The Bad Livers: Old-time hip, not hippie
By Tony DuShane
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
The Bad Livers helped open the way for old-time and bluegrass bands of today, making acoustic hip instead of hippie.
The band formed in 1990 in Austin, Texas, as a trio but became a duo six years later. In the '90s, the Livers performed about 200 dates a year. Singer and string player Danny Barnes and bass player Mark Rubin put their hearts and souls into bringing an old sound to a new generation, with a punk rock attitude.
Rubin grew up in Norman, Okla., when the hard-core scenes of California and the East Coast were thriving. Musicians slept on his couch when they came through town, and that's how he hooked up with Jello Biafra, the Butthole Surfers and the Flaming Lips, to name a few. Then he met Barnes.
"Those bands were really influential in my life, and when I met Danny Barnes, who was a banjo player, of all things, who had the exact same kind of references, it was magical. He was someone who was interested in traditional music but also had those same kind of cutting-edge ideas about punk rock," Rubin says.
The Bad Livers made it to the 10-year mark, but tapered off in 2000. "I always got the feeling that we were a little too ahead of our time and we were getting frustrated, and that came out in our music and it started to not become fun," Rubin says.
Last year, Rubin and Barnes performed a reunion show at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. The experience was like a jolt of electricity for the duo. "I got off the stage and looked down and there was a neighbor of mine in San Francisco from Austin, Texas," Rubin says. "I said, 'Why are you here?' And he said, 'I never got to see you and I knew this may be my only chance.' "
People had flown in from Australia and the Philippines just to see the band play that gig, Rubin says.
Despite the reunion's success, the Bad Livers remain a side project for Barnes and Rubin, who both have other music projects. The band has just three gigs booked this year, including Sunday's show at Slim's, but if scheduling works out, Barnes and Rubin, who have remained close friends, plan on giving higher priority to the Bad Livers.
"You get to the point where you can finish each other's sentences. If you can live with someone like that, it really pays off in the music dividends as well," Rubin says.
8 p.m. Sun. $15. All ages. Slim's, 333 11th St. (415) 255-0333. www.slims-sf.com.
- Tony DuShane, email@example.com