Big Drill Car Restart Their Engine at Dondopalooza to Help a Brother Out

Big Drill in 1989
Big Drill in 1989
Mark Waters

Big Drill Car never seemed like the kind of band that would reunite just for the money. As progenitors of grungy, ‘90s pop-punk, the band’s ultra catchy songs and modest mentality made them one of OC’s beloved local acts (the Costa Mesa lads even made #11 on the Weekly’s 129 Best OC Bands list back in 2003). In 1991, as they reached the height of their powers the band recorded their sixth album, Toured, live at New York's CBGB's for a mere $200. But the truth is, their next big show at the Museum, a larger offshoot of the Boathouse Collective in Costa Mesa, is mostly about the money. They just don’t plan on keeping any of it.

The band who brought us energized, back-in-the-day jams like “In Green Fields” and “Take Away” were drawn out of retirement for the first time in seven years to raise funds for original bassist Bob Thomson’s brother Donnie. Last summer, he suffered a couple of strokes that left him with serious paralysis on his right side. As a blue collar, independent electrician, this was a devastating blow to his livelihood.

To help defer some of his medical costs, Thomson originally created Dondopalooza as a benefit show with a five-band bill, bereft of any BDC action. “Originally it started off a little bit smaller at the Boat House and we figured we’d have a lot of people there because of my brother’s network of friends and it was just gonna be five smaller bands that were all friends, very casual,” Thomson says. Not that there was any reason why he and vocalist Frank Daly, guitarist Mark Arnold and drummer Danny Marcroft would decline to reform. The ashes of any post-break up animosity were blown away years ago (anyone who say the band’s revived chemistry during a string of reunion shows in 2008-2009 can attest to that.)

However, their return to the stage was anything but planned. Soon after locking in the show date for Jan. 30, the two previous headlining bands on the bill had to back out, leaving a giant hole in the lineup. Putting his panic aside, Thomson filled that hole the best way he knew how.

“It was a month out from the show, we were in this bigger venue now and the only cache I got is Big Drill Car,” he says candidly. Luckily, the reunion required about as much effort as a phone call to Daly, who was already performing in Cal Channel, one of the opening bands on the Dondopalooza bill. “He was like ‘yeah I was hoping you’d ask,’” Thomson says. With Arnold and Marcroft also on board, the original lineup since the Small Block days  was back together again, problem solved. But Thomson took it even further than that, enlisting the help of Jeff Caudill of fellow '90s grunge/punk quartet Gameface, who once vowed to volunteer his band to play any show, anywhere, anytime if BDC reunited. Again, another phone call was all it took to secure that piece of the puzzle.

“Then bam, you have a big show all of the sudden,” Thomson says. “So it worked out perfectly. From the ashes the phoenix rises.”

Filling out the lineup are Michael Rosas ( of Smile, Satisfaction fame), Cal Channel (Featuring Clay Peterson the Boathouse owner and Daly), and Euphoric Situation (Thomson’s son’s band).

Thomson says he was overwhelmed at the response when he started teasing the reunion show on the band’s typically quiet Facebook page.

“A lot of family and friends and fans are traveling from out of state to California just for the show. I can’t put it into words how incredibly humble that makes you.”

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Though Thomson and his bandmates are mostly content to leave their BDC days in the past, save for a few special moments here and there, the clout that this band still holds is certainly a product of fans who keep a torch burning for their music to this day.

“From what people tell me when we’ve played reunion shows, it just seemed to mean a lot to people at certain times in their lives,” Thomson says. “Big Drill Car just struck a chord with people, I hear stuff like ‘it was the soundtrack to me being 19 or whatever..ultimately we’re just lucky to have really good fans.’”

Dondopalooza happens on January 30th, 5 p.m. at The Museum (part of the Boathouse Collective), 729 Farad Street, Costa Mesa, 92627
$20 adults. $10 kids. Food and drinks from The Boathouse, there will also be a silent auction and raffle prizes. All Ages. Pre Sale STRONGLY encouraged. For more details, visit Big Drill Car's Facebook page. 

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