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Punk rock agitators the Queers return to Orlando, still loud and lewd

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Imagine notorious punk-rock stalwart Joe Queer sitting alone in a van, parked outside a Rhode Island bar called Patty's Beach Club, and surrounded by throngs of young partiers who look like they just wandered off the set of a low-rent MTV Spring Break.

"Our backstage is on a beach, and there's not much privacy," says the Queers frontman. "There are a bunch of 20-somethings running around with captain hats and sunburns, all vaping and drunk. We don't play for a few hours, so I'm just going to hang out in the van."

After decades of filling mosh pits and stirring up controversies, the New Hampshire native, whose real name is Joseph P. King, can take pretty much anything in stride. In the nearly three decades since releasing their prematurely titled debut album Grow Up, the Queers have played countless stages, gone through dozens of bandmates, and indulged in more than their share of touring-musician habits.

But even a punk-pop band known for live favorites like "Punk Rock Girls" and "Kicked out of the Webelos" is likely to grow up sooner or later.

"Usually when we go on tour, we don't drink," says King. "We're too busy. Everything focuses around the band and the show. We're pretty serious about it."

There have, of course, been exceptions, like the infamous mid-song brawl between band members when their drunken former bassist joined them onstage during a 2015 performance in San Diego.

"He got onstage and he started acting like a jerk, but I didn't see him knock the drums over continually," says King of the incident, which has racked up more than 80,000 YouTube views. "And then [guitarist] Chris Fields hit him in the face, and all hell broke loose."

But that's all water under the bridge now. "The next day he apologized," says King, "and I was just like, 'No problem.' I understand, people have forgiven me in the past. Plus, he didn't ruin the show, so we're all friends now."

Onstage, the Queers also have a flair for absurdist cover songs like "I Enjoy Being a Boy," which was originally recorded by the funny-animal kid's show band the Banana Splits. They also released a track-by-track rendition of the Ramones' Rocket to Russia album, the mention of which prompts a particularly bittersweet memory.

"This is a true story," King remembers. "Back in the day, we got to be pals with the Ramones, and I sent a four-song cassette tape to Joey Ramone. He told me that he really liked them, which was a real ego boost for me, and asked me to work on songs for the solo album he was making. I was like, 'Oh, man, my hero wants to work with me!' And I really had to pinch myself, I was just like walking on air for a few weeks."

Joey subsequently sent King a cassette tape of a song called "I Wanna Be Happy."

"It was just one verse of him singing and playing acoustic guitar, and Ben Weasel from Screeching Weasel and I did the bridge and chorus," King says. "But it was too late. He got too sick to sing it."

The Ramones bandleader died in 2001, leaving King and Ben Weasel to release their own version a year later.

Today, the Queers are as busy as ever. More so, actually.

"For the past 15 years, I've thought the band was going to slow down," says King, "but we did 130 shows last year, and this year we're going to do 140. It's unreal."

The group continues to release new albums and King still devotes time to producing bands he likes, a habit that goes back to him recording the debut album by Colorado Springs punk heroes the Nobodys.

He'll also continue to deal with controversies first set in motion by that fateful choice of band name. "We thought it would piss people off, so that's why we liked it," says the equal-opportunity offender. "We got shit from rednecks when we used to tour with Pansy Division."

King, who says he's so leftist that he's "over the cliff," misses a music scene where irreverence was still the norm.

"When I started out years ago, people had more of a sense of humor," he says. "We used to laugh at this stuff ... And now there are things you can't goof around about. They're serious, you know what I mean? It's a weird, weird time."

This story appears in the Nov. 27, 2019, print issue of Orlando Weekly. Stay on top of Central Florida news and views with our weekly Headlines newsletter.