Stagecoach 2012: The Unforgiven return with punk attitude intact
It took two years of behind-the-scenes wrangling, but the members of the '80s Inland Empire cowpunk-metal band the Unforgiven were rounded up for their first concert performance in more than a quarter century Sunday at Stagecoach.
"Some of you might know we've been on a bit of a break -- like 25 years," lead singer Steve Jones told the audience spread out across the Palomino Stage at Indio's Empire Polo Club early Sunday afternoon.
And this reunion clearly wasn't a painless process for the band, which became the focus of a major label bidding war not long after the group formed in 1984.
"Some of us didn't get along so well," Jones confessed. "So we've taken to calling the rehearsals 'group therapy.' "
The reunion was the idea of Goldenvoice chief Paul Tollett, whose firm, along with AEG Live, puts on Stagecoach and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival over consecutive weekends on the Indio grounds.
"I used to love these guy so much," said Tollett, who has been putting on concerts across Southern California for three decades, looking on with a grin from the crowd. "They were Stagecoach before there was Stagecoach."
He's referring to the Unforgiven's signature image, dusted off for Sunday's show: black shirts, jeans and hats that looked as though they had been swiped from the set of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western.
With five guitars, including bass, in the front line, the Unforgiven also always appeared like the members were heading toward a musical showdown.
On Sunday, the pounding backbeats, monstrous riffs and searing electric guitar lines joined once more into a potent whole that didn't sound the least dated or precious on vintage numbers such as "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" and "Days Like These, I Feel Like I Could Change the World."
It's a sound that owes as much to Black Sabbath and AC/DC as it does to Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. Whether the band's new life will extend beyond the weekend remains to be seen.
"It's like a horse race," an enthusiastic Jones said backstage immediately after the show. "We've been so focused on finishing this race we can't put any thought into the next one. We'll have to see how it goes."
Even if there ultimately isn't anything more to come, Sunday's show gave the Unforgiven a worthy ride into the sunset.
-- Randy Lewis
Image: The Unforgiven's Steve Jones, top left, is flanked by his guitarist at the Stagecoach festival in Indio. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times