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Local punks Kim Phuc distill eclectic roots into new 7-inch record 

That there would one day be a punk band called Kim Phuc was inevitable; the name is about as loaded as it gets this side of AIDS Wolf. For starters, it alludes to American war atrocities: The name is that of the Vietnamese girl whose image was made famous in the Pulitzer-winning photo taken just after a napalm bomb exploded on her village in 1972. And, lazily pronounced, it also includes a homophone for a classic curse.

That the band Kim Phuc would come together as it has, though, seems a bit less likely. Core members Ben Smartnick (guitar) and Rob Henry (vocals) have been with the band since late 2004, when it was a four-piece. The next two years were all wormlike writhing and pupation, and in 2006, Kim Phuc emerged in its current lineup, a beautiful punk butterfly.

All right, maybe not a butterfly. Maybe more of a weird, kinda-freaky moth that'll fly in your ear and flutter around inside your head if you let it. But don't let that scare you.

Smartnick and Henry both hail from the Greensburg scene of the past; the senior of the two, Henry was in the '80s hardcore band Direct Action. Joining them in Kim Phuc now are three others: guitarist Eli Kasan (most notably of D.C.-influenced dance punks Mary Celeste); drummer Tom Payne (who plays guitar in Baby Bird); and bassist Corey Lyons (of Pittsburgh legends Aus Rotten and Caustic Christ).

Dance punks, crust legends, cab drivers, pathologists, straight-edgers, beer-pounders, twentysomethings, fortysomethings -- with a pedigree so eclectic, it's hard to know what to expect. But Kim Phuc keeps it simple. The band makes solid, mid-paced hardcore punk with a two-guitar attack that keeps things interesting -- and powerful -- and Henry's vocals and stage presence set them apart from the rest of the class.

Kim Phuc's new 7-inch is out on Criminal IQ, a Chicago label that's put out a little something for a lot of bands, most notably Chicago players like Pedestrians and Functional Blackouts. The A-side, "Wormwood Star," is a plodding number that, without any complicated tricks, feels suspenseful and sinister, and complements Henry's creepy lyrics. The B-side, "Freak Out the Squares," exhibits both Kim Phuc's post-punk influences (Kasan cites Wire as a band of common interest amongst band members) and lovable nihilism ("I don't know and I don't care / All I wanna do is freak out the squares," Henry wails).

Kim Phuc celebrates the release of the new record at Gooski's on Fri., Sept. 5, along with another local punk band also unveiling a new 7-inch, The Fitt.


Kim Phuc and The Fitt 7-inch release, with Slices. 10 p.m. Fri., Sept. 5. Gooski's, 3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill. 412-681-1658

click to enlarge Wormlike writhing: Kim Phuc's Rob Henry
  • Wormlike writhing: Kim Phuc's Rob Henry

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