#SBT (Showback Thursday): My One and Only Link 80 Experience

Music is like an addiction to me. Whether battling times of stress or depression, needing a simple escape, working overnight shifts, relaxation, inspiration, feeling refreshed, riding in the car, good moods, bad moods or for a boost of moral, energy or enthusiasm….music keeps me at peace. Instead of turning to alcohol, drugs or cigarettes….I just plug in my headphones.

After all of these years….it’s more than just the music. It’s the memories and experiences from all of the shows I went to, the new faces met and friendships made…..and most importantly, the appreciation for the musicians who’s music has and always will play such an important part in my life.

At the moment, all of those memories are still as painted across my brain, as loud and distinct, as the graffiti covering the concrete walls below a city bridge. One day, as I get older, my memories will begin to wear thin. Taking time to write about and re-appreciate those times will add an extra coat of paint to these graffiti covered brain walls. Down the road, when the paint has almost faded completely….putting on my old man glasses and reading about the places ventured, about the friends that followed, the new friends made and the songs that inspired…will always help re-paint a fresh picture for me again…..and that, I can accept.

Starting in California in the early 90’s, their sound was mostly punk, but with a unique twist of ska mixed in. Sure, the 90’s was filled with hundreds of punk/ska bands. But Link 80 was different than the typical punk/ska bands of that decade. Their combination was more semi-hardcore punk that included horns and occasional ska guitar riffs mixed in, a sound slightly less common around that time. Unfortunately by the time I discovered Link 80.…they had already finished 2 albums and multiple tours. Things had quieted down for a while after news broke that their lead singer, Nick Traina, had committed suicide. Then in the late 90’s the band eventually announced that they would be touring to support their new album, “The Struggle Continues”, with Ryan Noble taking over lead vocals.

Café Tattoo, Northeast Baltimore, late summer 2000.

In 2000, if I wasn’t working, I was going to shows. Mostly local and by myself…..but as time went on, I started to convince friends to join me, so we’d track deeper into all corners of the city to many other shows and venues. Even though my friends were all into different mainstream genres of music, they always seemed to have a good time when they came along. When I got news that Link 80 was coming through Baltimore, I quickly gathered up a group of friends and we headed out to Café Tattoo.

The venue was relatively easy to find, despite the fact that this was a time when we just traveled by mapquest print outs, and not a fancy GPS. We parked a few streets away from Café Tattoo. More bar than venue, this was my kind of place; dark, small and compact, with a small raised stage….no matter where you stood in this place….the show was right in front of you. The music was loud and in your face.

Tonight’s line-up was Chaotix, The Hi-Binders, 3 Inch Lynch, Hangnail, The Tossers and Link 80. Like most shows….as soon as I’d walk in I was like a kid in a candy store…Always looking for the bands tables to load up on cd’s, shirts, stickers, buttons, patches, etc..etc. The good thing about this kind of venue was that it was always easy to find your way back to your friends…and I always had a bad habit of getting caught up in talking to people, taking photos and buying or browsing merchandise.

I checked out a few of the opening bands while taking some photos (my other obsession next to the music). I then stopped to talk to a few members of some of the bands. The one thing I always loved about underground shows…next to the music….the setting was always one of the most social scenes I’ve ever been in. Back then, I was more on the quieter side but the moment you threw me into a bar/venue for an underground concert another side of me would open up. It would always be a night of screaming the songs you knew until your voice was gone. Searching for and buying the new albums you were dying to get your hands on. Learning and getting excited about the band’s new songs that were being played for the first time. Talking about music with anyone. Chatting with some of the band members and finally leaving with your shirt soaking wet in sweat. Oh yes…this was my comfort zone for most of my 20’s. My only regret was that I wish I had discovered this passion in my early teens.

The show started with a few locals that I hadn’t seen before, but people didn’t really start to pack in until Hangnail began playing. I had one rule I tried to stick to when it came to going to a show: go to see all of the bands. Besides the thrill of seeing favorite bands for the first time it was even more exciting to see a new band that would make your jaw drop and have you say to yourself, “who the hell are these guys?!” That is a feeling I will never forget.

A catchy pop-punk band from Wisconsin, Hangnail seemed to bring a little life to Café Tattoo. After their set, I sat down to grab a drink at the bar as the next band, the Tossers, began to set up. There was a gentlemen sitting next to me at the bar who I was having a good conversation with. We were mostly chatting about the venue as well as other bands. We were so caught up in conversation, each bands tear down and set up went by in a flash.

Once the Tossers got going the show had officially begun. The bar was packed from front to back. The temperature in there had to have doubled after two songs. I was still chatting with the gentlemen sitting next to me but it was hard not to be in awe of what was suddenly taking place in front of us. A celtic/punk band from Chicago, the Tossers had one hell of a stage presence. Although their music was new to me, I finally hopped up from the bar and moved closer to the stage to enjoy the last half of their set. I had one of their cd’s in my backpack before the night was over.

I enjoyed the entire night, but sitting through 5 other bands only made the wait for Link 80 even more exciting. I was so wound up by this point, I wasn’t sure if I should just leave my camera and bag with a friend, so I could squeeze into the crowd and jump and scream to the songs I had been waiting for all night. But if I did that, I also knew I would later regret not taking a few photos of one of my favorite bands. Having toured coast to coast in a van many times, the chances of seeing Link 80 swing through Baltimore again or at least anytime soon, was pretty slim. I wanted to savor the moment I had been waiting for all night, but selfishly, I chose to bring my gear with me. I wanted to take home at least a few images along with the simple memories of the night. Besides, my camera had seen it’s fare share of sweat and blood from many shows in the past. I’d regret it badly if I didn’t at least take a few decent shots….no matter how difficult it was probably going to be.

On tour in support of their first new album since the passing of their lead singer, the heart and soul of the band, Link 80 appeared to still have a lot to offer. I pushed through the crowd until my hand was touching the stage. Everyone was already pretty drenched in sweat from the Tossers amazing set, but that was just a warm up. If you weren’t familiar with Link 80, their opening more than likely came at you like a hurricane….a hurricane that would continue for another 40 minutes.

I managed to snap off a few photos here and there but this was one of those moments where the energy and excitement from the music and crowd finally overpowered my desire to take photos. Plus, by this point, it was so hot that my lens couldn’t stop fogging up. So I packed it up, and just spent the rest of the night singing, screaming, wiping sweat from my eyes, laughing and helping people up from the floor. Link 80 was the type of band that put out good records but their live performances were even better. You didn’t know this band until you saw them in person.

I was never fortunate enough to see Link 80 perform with original lead singer Nick Traina. There are many lifelong fans who despised Link 80 without Nick. I understand the emotion to a point but to me, I think Nick would have been proud to see his band and friends push forward a little longer. Their new lead singer along with the rest of the band still put on one hell of a show.

One thing about this show that I will never forget was the Link 80 drummer. He was incredibly talented and fun to watch. As I was taking pictures of him, I got a closer look at his face and then realized, he was the gentlemen I had been sitting next to and talking with at the bar, during most of the Tossers set. When Link 80‘s set ended, Ryan, the lead singer, pretty much just crashed into the crowd in complete exhaustion…..chatting with people, thanking them, hugging and shaking hands. The night was so fun you would have thought everyone at Café Tattoo had been friends for years. I eventually bumped into my friends again that had driven there with me. They looked like they had a pretty good time as well.

As the night came to an end, a few members of Link 80 stepped outside to catch some air and chat with us as we headed back to our car. It was like a family reunion had just ended and we were all saying our goodbyes. Something inside me told me that this would be my one and only chance to see that band play. And sure enough, after they finished touring, followed by some continued gigs in their own local scene back in California…they eventually went on a permanent hiatus. They moved on to other projects like Desa and then the Soft White Sixties. Rumors have floated around for years that they would get things going again one day but if you go to their original website www.linkeighty.com….all it says is “sshhhh……link eighty is sleeping.”

My Link 80 experience is more like a dream come true rather than just a memory. Here’s to dreaming that Link 80 will one day wake up again!!!

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