Every five years, Charlotte’s longest-running, internationally notorious punk band Antiseen marks its latest milestone year with an “Anti-versary” party and concert that attracts fans from around the world to the seemingly buttoned-up banking city the band calls home.
Blood is spilled. Fires are lit. Tables are broken. And that’s just on stage, as frontman Jeff Clayton has been known to pull more than a few pro-wrestling-inspired stunts from the wellspring.
But the band that celebrates with its 35th birthday show on Saturday night at Neighborhood Theatre has weathered a lot since its 30th — most notably, founding guitarist Joe Young’s death from a heart attack at age 54 in May 2014.
Young’s chainsaw guitar work was as much a part of the band’s sound as Clayton’s gravely Southern snarl. But despite the loss of Young, Antiseen wasn’t ready to call it quits. Its new drummer, The Gooch, had moved from Florida recently to join the band and they had tour dates to fulfill.
“Joe and I had talked about it — not a lot, but from time to time,” Clayton recalls. “He said, ‘If anything happens to me’ — and we were referring to a broken hand or going in the hospital, or something when there’s an important thing (on the schedule) — he said, ‘Get Russ to take my place, because he understands how we sound. He can play it.’”
Young was referring to sometime-roadie, merch guy, and longtime fan Russ Ward, who’d led his own band, Mad Brother Ward.
“Not any guy could step in,” Clayton says. “It’s definitely a style, not a technique.”
For those close to the band, Ward’s addition seemed logical.
“I’ve been fortunate the fan base has accepted m,e because taking the spot of an original and key member isn’t always something that is embraced,” Ward says. “Joe is irreplaceable. His sound was an integral part of the band. What I try to do is emulate that sound without merely imitating it.”
Adds Ward: “I still get nervous before every show because I take what I’m doing very seriously and want to show that respect.”
The band — which also includes bassist Barry Hannibal — has been busy releasing a full-length, two EPs and two 7-inches (and opening tours for the Meatmen and Zeke) over the past four years. Saturday also marks the release of “The Dying Breed EP,” which will be for sale at the show.
Antiseen then heads to Japan for the first time ever in November to play three shows, including a pro-wrestling death match scheduled for Clayton’s birthday.
“It’s the only foreign country I ever wanted to go to,” says Clayton, 55. “I’ve been a fan of everything Japanese since I was a kid. Usually I’m apprehensive about anything completely new, but this is the one thing I’m ready to jump in with both feet.”
But before that, there’s the anniversary-show weekend to think about. On Friday night, the band will convene at the Tipsy Burro, where fans can come hang out. Saturday’s show is somewhat veiled in secrecy, although there’ll be a pre-show gathering featuring 15 former members, some of whom will pop up on stage during the show.
Yet the night will be bittersweet for another reason: the recent loss of Joe Young’s brother Jeff, who died in late September having never quite recovered from the loss of his older brother. His funeral is Sunday in the brothers’ hometown of Lenoir.
Adds Clayton: “We’ve been dealing with grief on top of everything.”