It's 11 on a hot and sticky Friday night, and I'm sweating inside Hollywood's Club M waiting on a miracle. The once-popular, always-dysfunctional, heavily loved hardcore band Load is scheduled to play an impromptu set within the hour. If all goes well, it'll be the band's first time on stage together in six years — following a hallowed ten-year run of blistering punk-meets-metal greatness that ended in 2001. But considering the band's condition and the fact that its lead singer, Bobby Johnston, AKA Bobby Load, is blind-drunk at a table in the back of the club, their impromptu reunion show doesn't look like it's going to happen.
Known just as much for its onstage prowess as its offstage antics, Load is perhaps best met when its members are too drunk to perform. People who remember them best — and there are a lot of them — consider Load one of the hardest-partying bands to come out of South Florida and also one of the most talented. But after walking away from the band they loved for six years, even the members are a touch worried about how they'll sound as a unit once again.
"Bro, I don't know how it's gonna go," Fausto Figueredo, the band's drummer, says while nursing a Heineken inside Club M. "If we can just get Bobby onstage, I think we'll be OK." Then he takes one look at Johnston, who's been on an all-day bender and can barely stand, and admits, "But that ain't gonna be easy."
Within Miami and Broward counties' rock scenes during the 1990s, few bands played with the intensity and reckless abandon that Load cranked out every time it touched the stage. Armed with angst, determination, and a four-to-the-floor, hard-driven sound, Load tore up venues from Churchill's to Washington Square and developed a reputation as the bad boys of local rock. Composed of Figueredo on drums, Johnston on vocals, Tony Qualls on bass, and Jeff "Muthafucka" Tucci on guitar, the band met circa 1990 and immediately bonded over their ability to party and perform like their idols. Influenced by groups like the Circle Jerks, the Subhumans, the Melvins, and Suicidal Tendencies, Load found the common denominator among all those acts and developed a unique style of wreckless Southern screamo punk. It not only afforded them the opportunity to tour and release material with several independent labels but also gained them a sizable local fan base.
"Back then, there were bands like the Goods and the Mavericks that were capable of drawing 200 people per show, and you could easily put [Load] in that category," says Dave Daniels, longtime owner of Churchill's Pub. "They always had a consistent following, including lots of pretty girls, if I remember correctly."
In fact, Tucci recalls that the real motivation for starting Load was purely physical. "Me and Bobby were sitting at the bar one day and realized that we'd never get the kind of girls that we wanted unless we started up a band," he says. "Bobby didn't believe me at first, but sure enough..." And the bandmates all finish the sentence in unison: "We gotta whole lot of ass through Load."
At that, the band members start cracking up, and it's hard to understand why they ever broke up in the first place. After 16 years of being friends, enemies, sparring partners (the band was infamous for its in-fighting), and musical cohorts, the three remaining members of Load bust one another's balls like they all grew up together, and in a sense, they did. They've seen marriages begin and end, attended funerals of loved ones, bailed one another out of jail, and inhaled, smoked, or snorted every illegal substance they could find. To them, it was all a part of the rock 'n' roll aesthetic. They couldn't approach making music any other way.
"Those guys were really wild, and they lived it Mötley Crüe-style," says Juan Montoya, bassist for Torche and longtime friend of the band's. "They were a little too abrasive for people back then. They would play a lot of places, but people would complain cause they were always so loud."
For awhile, the band's antics didn't seem to have any ill effects. It released Hellraiser Sessions in 1992 and received praise from local punk cognoscenti who heralded the cassette as one of the grungiest and truest releases of its time. Local radio host Bob Slade of WLRN championed the band as well, and promoters started taking notice. Between 1993 and 1996, Load began touring regularly, going out on the road for four to five weeks at a time, usually making more in beer than in cash but developing a loyal Southern following along the way. During the best of times, Load opened for its heroes, like the Ramones, Bad Brains, and the Subhumans, and laid waste to any claim that it could never be anything more than a local band.
"I've seen them open for national bands and fucking blow them away," says Jeff Hodapp of the Drug Czars and Trapped by Mormons. "They should have kept going. They had great songs, a perfect sound, and if you put a microphone in front of Bobby, he's an amazing singer. It's weird that they never really made it big. They were probably just too volatile to do much with all of their talent."
As for the group's frontman, Johnston couldn't have been a more viable lead singer for a group like Load. He had the chops, the scrappy blond mane, and the animated personality needed to keep the band in the limelight.
"Those were the best years of my life, man," Johnston says. "Load meant a lot to us, and when we played, we left our hearts up there onstage every night."
It's no secret that Johnston is remembered and is still seen as the hardest-drinking member of the band. "I remember when Bobby used to get so drunk he'd crawl in the back of a pickup and pass out," local rock personality Rat Bastard says. "Wherever he could lay down, he'd just pass out. But he was a great singer... no one could deny that."
It was inevitable that the heavy drinking and drug use would catch up with the band after a while. By 1997, Qualls had quit, citing blow and burnout as his main reasons. Yet Load muscled on, picking up bassist Ray Halford to fill in, and continued to chase after an ever-elusive record deal. On the outside, the band was enjoying its greatest bouts with success, but on the inside, things were falling apart. Johnston's drinking was also getting out of control.
In 2000, right after 702 Records put out the band's most heralded disc, Feel the Power, Load folded. And although they maintained a cordial relationship at best, the members of Load have been slightly estranged since walking away.
"It feels incredible to be doing this again," Figueredo says of their reunion. "I don't know what's gonna happen afterwards, but the songs are coming back to us. We're just going to get up there and play, let people get shit-faced, take a break and let everyone do drugs in the bathroom, and then play again."