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DMZ, the rock club that opened in what's now Vino's on the corner of Seventh and Chester, only lasted for two years. Then it became Mandrake's. Then the Zone. Then, for the last 18 years, Vino's. But among the first wave of Little Rock punk rockers, those fervent underage dozens (hundreds?) who for years had nowhere to go but abandoned lots or house parties, who dressed funny and had to drive to Memphis to buy punk records, who crowded outside the 21-and-older downtown club S.O.B.'s to catch a glimpse of Black Flag, DMZ was a revelation.
“It was the first club to have all-ages shows,” says Bobby Matthews, guitarist and vocalist for Trusty, the seminal Little Rock punk band that will perform Monday at Vino's as part of a 20-year-reunion of the DMZ faithful.
From 1987 to 1989, the club hosted the likes of Screaming Trees, Firehose and the Flaming Lips. Trusty, who'd eventually leave Little Rock to sign to DIY Mecca Dischord, played its first show at DMZ. At the band's local heyday, massive crowds packed in the club to pogo and sing along.
“Did you attend a Little Rock high school in the late '80s? Did you wear only black clothes and hang out at DMZ? Me too.” That's the description of a Facebook group called “I lived at the DMZ.” At press time, it included 184 members.
One of them, Ben Ferguson, who now lives in the Phoenix area, posts this: “I remember the first shows at DMZ. Urban art and open space in the front, and cool punk rock club in back. With a scene of only about 50 people at first, I am proud to say that, I was there when it all started and while it evolved. Even though I live 1,400 miles away, I still consider myself one of the Little Rock Punks. I still play bass, I'm still straight-edge, still hardcore, my heart is still with the grassroots effort that makes a scene worth being in.”
Monday's show marks the first time Trusty has played in one and a half years. It's a fitting return.
“DMZ is where it really started and ended for us,” Matthews says. At some point during the club's run, co-guitarist and vocalist James Brady tried to intercede on behalf of some slam-dancing kids that a bouncer was roughing up for fighting. The club banned the band. They never played the space, in that incarnation, again.
Trusty will share the bill with Linksprings, another act from that era who'll reunite, and comedian and actor Matt Besser. By the time DMZ opened, Besser was off to college. He has vague memories of seeing a couple of shows there, but his enthusiasm for the bill is all about Trusty.
“Those are all my best friends. But as long as I've known those guys, we've never performed together.”
Besser, who co-founded, and remains active in, the legendary sketch comedy outfit the Upright Citizen's Brigade and recently starred in “Walk Hard,” returned to Vino's several years ago in support of his comic polemic against religion, “Woo Pig Sooie.” He says he's switching gears this time.
“This will be all characters. It'll be almost the opposite of what I did last time. Last time was political and angry. This time it's going be a bunch of immature characters. That's kind of appropriate since every time I'm around the guys in Trusty I feel like I'm 16 to 18.”
The show is open to all ages, but Besser warns, “Young people will grow up during my set.”
Matthews offers a final preparatory plea: “I really want audience participation. They don't have to put their beer down and jump up on stage. I just want them to sing along. Like it's a Christmas carol.”