When Chicago powerviolence band Weekend Nachos started playing in 2004, "We honestly had no serious goals," says front man John Hoffman. "We just wanted to sound like Kungfu Rick, a Chicago grindcore band we all grew up listening to, and we wanted to have chaotic live shows like they did. I definitely feel we accomplished that and so much more."
Considering what Weekend Nachos have done since then, "so much more" is an understatement. Though they began as a jokey grindcore act in DeKalb, Illinois, they've grown into a big name on the worldwide heavy-music circuit, releasing four full-lengths via venerable metal giant Relapse Records, playing to massive festival crowds, and selling out concerts on several continents. But this weekend, in the relatively cozy confines of a Wicker Park club, they'll play their final two shows.
"This band started out as a complete trainwreck," Hoffman recalls. "We literally got banned from our first show, and the next ten shows after that were a joke to anyone who witnessed them." He'd described Nachos' first gig to me a couple years ago, while reminiscing about their first decade: "I can honestly say I'll never forget that night. We were asked to 'destroy the venue' because the promoter hated booking shows there. Call Me Lightning headlined. I broke a lot of shit and wore a red bra. The staff banned us forever and refused to pay us. I doubt we played even remotely well."
Weekend Nachos' earliest material, which they spread out across a series of demos, splits, and seven-inches, was solid, by-the-books grindcore, not forgettable but not extraordinary. But by the 2007 release of their first full-length, the band had turned into a monster: Punish and Destroy is bombastic, brutal, and beyond heavy. D-beat frenzies collide with atom-bomb dirges to create a massive, unsettling, dizzying smear of metal, hardcore, and punk, while Hoffman spews nihilistic lyrics in a tortured, guttural grunt. Its terrifying assault must've startled quite a few curious record-store browsers who expected something less hateful-sounding from a group named after a buddy's tongue-in-cheek AOL Instant Messenger screen name.
Hoffman thinks it was a given that Weekend Nachos would evolve from prankish to beastly. "We're all actual musicians," he says. "Most bands in the powerviolence genre don't really have any interest in sounding different over time. We may have had our powerviolence influences, but we never set out to be any specific type of band. So as we continued to write more songs, we just got better at writing and things became more interesting."
By the time of the next Weekend Nachos album, 2009's Unforgivable, they'd ended their seemingly constant lineup changes and settled on the personnel they'd stick with for the rest of their career: Hoffman (the sole constant member), founding guitarist Andy Nelson (who left the group and then returned), bassist Drew Brown, and drummer Brian Laude. Unforgivable was the band's first record on Relapse, which has released every Nachos full-length since—the last one, Apology, came out in May.
With the backing of an influential independent label, the band started building a larger audience than they'd ever enjoyed. And even though they toured overseas and earned slots at huge festivals such as Maryland Deathfest and London's Bloodshed Fest, they stayed true to their punk roots and ideals—as often as they could, they still played gigs at DIY spots and basement venues. In 2016, at the height of their success, they booked most of their hometown shows at a long-running punk house in Rogers Park (which shall remain nameless here to protect it from Trumpist assholes who hope to target underground arts spaces).
Hoffman has a few ideas about what helped Weekend Nachos connect with fans all over the world. "I think it's just the idea of doing what you wanna do and not giving a fuck," he says. "The entire idea behind the band, from day one, was to be one big giant middle finger to anything that made sense in the world. It was fast, loud, sloppy, and the live shows were destructive and obnoxious." He hopes they inspired other people to stand up and follow suit. "People want to ignore it but they can't, and eventually they realize they wish they could do something like that too."
The fans were an inspiration to the band too. "Even on our first few tours, there was something people really loved about seeing Weekend Nachos play," Hoffman says. "To be able to leave home and experience that kind of connection is just absurd, in a good way. We played in Europe and Japan, and people came out to sing along with my lyrics . . . that is insane."
A little more than a year ago, 16 months after Weekend Nachos celebrated their tenth anniversary with a sold-out show at Beat Kitchen, they posted some unexpected news on their Facebook page: "We would like to announce with both sadness and excitement that 2016 will be the final year as a band for Weekend Nachos. It's been almost 12 years and we have decided to hang it up."
When I talked to Hoffman right after that announcement, he explained that Weekend Nachos had said and done everything they'd initially set out to do (and then some). Now he's able to expand a little on the reasons for the breakup. "We just collectively didn't want to do the band anymore and we felt it was time to go," he says. "I think it was a give-and-take for each of us—some of us wanted to end it right away, others would have preferred to keep going even longer. So we compromised and decided to do one last year of shows and one more album."
In 2016 Weekend Nachos made one last international tour and released their swan song, Apology. Their most punishing record by far (thanks in part to Nelson's engineering job), it captures the band at their most frenzied and angry, incorporating elements of noise-rock and sludge metal into their usual powerviolence stomp. They're leaving on a high note—a disturbing, twisted, crushing high note.
On Friday and Saturday, January 13 and 14, Weekend Nachos headline two long-sold-out shows at Subterranean, sharing the bills with wildly heavy brothers-in-arms such as Harm's Way, Sick Fix, and Homewrecker. Then they'll be gone, leaving a void that the Chicago hardcore and metal scenes will feel acutely.
"I have zero regrets," says Hoffman. "I am just thankful for the run that we had." The band's dedicated followers are surely thankful too, but it's always a bummer when a beloved band splits up—especially a band as big as Nachos.
Most of Weekend Nachos' members are already involved in other excellent projects, so we'll continue to hear from them in one way or another. Nelson and Brown play a hybrid of death metal and hardcore in Like Rats, while Hoffman drums in grindcore band Spine and recently started a doom-metal outfit called Ledge. Nelson also fronts Belonger, a shoegazy, grungy trio that pays homage to the likes of Nirvana, Slowdive, and Failure.
"We will all continue to play music, hang out, make ignorant jokes," Hoffman says. "I imagine there will just be children and wives added to the mix at some point." v