It was a hot July day in 2005, in Sacramento, of all places. Emily Whitehurst, the dynamic vocalist for globetrotting pop-punk band Tsunami Bomb, had a strange suspicion that the show she was about to play might be her band's last. The past few weeks on yet another Warped Tour had been rough, business relations with their management and label had looked grim, and maybe, Whitehurst thought, it was time.
"I felt like we were in a spot where we could have kept going and gotten a lot bigger," Whitehurst explains on a recent evening, grabbing some warmth from a space heater in a side room of her screen-printing shop in Petaluma. "But we were also emotionally, like, 'This has been going on for a really long time.' We had been playing in the band for seven years. Sometimes, playing those seven-year-old songs can get really old."
The show in Sacramento did turn out to be Tsunami Bomb's quick, quiet fizzle, offering the thousands of fans of the band no proper way to say goodbye to a band that for years had been Sonoma County's most widely loved underground musical export. That chance comes this weekend, when Tsunami Bomb play one—and only one, Whitehurst stresses—reunion show at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma.
"It's interesting, because some people are seeing it as a 'closure,'" she says, obviously uninterested in any kind of ceremonial attachment to the event. "I'm kind of like, wow, I feel more like I'm opening a box that's been closed for a long time. I didn't ever feel like I ever needed the closure."
But what Tsunami Bomb did need to do was help out a close friend. Drummer Liz Beidelman of Luckie Strike, a band that gave Tsunami Bomb loads of support during their formative years, is battling brain cancer. It was pure kismet to plan a benefit show for Beidelman and at the same time invoke one last hurrah. All proceeds will go toward her medical bills, and even with a ticket price set at a mere $12, Tsunami Bomb are going to be able to donate a huge chunk to the cause.
Tsunami Bomb's fans are, to say the least, dizzy with excitement. I ask Whitehurst who's driving the farthest distance to come to the show, and she corrects the question. Rather, they're flying. From Europe. "That I know of," she says in near-disbelief, "there are at least six or seven people coming from England—and they're not together!"
Whitehurst and her boyfriend Doug Elkins have been handling all the ticket sales, promotion and logistics for the show, a move that Whitehurst says is refreshing after the band's tangled relationship with the business side of the music industry. "This is the first time we've put on our own show," she notes, "'cause before, it was all booking agents and managers." During the band's lifetime, even hometown shows at the Phoenix Theater were sometimes made complicated by booking agents' demands; this weekend's show is an appropriate way for the band to take back control from William Morris and Ticketmaster.
The band will rehearse in an old warehouse on the shores of the Petaluma River for a week straight before the show, practicing those same songs that they got tired of playing over and over, songs that inspired cover versions (Effinboiche, from the Philippines, wins with their version of "Lemonade"), tattoos (28 of them are collected on the band's MySpace page) and countless other bands ("Girls come up and say, 'I'm so excited, because I started a band, and you're my main influence, and I feel like I can do it too because I watched you,'" Whitehurst says).
To Whitehurst, looking back through Tsunami Bomb's songs is like looking at photos in an old yearbook, pondering a person that she's not anymore. She talks about opening the show with her current band, the Action Design, and then getting into the "character" of her iconic stage name, Agent M, for Tsunami Bomb; she'll be reverting back into what she calls a persona, wardrobe and all. "My mom sent me this giant tub of all my old 'show' shirts," she laughs, wondering which one she'll choose to wear.
"And I'm also kind of scared," Whitehurst says, almost as an afterthought, "because I need to remember all the songs."
Tsunami Bomb play with Nothington, the New Trust and the Action Design on Saturday, Jan. 17, at the Phoenix Theater, 201 E. Washington St., Petaluma. 8pm. $12. 707.762.3565.