Punk activism that plays the field

Tim Barry gently argues that his band Avail has no collective political viewpoint. Growing up in the Virginia suburbs just outside Washington, D.C., Barry, guitarist Joe Banks, drummer Erik Larson and bass player Gwomper were fascinated by hardcore bands like Dag Nasty and Marginal Man, as well as those representing the radical, vegetarian, straight-edge movement. But they don't pledge entirely to either camp.

Says Barry from the six-story house in Richmond, Va., that serves on and off as Avail's communal space, "We don't have a single flag that we all fly under. Our members are from across the political field."

And while the band might refrain from railing for or against politicians, the socio-political issues taken up on Avail's latest album, "Over the James" (Lookout), are inescapable. The symbolism starts on the red-orange cover that depicts an eagle rising above flames from a burning city and continues though photographs of a decaying, Southern rural town.

"The pictures are mostly from the area around where we live," says Barry. And despite the city's reputation as one of the top murder capitals of the world, Barry finds much inspiration there. But he admits that part of the charm of home is not being there.

In a few years, Avail's career has escalated from obscurity to playing more than 130 shows in 13 countries and (estimated) sales of 50,000 units for Over the James. Formed in 1988, the band began touring three years later and issued a single, "Attempt To Regress," and a CD, "Satiate," on its own Catheter Assembly label before signing to Lookout. Avail has since moved on to Fat Wreck Chords (first up: a European EP and a cut on the just-released "Short Music for Short People: 101 Bands Playing 30 Second Songs").

Along with fellow Richmondites GWAR, Avail built its audience on the power of its live shows -- sweaty affairs where both the band and the audience get butt-naked, making more of a statement about freedom than sensuality. But if that doesn't work, they unleash cheerleader Beau Beau (who plays no instrument), whose job is akin to a ska steps-and-shots man. "He does some backing vocals and flips around and takes his clothes off and jumps in the audience," says Barry.

"You'd just have to see our show to understand it."


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