Feature photo: Zach Bauman
You might say The Anniversary was in the right place at the right time.
With the release of The Get Up Kids’ acclaimed album “Something To Write Home About” in 1999, Vagrant Records gained major significance as an independent record label. That same year, The Get Up Kids formed Heroes & Villains Records — an imprint of Vagrant — and wanted to sign fellow Lawrence, Kansas, act, The Anniversary.
“Vagrant wanted to hear our music, so we sent them a fake demo of a really bad ska band as a joke,” said Josh Berwanger. “I don’t think bands would ever do that now.”
But after they sent over the correct demo, Vagrant was impressed enough to sign The Anniversary and released its debut LP, “Designing A Nervous Breakdown,” in 2000. In its first week, the album sold 4000 physical copies.
But even when a band is in the right place at the right time, there also has to be the right combination of musicians, objectives and personalities to make it work. In 1997, drummer Chris “Janko” Jankowski and bassist Jim David teamed up with Berwanger, Adrianne DeLanda (née Verhoeven) and Justin Roelofs — who had been playing together as The Broadcast — to form The Anniversary. Over the next seven years, the young group (most of whom met in Blue Valley schools) built a large fanbase, supporting major acts like Guided By Voices and Cheap Trick and headlining big tours of its own.
“It was a very unique group,” Berwanger said, adding that each member wrote his or her own parts to the songs. “I haven’t collaborated like that since. It was fun, but more importantly, it worked.”
In 2004, it suddenly stopped working. Only two years after releasing its second LP, “Your Majesty” (they also released a split seven-inch with Superdrag in 2001), The Anniversary broke up, citing personal tensions and a relentless touring schedule. “Everyone just walked out of the practice space and went their own way, for the most part,” Berwanger said.
Back in May, four of the five original members returned to the practice space in Berwanger’s mom’s basement for the first time in more than 12 years — the very spot the band started, peaked and collapsed. Berwanger mentions that most of the posters the band put up years before were still on the wall — he even kept a faded, chalk-written set list from The Broadcast days.
“It’s weird, but somewhat perfect. Kind of makes you smile,” he added.
DeLanda, who moved to San Francisco in 2009, hadn’t seen Jankowski (who lives in Texas) in eight years and David (who lives near Lawrence) in nearly 10.
“There was lots of excitement and jitters walking into that room, but the best feelings and vibes once we all hugged and eventually started jamming,” DeLanda said. Roelofs, who is not participating in the reunion but encouraged the other members to proceed, now resides in Hawaii. Berwanger’s guitarist Ricky Salthouse is joining the band for the reunion shows.
The impetus for this seemingly implausible reunion happened last year, when Berwanger toured through San Francisco with his eponymously-named band. He asked DeLanda (who now collaborates with her husband Alex in Extra Classic) to join him on stage to perform “The Siren Sings.” She did, and joined him again the following night.
“Adrianne and I talked after that show and decided that now was the right time,” Berwanger said. “As I get older, there’s this what if factor. We were all together and all of a sudden, we broke up. It felt like we left something on the table, and if we wait five or 10 years, it might fade.”
Even for a band that had all the right tools in place all those years ago, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a reunion would be successful so many years later. But in July, The Anniversary played its first show in 13 years — to about 12,000 people at the Taste of Chaos Festival in San Bernardino, California. They’re now in the midst of a 10-day tour that has already garnered positive reviews. But Berwanger admits that there’s something to be said about revisiting songs written 15 to 20 years ago.
“I don’t know that I would’ve written some of those lyrics today,” he said, “but it’s more about the energy of playing with everyone else. You get into the room and the people you wrote the song with, and you feel the passion and memories all at once.”
The 10-day tour began in Boston and ends at The Bottleneck in Lawrence this Saturday, where — as Berwanger notes — The Anniversary played one of its first shows at an open mic night, before being able to book a proper show. “There will be a lot of old friends and people who supported us when we played at the Replay or at house shows, or let us practice in their spaces,” he said. “It’s gonna be a big party.”
DeLanda also looks forward to the homecoming. “We have a lot of our best and most fond memories from playing at The Bottleneck,” she said. “Any band that is a true band or team is like a family, in my opinion. The Anniversary was that for me then, and we’re having our family reunion now. It’s a thrill.”
There are only a few tickets left for The Anniversary’s show at The Bottleneck this Saturday, Sept. 17, so grab yours while you can. Heidi Lynne Gluck, Psychic Heat and Lily Pryor (daughter of The Get Up Kids’ Matt Pryor) will open.
— Michelle Bacon is a musician and writer dedicated to the Kansas City music community. She advocates for and helps spotlight music in the area, writes web content for 90.9 The Bridge, and plays with The Philistines and Chris Meck & the Guilty Birds. Her grandma will always be the coolest person she knows.