Hardcore and go-go are prominently represented in any history of DC music in the 1980s, but there were smaller scenes that connected with audiences here, too. Among them: mod rock, performed and consumed by Anglophilic fans who dressed in suits and raced around town on Italian scooters like the original UK mods in the 1979 film version of the Who’s rock opera Quadrophenia.
Modest Proposal was a prominent Washington mod band from its formation in 1983 until its dissolution three years later. It played shows mostly around town and up and down the East Coast, and the band traveled to its spiritual home of London in 1986 just as the group was breaking up. The group played a reunion show in 2009 and had another planned for last March, but Covid postponed those plans till this Friday at Pearl Street Warehouse, when Modest Proposal will once again fill a DC venue with people in narrow ties, miniskirts, and Chelsea boots.
Original members Bill Crandall and Neal Augenstein will perform alongside Danny Ingram and Hunter Bennett (a lawyer and the proprietor of a punk-rock free library in Chevy Chase DC) from the group Dot Dash. If you spend much time in a car, you’re likely to know Augenstein’s voice from his subsequent career as a journalist—he’s been an on-air reporter at WTOP-FM since 1997 and one of the iPhones he’s used for reporting ended up in the Newseum. The group formed after Augenstein finished college at American. “Our audiences were very young, much younger than we were,” Augenstein says. “In fact, there were a couple of different high schools that were fans of Modest Proposal.” When the band played at venues like the 9:30 Club, in its old location on F Street, Northwest, “Eighty percent of the people would be wearing some sort of thrift store, thin-tied, narrow-lapel-type outfit,” he says. “There would be shows where there might be 15 or 20 scooters parked outside.”
Unlike their counterparts in the UK who battled rockers, though, DC mods had trouble making enemies. Modest Proposal had a grand time playing with the hardcore band Marginal Man, for instance, Augenstein says. Another big differentiator was class: British mods were primarily working class, while in DC, “many of the the mods were the kids of private school,” he says. “It was more style and fashion and music sense than anything else.” Most Washington mods made do with thrift-store finds, but the lucky ones got bespoke clothing at Mazza Gallerie’s Custom Shop. Augenstein declines to spoil any surprises about his outfit for this show but allows that he did have a shirt and tie custom-made. “That would have been important to the mods back then,” he says. “And I guess it’s still important to me.”
Friday’s event should be part concert and part reunion, he says. Does that mean an early bedtime is possible for fans who’ve advanced in years a bit themselves? Modest Proposal is scheduled to take the stage at 9 PM, he says, and “there’s a good chance if you wanted to, you could be home asleep by by midnight. But if you wanted to really live it up and be out until two dancing and reliving a great time in your life, you could do that, too.”
Modest Proposal plays with Mod Fun and DJ Skate at Pearl Street Warehouse on Friday, June 16. Doors at 7 PM. Tickets $15-25.