Listening to Bryce Johnson speak of his days in the seminal hard rock band is easy. He has story after story of rock and roll glory, and he can recount each tale as if you were at each show, raising a cold one to the sheer power chord madness and bombastic mayhem of Third Stone. His favorite story, though, is when they opened for Tool at Mabel’s in the early ’90s, just before they got huge.
“So, there we were, playing to a crowd of about 30, and this guy with a baseball cap is just kind of staring at us from the front row. I could see that he was no average listener: he was taking us in-all of us. I never felt so judged on stage as I did that night.
When they took the stage, no one was really sure what to expect. No one had really heard much about Tool. By the end of the first song, the place was dead silent. It wasn’t that we weren’t into it. We were. Everyone was. We all were just so amazed that we forgot how to applaud.”
He speaks the same of his own band with total exuberance and energy but with different tones. He is aware of the presence that his band had on the local scene in the early and mid-90’s, and he knows that people have been asking for this reunion for some time now. After five years and countless other performances in different bands, the four members of Third Stone have decided to rock the stage again, and this one may be the very last time.
“We were a great band. We’re still a great band. This is something that has been in the works for a while. And none of us really know where it’s going to lead,” Johnson says.
The reason for the reunion show is simple. It had nothing to do with boredom. It had nothing to do with trying to relive the dream and put the band back together. What spawned it all was Johnson’s wife and her need to see them take the stage as a whole.
“Basically, since we’re all still great friends, my wife and Bryce’s wife would give us shit when we were out, playing pool or whatever,” says Tom Grassman, guitarist. “She never got to see the band play and would always be like ‘What the hell? Just do it for fun!’ And we were never really opposed, but we all had different projects going on and it became difficult to schedule it around those priorities. For whatever reason, it just made sense to all of us this winter and so we said, ‘Fuck it. Let’s do it and do it right.'”
Doing it right has meant many practices over the last few months, rehearsing in Grassman’s basement and going over their songs time and time again to make sure that they are done correctly, as if to show their fan base that they have yet to miss a beat, even after five years. These guys are still best friends, despite the fact that they all have their own lives, wives, families and bands.
Jeff Markland, the drummer, plays relentlessly, every weekend with the crowd-pleasing X-Krush, traveling throughout the state, delivering the “rawk” to everyone who needs it. Johnson used to play with his own outfit, Spacemod, and is in the process of forming a new band with his brother. David Ward, bassist, is not currently playing with anyone.
Grassman is the most prolific of all the boys, playing guitar in possibly the best ’80s cover band in 10 states, The Brat Pack. He also goes through a metamorphosis, changing into his alter-ego, The Krusher, and plays drums for local hard rock act, Sick Day, fronted by the venerable Adam Wolfe. This reunion show, he says, is a welcome change to his schedule.
“This was my first band, at least, in terms of bands that were really going for it. So to be back in the basement with these guys has been so much fun.”
In addition to the show, they have also decided to make a DVD, complete with a mock storyline of what happened to the members of Third Stone, along with live performances and the like. It all fits in with what their original intention was to begin with when they formed the band.
“To have fun. That’s what playing music is supposed to be about. It’s hard work, but it’s a lot of fun. And that’s why we split up in the first place,” says Johnson. “When it wasn’t fun for me anymore, I left. I think we’re back to the place where it’s fun for all of us again because it’s on different terms.”
As for a permanent reunion, bassist Dave Ward says no way. “It would ruin the energy that we have now because the only thing that we want is to be friends and have some fun together. If we actually were to get back together, we would start thinking in terms of ‘making it’ again or whatever, and we aren’t thinking of it that way. We just want to play this show and give the fans a great time.”
To say that the reunion show of Third Stone is a big happening for the local scene from the ’90s would be a gross understatement. In their day, this band of hooligans captured the entire scene and had them screaming for more. Crowds would come out by the hundreds each and every time to worship the ground they walked. While things have changed some since those days, some things have not.
“Theater. Opera. Pornography. Stage props. Killer Sound. You name it. We’ll have it. I even came up with a new hand sign for rock music to retire the old one (referring to the gesture where people use one hand to give what Texans use for the Longhorn),” says Johnson. “We’re the closest thing you’re gonna get to Spinal Tap this side of the Mississippi. You can bet on it.”
And you should bet on it this weekend. If there is one thing that Third Stone does repeatedly, it is bringing out the animal in people. They are highly charged and filled with theatrics that most bands dare not dream of emulating. In their time, they were the bitch’s brew. And they remain that way to the day.
Third Stone plays a reunion for the ages this Saturday at The Canopy Club in Urbana. Cover is $7, and they’re joined by Pariah, Sick Day, and Lidlifter. Come prepared. They rock hard like no one else.