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Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014

The Benjamins Reunite for Pablove, Release New EP

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Somewhere beside “bass player upset at lead singer for hogging the spotlight” and “guitarist’s girlfriend lobbying for more solos,” failure to get a record deal sits prominently on the lists of reasons bands call it quits. But it’s not often that a band landing a spot on a label plays a role in its demise. Saturday, The Benjamins—whose last release came close to 13 years ago—will play its first true show this decade, a release show for a follow-up EP that would’ve been long-awaited, had it ever been expected.

Founded in 1998, the Milwaukee quartet’s lineup solidified in 1999. Following just one EP, light touring and occasional opening gigs for semi-notable national acts, The Benjamins caught the attention of Drive-Thru Records, which offered the band a record deal in 2000.

“They came to Milwaukee to come see us open for Citizen King at The Rave,” said drummer Jon Phillip. “They gave us a contract to look over, and we pretty much signed it within that month.”

The band was quickly sent to Los Angeles to record its debut for the label, which also boasted noted pop-punk acts of the time like Fenix TX, Rx Bandits, New Found Glory and (briefly) Dashboard Confessional.

“It just didn’t seem real,” lead guitarist Dan Hinz said. “It didn’t make sense to me. How did this happen to us?”

In February 2001, The Art of Disappointment was released on Drive-Thru Records. The young band was immediately sent out to tour in support of its record. Though hitting the road with bands like ska legends Reel Big Fish, twice touring with Sum 41 at the height of the Canadian outfit’s popularity, and sharing bills with its pop-punk leaning labelmates was certainly memorable, many of the headliners were mismatched with The Benjamins, a band most often likened to Weezer, which sometimes made life on the road difficult.

“Granted, we weren’t visionary musical artists or anything, but we were pretty far out there compared to what [Drive-Thru] had dealt with before,” said singer and guitarist Jay Stys. “Getting thrown on tours with punk and ska bands was odd.”

The shaky show reception, incessant touring and lacking financial support quickly took a toll on the band.

“There were days when we were rationing $3 for the day’s food,” Hinz said. “It became every man for himself because we weren’t supported enough to stay a band at that point.”

The Benjamins would break up by year’s end. Each member of the band went his separate way. Hinz joined Maritime. Stys went to culinary school and plans to open a food truck this spring. Phillip drummed for The Obsoletes and Limbeck before winding up with Trapper Schoepp & The Shades. Bassist Ben Perlstein transitioned to a career in management. He currently co-manages The Replacements and manages artists like Tommy Stinson, Direct Hit and Trapper Schoepp and the Shades in addition to running Good Land Records with Phillip.

Last summer, Perlstein—fresh off announcing The Replacements reunion at Riot Fest—approached his former bandmates about playing a four-song reunion set at a Trapper Schoepp and the Shades gig in Wauwatosa.

“It was the best we’ve sounded since we were at our peak,” Phillip said. “We were more focused. We slipped right into where the band was in 2001. It kind of makes me feel like I’m a kid again.”

Though the feeling is the same, the circumstances are different than they were 13 years ago. With other bands, careers, spouses, children among the members’ responsibilities, and Perlstein now living in New York, the project is squarely on the back burner. However, The Benjamins will release a new five-song EP on Good Land called Back On Track (which includes a new song called “Corvette Summer”) at this year’s Pablove Benefit, which also finds local acts Alligator Gun and Subside playing reunion sets.

From signed to severed in under a year, time, nostalgia and an overriding friendship has brought The Benjamins back together, if just for one night of charity. Though the cast is open to playing more shows and even writing more material, as Perlstein says, “We’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves.”

Doors open for the 2014 Pablove Benefit concert at Turner Hall Ballroom at 6:30 p.m. On Saturday, Jan. 18.