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Midwestern punk-rock revival

Sedalia band reunites for 30th anniversary show

Courtesy of Scott Swafford

Abusers members Stephen Mahoney, Jeff Greener and Andrew Berenyi hold up vocalist Scott Swafford in a 1980 photo. The band will play Saturday at Cherry Street Artisan.

December 11, 2008 | 12:00 a.m. CST

In 1978, when the American conception of punk rock was still in its nascent stages, three kids from Sedalia formed a punk band, The Abusers. Thirty years later, punk rock has become a prominent music genre, and The Abusers, now comprised of a newspaper editor, a polysomnographic technologist and a former water purification specialist, all in their late 40s, are here to give it another shot.
Vocalist Scott Swafford and bassist Stephen Mahoney met in third grade after Swafford’s family moved across town. Both met guitarist Andrew Berenyi when they were 17, shortly before forming the band.
Berenyi was the first to pick up on the punk-rock theme. “It was all pretty amazing and outrageous to us,” Mahoney says. “The rest of us were still listening to Ted Nugent at the time.” In the fall of 1978, Berenyi, a sophomore in high school, was caught singing the latest Sex Pistols hit in drama class and was approached by Mrs. Vanhorn, the boys’ teacher. Vanhorn promised Berenyi an opportunity to perform in her classroom if he ever started a band. “You could feel the wheels turning and smell the smoke,” says Mahoney, laughing. The band played its first concert in the classroom that year, recruited Berenyi’s older brother as the drummer and created its name after Berenyi’s father accused the band of being an insult to music.
The group’s image and sound was not welcomed warmly in Sedalia. “When we started the band, we felt like the only existing punk-rock group between the Appalachians and the Rockies in the late ’70s,” Berenyi says. They played several songs written by both Mahoney and Berenyi and also covered popular punk bands of the time such as The Clash, Sex Pistols and Ramones. “Punk rock was portrayed in a certain way to show it was a counterculture, violent, that only the insane would be involved with it,” Mahoney says. “We weren’t necessarily something that the people of Sedalia came to support in great numbers.”
The Abusers played in Sedalia and sometimes in Kansas City or Lawrence, Kan. By 1982, the three were on their way to college with different pursuits, leading to the band’s split. The group eventually lost track of drummer Jeff Greener. Berenyi moved to New York and later England, starting another punk rock group, Under Neath What. He toured around the world for 10 years, until 1993, and later moved to Houston to work in the water purification industry. He now lives in Los Angeles.
Mahoney lives in Texas and works in a sleep lab, and Swafford is a city editor at the Columbia Missourian. Swafford, Mahoney and Berenyi kept in touch, meeting in Missouri every so often, even though they didn’t play again. Until now.
The band will play its first show in 30 years at Cherry Street Artisan Dec. 13 with Kansas City native Jimmy Morgan on drums. “I think it’s going to be an incredibly fun show,” says Alex Johnson, director of arts and culture at the Artisan. “It’ll be great for MU students to see Professor Swafford outside of the classroom, and I’m excited to have (Berenyi) here.”
Although they are unsure of any further plans after the show, the bandmates look forward to reuniting in their home state for a show. “We’re doing this as a celebration of something that was really cool in our lives,” Mahoney says. “Maybe we’ll see about playing at future shows.

EVENT INFO

What: The Abusers
When: Sat., Dec. 13, 9 p.m.
Where: Cherry Street Artisan
Cost: $5
Call: 817–3274

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