Music & Clubs

The Final Frontier

South Bay '80s sensation the Frontier Wives wind up a bizarre career with 25th anniversary show
DAYS OF OUR WIVES: The Frontier Wives in 1989; when the group plays the Blank Club this week, it will be both a celebration of their 25th anniversary and a farewell show.

BACK IN THE late '80s, the Frontier Wives led the pack as San Jose's greatest hope for a break-out band. But what fans loved about them—their schizophrenic ability to play well-crafted, subtly clever tunes as primal, drunken rock—may also have been their undoing. No one, including the band members themselves, could figure out how to market them, or even describe them.

"There was no scene or genre that we could hang our hat on and say that we were a part of," says drummer Lex van den Berghe. "It often felt like it was us against the world. It was the Frontier Wives and everyone else."

Their influences ran the gamut from power-pop to country to punk to heavy metal, but really they were a rock & roll band through and through. They just didn't look like or fit in with the other rock bands at the time.

"Frontier Wives were the garage-sale version of local rock. We got a lot of flak from people who were more polished than us," says lead singer Scott Long.

On top of that, their crazy shows and rowdy, obnoxious attitude tended to have a polarizing effect on crowds. People didn't always know what to make of them.

"A lot of people misinterpreted that as 'these guys don't give a shit.' It's not that we didn't give a shit, we just didn't give a shit what people thought. We gave a shit about our music. The core of it was good melody lines. Good songs. Good lyrics," says van den Berghe.

Never having officially broken up, the Frontier Wives will celebrate an impressive 25-year anniversary at the Blank Club on June 3, followed by a Santa Cruz show June 4. These will also be their last shows ever. To commemorate the event, Long and van den Berghe have rounded up every person that has ever been in the Frontier Wives to play, and invited two other bands from the late-'80s San Jose scene, the Lawn Vultures and Bad Dog Sit, to open.

Punk'd Rock

Punk rock had a big influence on the Wives. Early in the band's career, Long crossed paths with some local punk bands and was inspired by how they were totally willing to mix in some metal and country. He also realized that rather than sitting around waiting to get signed, they did needed to do everything they could to make their band a success on their own.

Everything from T-shirts to promotion to booking tours, everything we did ourselves. It was very punk rock. The Wives I think were the most punk rock band that wasn't actually punk rock," van den Berghe says.

It wasn't that they were against signing to a major label. They just weren't seen as marketable. "I was an overweight singer, playing not-radio-friendly music. We were not ready for prime time or MTV," Long says.

With no label support, they worked really hard for over a decade. They booked several tours and recorded a full length album, with only the help and support of friends. As the years wore on, their gung-ho attitude waned.

"There comes a point where you've literally hit your head on the same wall for 11 years and gets tired. I still struggle with exactly why we didn't do more with it than we did. It wasn't for a lack of trying," van den Berghe says.

The Frontier Wives never officially broke up, though the members have moved on to other things. The core members, van den Berghe and Long have since become successful in other areas outside of the band. Long moved to New York and has become a very successful promoter in what is arguably one of the most competitive live music markets. Van den Berghe went on to star in seasons 3 and 8 of Survivor and has played in several other bands, including the Maids of Honor with Smash Mouth guitarist Greg Camp. But still, over the past 25 years, Frontier Wives has continued to get together every once to play the occasional show, always to a packed house.

"A lot of people still listen to the Wives now. I think the reason we've played shows consistently every 18 months is just because there's been so much outside interest," van den Berghe says.

The Frontier Wives

Friday, 9pm; $10

The Blank Club, San Jose

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