The Last Punk Tour

The wake-up call came for Ian Tomele on March 13, 2020. The day started with a long haul to Knoxville, Tennessee where Ian and his band were set to play that night. Voice of Addiction was about three weeks into their southern tour. It had been a pretty good ride: lines that wrapped around venues, meet-ups with old friends, and sets stacked with heavy-hitting bands. But that day, a thick fog of feverish concern hung over the venue in Knoxville. The White House had just declared COVID-19 a national emergency, and nobody knew what would happen next. “It seemed so immediate at the time,” Ian recalls, “like someone flipping a light switch.”

 

Voice of Addiction on tour. From left to right: Ian on bass, Tyler on guitar and Andy on drums Voice of Addiction is Chicago’s neighborhood punk band, built up by Ian and a few friends from college in 2002. Ian had just moved to the city from Cleveland then, but from their first full-length in 2004, the band was firmly rooted in the city. Ian, on bass and vocals, is the only original member in the band. The most recent line-up was solidified in 2017 by Tyler Miller on guitar and Andy Ducey behind the drum kit, fellow Chicago transplants.

 

From their first incarnation, Voice of Addiction has been a raw, no nonsense punk band, with politically charged lyrics and aggressive compositions with all the subtly of a battle-ax. The trio are deeply connected to the DIY scene, attracted to the sense of community in punk music. They’ve been through a lot together the past four years, from massive drives to technical difficulties. Once, in Texas, their van caught fire. In a punk band, you deal with the cards you’re dealt to get to the gig. When rumors of a new virus circled around, it seemed like just another bad hand they could play through. “We went over any and every scenario,” Ian recounts, “you cannot make it through tours without being a master problem solver.”


 

The band keeps a busy schedule to stay on the road as much as possible. Ian tends to book their tours six months ahead in an effort to stay ahead of potential issues and promotional lead times. When Ian started the search for venues for Voice of Addiction’s southern tour, coronavirus was not yet a concern. The tour began on February 20, 2020, a much simpler, more na├»ve part of the year where the pandemic seemed like an isolated incident, a wild once-in-a-lifetime tragedy that played out on the other side of the world. It would be some time before Ian, Tyler, or Andy heard about COVID again.

 

Touring is less of a party than Rockstar sensationalism in media would have you believe, at least  in DIY scenes. It can be hard going on the road: you sleep at truck stops or on generous friends’ couches, with hours of flat highway between some of the loudest shows you could imagine. If you’re lucky, you might have remembered to charge your phone on stage the night before, though you might only have a few minutes of cell reception before you hit a dead zone. Usually, you just use your drummer’s snare case as a pillow to grab a turbulent car nap before it’s your turn behind the wheel. Tour is a vacuum surrounded by a barrier of brain fog and tinnitus that keeps current events out. The pandemic loomed ever closer, but parts of the U.S still downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19, especially in the south. There just wasn’t much talk. “We for sure heard murmurings here and there at shows and online about covid,” Ian reflects, “but no one in the south was taking it seriously.”

 

Voice of Addiction kicked off their tour in Missouri, where the first lab tests for COVID weren’t taken until the end of February. They heard almost nothing about the escalating situation. The tour pressed on, with a few wild nights and full crowds. It was one for the books, just not in the way they expected. The night before Knoxville, March 12, V.o.A rolled into Georgia. They were met with a completely packed house. Just the previous day, the WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. Andy recalls this as being the first night the band really heard about the seriousness of the coronavirus. “At that point in the tour we literally needed to just salvage dates,” he says of their thought process at the time. They couldn’t imagine what the next few days would look like. 


 

The day of the Knoxville show came, and the whole band felt the desperate tonal shift. The vibe was different than anywhere else they played on tour, as though a shroud of unease was placed over the venue. It was all anyone could talk about. It was all anybody could think about. But Voice of Addiction is a trio of professionals. Despite the atmosphere of disquiet, they had a set to play. “Our job was to make things lighter and throw a good show,” Andy muses about the evening. 

 

A recording of Voice of Addiction’s set exists from that night in the form of a three-way split with the other bands, a relic of a time that feels like decades ago. There’s no hint of the pensive panic from before the set; just high energy music. At one point, Ian pauses at a break in the set to acknowledge a friend in the audience. You wouldn’t have guessed at the level of anxiety in the room. Ironically, the show was closed out by a band called Quarantine Tarantino. For a punk set’s length of time, things almost seemed ok, though the band would have to face reality afterwards. There were two shows left, both in Kentucky. While V.o.A played in Tennessee, Kentucky had begun reducing the max capacity of gatherings in public spaces. It was a clutch game, but there weren’t many options; gas is always running low in the punk-rock van. They drove to Kentucky to their finish line, unsure of what the world would look the next day.

 

The final show of Voice of Addiction’s southern tour happened on March 15, 2020. They got into town early that day, a rare chance to hang around Louisville. A small dissection of the community that brought Ian to punk was there that night. Everyone showed up for a punk show, and that’s what Voice of Addiction gave. The final song of the set became an unintentional dirge for an unimaginable funeral. Things wouldn’t be the same after tonight. The vibe at the show reflected this. To Ian, it seemed like everyone almost knew this would be the last time anyone could safely throw a show for a long time. The night was bound to end with a sour note (punk is a genre very familiar to diminished chords), but when a fight broke out between the local band and the sound engineer, they figured it was time to split. They made their way home in pensive conversation and unease. Voice of Addiction had finished their tour and made it home in time to see the sun rise. Shortly after they arrived home, Illinois would announce its stay-at-home order.

They were fortunate to have made it back when they did. Other artists weren’t quite so lucky. Ian recalls a few friends being stuck halfway across the country, boarding up with house show hosts and fellow musicians. The reverse metamorphosis between road warrior and homebody can be a difficult adjustment, but the new reality of the pandemic made it much worse. Ian, Tyler, and Andy all lost their jobs. Things seemed a little dire. After just a few hours at home, Ian was trying to sort through a month’s worth of news about COVID. “I was glued to the screen once I was home just trying to understand,” he says of his attempts to catch up. In the first wave of the pandemic, there wasn’t a lot of consistency on the timeline of the lockdown. The future of concerts was extremely unclear. “At the time we thought it was for two weeks and thought that was the end of the world,” Ian says of the lack of direction, “Hindsight was 2020 and we had no idea what we were getting into."


 

It’s a little over a year later and things are looking up in the world. There’s a few vaccines available, and some restrictions have been lifted. With all this extra time, Voice of Addiction decided to put themselves to work. Ian bought a house and built a music room, where they since have thrown themselves into their songwriting. There’s a plan to hit the studio soon for a full length. As the anniversary of their southern tour came up, they had a lot of friends and fans reach out to them, nostalgic for the pre-covid live music scene, and thankful for the band’s dedication to completing their tour. For a lot of people, this was the final show they went to. “As we started coming up on the anniversary of these shows countless people kept exclaiming that it was the last show they went to,” Ian explains, “we realized we may have been the last punk tour to finish.”

 

The world has been altered for the foreseeable future, and there are some things that might never really come back. But the music scene will. DIY is a tough weed, resistant to all pesticides and resilient in any climate. The music community will be ready when everyone else is. Voice of Addiction is living proof of that. After a year of working through the pandemic, they’re itching to get back on the road, cautious but optimistic as they look ahead. “While there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we must all remain safe and healthy,” Ian muses, “The shows will come back, we just must remain diligent until then."

 

-Brian Sutton

 

You can find Voice of Addiction and all their music here:

http://VoiceOfAddiction.com 

Facebook: VoArockers

Bandcamp: voiceofaddiction.bandcamp.com/

Instagram: @voiceofaddiction

Youtube: www.youtube.com/voiceofaddiction 

Twitter: @VoArockers


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