Two Music Cities & A Punk Rock Native Sun

Since embarking on their tour in mid-August, Native Sun has brought their music to grateful fans from New York to Iowa. While they’ve traveled far and wide, they’ve ended up in the same place night after night: music city, baby.

These punk rockers rage hard and never fail to bring the house down everywhere they go. After tagging along with the band born from love and hate for their last two shows, I knew the only true name for their journey would be the “music city, baby” tour.

When we met up, these guys were already full-throttle into the rock ‘n’ roll tour life—careening through the country in a ramshackle van borrowed from fellow rockers The Nude Party, packs of cheap cigarettes in their pockets and tired eyes that spoke of long nights and endless roads. They arrived hours before their show at Pittsburgh’s infamous punk rock dive bar Gooski’s with local bands Standing Wave and Pet Clinic.

Fun fact about me: I’m a Pittsburgh native. So I not only booked them the show at Gooski’s, I also had them over my parents’ house for a pre-show family dinner. While my dad grilled ribs, Native Sun shared tour stories, from sleeping on soaking wet carpets to getting the star treatment in, of all places, Fort Wayne, IN.

My favorite story was from Toledo, OH where the band made a 2 a.m. McDonald’s run. The empty fast food joint already had a bizarre vibe and became stranger when the band walked in and ordered. The cashier turned her back to them the entire time and only turned her head to speak with an unnecessarily long pause between each word—saying they were out of McMuffins and then quickly taking it back. “Actually, we got them, it’ll just be a while,” she said still facing away from them and only turning her head back for each word. “Like a minute.” Then she explained that the guy who makes them had just climbed in through the drive-thru window.

After the tour stories, I jumped in the van to head to the show with Native Sun while my folks trailed behind us (my dad was drumming for the openers Standing Wave). Gooski’s is notorious for shitty sound and even shittier bathrooms—so we all knew we were in for a night of pure grit.

Standing Wave started the night with slide guitar and an instrument I can only assume was some sort of synthesizer flute—whatever it was, everyone was into it. When Pet Clinic stormed the stage, the crowd was ready. It was only the third show this year for a band that’s beloved in the Steel City, so fans packed the place to see them. By the time Native Sun got going, the room was hazy with cigarette smoke made eerie by neon lights. The Brooklynites blew everyone away, including the bar’s mohawk, safety pins and leather jacket-outfitted regulars. Frontman Danny Gomez ended the set with a punch to the mic stand and a leap into the crowd.

“Let’s wake up by 8[a.m.],” the bassist Mo Martinez hilariously says once we were back home drinking more beers around 4 a.m. and I was falling asleep in a chair.

We didn’t wake up until around 10 a.m., but we were still able to hit the road by 11 a.m. to make the 4 p.m. load-in time at Songbryd in D.C.. Though it was a four-hour drive, there was no rest for the wicked. The ride was curated with punk rock thrashers blasting from the speakers like The Gun Club’s “Sex Beat” and Devo’s “Uncontrollable Urge,” which all members sang along to—guitarist Jake Pflum was even air drumming and headbanging.

Arriving only 30 minutes late, tour manager Rachel Cabitt hopped into the venue to alert the place we had arrived while the rest of us parked the van in the back.

It turned out the actual venue part of the bar/record shop was flooded and load-in wasn’t until 6 p.m.

News like that would’ve made anyone else get a little frustrated, but not Native Sun. These guys are sweeties and just happy to be there. “Hey, I’m getting paid to travel around and play music,” Pflum says with a smile. “As long as we have enough money to make it home, I’m happy.”

With our newfound spare time we stopped at Duccini’s for a jumbo slice (literally, slices bigger than your head) and then did some record shopping at a place called Smash. After that, it was back to the venue (where Native Sun was now playing in the cafe section) for sound check around 6 p.m., then we hung around drinking coffee and beer until around 8 p.m. when D.C. locals Easy Sleeper kicked off the show.

The place was almost the complete opposite of Gooski’s. It smelled like soap and had art and records lining the walls. Still, the rock ‘n’ roll was just as hardcore and set the crowd into a pogoing frenzy. Gomez was shirtless halfway through set, Pflum hopped onto an amp, Martinez got into the crowd and drummer Alexis Castro went down heavy on the drums. The crowd roared with excitement and watched in amazement as Native Sun tore the place down, but surprisingly didn’t break a thing.

We were planning on going straight back to NY from D.C., which we did, but not before making sure we used all our drink tickets. After several shots of tequila (don’t worry, Pflum was the designated driver), several more beers and an hour hang-session outside by the van, we finally left the place around 2 or 3 a.m.

On the way home, Pflum drove in the pouring rain raging out to classic punk rock, while the rest of us tried to nap as water dripped onto our heads. When finally pulling into the city the rain let up, the sun began to rise, the Ramones were blasting and I thought, “hell yeah, music city, baby.”

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