Nearly two decades ago, places like Turners Hall, the Sports Palace, and Bernard’s Pub were synonymous with punk, ill-located landmarks in St. Louis where punk bands played and provoked an audience that was on-edge and cocked. Punks young and old, throughout the Bi-State area gathered at these places regularly, as loyal as veteran Moose Lodge members. All to support “the scene.”
Sadly, those days are gone and, with them, all three holes-in-the wall. But the memories linger on. As does Ultraman, a punk band that emerged around that same time, circa 1986, from the remnants of White Suburban Youth.
For those who missed out on the scene back then and the incredible punk acts that stomped through town, well, you missed something great. But fear not, because Ultraman’s still around. The band. The legend. The old guys. They’re alive and well. Performing again, and better than ever. And they’ve just released The Constant Weight of Zero, the best thing to come out of this town in years.
Tracing the legend of Ultraman from start to never-end is like traveling a long road that spans deep into “somewhere.” Along the way, there are detours, exit routes, and the occasional rest stop. But no dead-ends. Almost immediately after formation, the band played to sold-out crowds in St. Louis and soon toured the country. In 1999, they signed with New Red Archives and released Freezing Inside. 1990 saw Non-Existence, a more refined but equally blistering follow-up album. Ultraman traveled the globe with two European tours before they spilt in 1991. Their final show sold out Mississippi Nights, and was one of their most memorable.
Unlike Pale Divine or Gravity Kills, a true classic never dies. Ultraman reemerged throughout 1992 to 1996 for various reunion shows, but never a full-blown revival. Former members moved on to join other bands or kept busy starting new ones. In 1999, Ultraman reunited with a new lineup, recorded a dozen songs and played sporadically through 2002, and then dropped from sight. Until now. The fans never gave up on Ultraman. Neither did its founding members, lead singer Tim Jamison and guitarist Rob Wagoner. We spoke with them upon the release of their new album.
Wagoner reflected on the beginning of the end for the band, back in ’91. “The last few years, the original Ultraman—it got to a point where it just wasn’t fun at all. We were just doing it because we felt like…I felt like I owed it to all the other guys; it was something I had to do. Toward the end, there was just a lot of head butting. Just had gotten to a point whereat a creative level—we pushed it as far as it could go. And we just needed a break.”
Some break. It’s been a long time coming though, as Jamison explained,“It just took me five, six years to get around to it. Although Krissy Fit [one of Jamison’s bands after Ultraman], which is the last five songs on the [new] CD, pretty much was Ultraman, and they had all the people who had been in Ultraman. I just kind of steered away from that, and as more time went by, we did those reunion shows. Especially in ’96, I was ready to do it again then. It was great. We kinda…had gotten rid of all the crap. It was like we were just hanging out again. Fun. And Rob played again.”
Ultraman’s new album remains true to its old-school punk roots. They’ve returned stronger than ever and avoided the stereotype of an old band attempting an unwanted, sad comeback. “The band itself is an entity; it exists on its own and it exists better when it’s the three of us—me and Rob, Mark [Deniszuk]. Especially when Mark came back…doing it again was always fun,” said Jamison.
“I was ready to not do it anymore, to be honest,” Waggoner confessed. “It was okay, but I didn’t get that tingle when I was playing. And when Mark came back—it was just like, this is what I’ve always been into this for. It’s really rare, too. When we were first together, I got that buzz sometimes but not always. Now…I think that we’ve grown up, we play a lot better, we got better equipment, it’s a lot easier to hit that level.”
Ultraman’s also joined by newbie Bob Fancher. Some may know him from the local punk bands Ruined and For the Last Time, as well as for being the booze slinger at the Creepy Crawl. Jamison and Wagoner described him as “genius.” Fancher composed the music on the new album. Jamison, who wrote the lyrics, said, “As far as the music, Bob gets it. Bob is 10 years younger than me and he has been going to shows since he was 13. I remember him from the old Bernard’s”
But what about today’s more national acts that call themselves punk, compared to the bands of yesteryear? The music’s different now. There’s something missing. Talent, perhaps? Authenticity? “Energy and power—that’s what I think is missing, like when I hear Blink-182,” admitted Jamison with a smirk.
Wagoner added, “There’s also heart. Heart’s a big thing, too… A lot of the bands now, they take the style over the substance.”
Energy, power, and heart— words that define the essence of Ultraman. How they sounded then. How they sound now. It’s what keeps them alive and sets them apart from bands that have long since faded from memory. But don’t trust us. Buy the album and listen for yourself. Ten years from now, you may find yourself reminiscing about the good old days and how Ultraman’s still around.