, and when combined with a talented band, it can serve as a gateway drug for an entire musical genre.
Let's face it, the punk scene, despite being incredibly inclusive can feel extremely intimidating and even anxiety-inducing to outsiders. Yet, bands like Masked Intruder and Okilly Dokilly have attracted thousands of new fans to their respective sub-genres because they utilize a humorously zany premise to make our spaces feel accessible and even whimsical to potential audiences. Now, Prime Directive is already actively toying with a pulpy intergalactic vibe that is heavily influenced by Mars Attacks. But I think they should lean into this campiness a little more prominently, especially when performing live. I think a little extra dose of martian camp would attract new audiences to the Columbus punk scene while setting Prime Directive apart from a market oversaturated by talented bands.
Prime Directive is the ultimate amalgamation of the the Columbus punk scene and it perfectly encapsulates all of the charm and challenges within the local scene. Bryan and his bandmates know what makes our scene so special while being all too familiar with its setbacks. Through all of it, they‘re still here to entertain us. The best thing about this band is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's members aren't afraid to have fun and are always ready to actively support the other bands in the scene. Prime Directive is officially certified as a #localgem and their album is the first to be nominated for the Bands in the Bus #albumoftheyear!
You can see Prime Directive perform at Punk vs. Metal on April 30th. You can also catch them along with Bundy and the Spins at Hell Is Ohio Fest on June 18th. Until next time, take care of one another and stay safe in the pit.
P.S. You can help keep Bands in the Bus free for everyone and prevent the use of pay walls by donating when, how, and what you can to our cause. Your local music scene thanks you for your support.