GETTING INTO IT Neutral Nation feeling gravity’s pull.
Acclaimed local director David Bettencourt immortalizes Providence-via-Attleboro punk pioneers Neutral Nation in his latest documentary, It’s a Bash!, premiering on Friday at Lupo’s (followed by a week-long run at the Cable Car) and leading into a triple-bill headlined by who else but Neutral Nation. To top it off, local label Big Noise just released Neutral Nation: Live At Bandwagon (available at iTunes and CDBaby.com), a kinetic 26-minute lightning ride recorded in 1986 at the Living Room at the Bandwagon benefit concert, organized by Big Noise founder Al Gomes, inspired by Bob Geldof’s Band Aid and Live Aid. Live At Bandwagon will be available at the Bash, and Gomes is proud to report that all proceeds will benefit the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.
Bettencourt garnered attention with his wildly-popular 2007 directorial debut You Must Be This Tall: The Story of Rocky Point Park, which ultimately led to his take on Neutral Nation, who used to perform a spiked rendition of the Rocky Point theme song. Bettencourt pitched the idea to producer Kevin Cafferty, as both were highly-familiar with the DIY punks; Bettencourt grew up in Harrisville and made frequent trips to Thayer Street to shop for records, while Smithfield native Cafferty hosted the Shindig Punk Rock radio show in the mid-’90s during his college days at URI, where he met fellow punk enthusiast Bettencourt.
“I got into punk rock when some older skater kids tape-recorded some records for me when I was 12, and one of those records was Neutral Nation’s It’s a Bash! album,” Cafferty re-called.
It’s a Bash! includes testimonials and high praise from local musicians, including Alec K. Redfearn, drummer (and former Living Room manager) Bob Giusti, and Hope Anchor’s Terry Linehan, as well as insight from past members Johnny Cote (current drummer with the Superchief Trio) and bassist Steve Lepper, who co-founded the band with guitarist Dave Chabot. In fact, more than 45 hours of live footage, interviews, and sentimental recollections, particularly a touching, sincere overview from frontman Mike Yarworth, were amassed for the 65-minute film.
“The editing is nerve-wracking, but exhilarating,” Bettencourt stated. “I love seeing it all come together.”
The common denominator throughout It’s a Bash! revolves around a handful of suburban skater misfits who started a band “for no other reason than to have fun.” It’s a Bash! celebrates the impact Neutral Nation had in becoming an unwitting catalyst for a unified freak scene here in Rhode Island during the live circuit heyday, with plenty of footage showing diverse, insanely-packed crowds at the Living Room.
“We wanted to show everyone just how great a vibrant music scene can be,” Cafferty said. “The people who were fans of Neutral Nation and what they got out of the ‘scene’ are just as important to the film as the band itself.”
There wasn’t a lot of raging against the machine with Neutral Nation, as the band name implies, but some entertaining ’80s angst included jabs like “This goes out to the Pepsi generation” before launching into “Be a Part of It” on Live at Bandwagon, and a great Bash! scene involves Buckland announcing, “We’re not a political band at all” before holding up a jacket that reads “Impeach Reagan.”