It’s fair to say that Rob Coons’ initial exposure to live music was a trial by fire.
“My first show was still one of the most memorable, best shows I’ve ever seen—D.R.I. with Dr. Know in Cincinnati, around two hours from my small town,” recalls photographer Coons with a smirk. “It was absolutely bonkers—a million stage dives. It was so wild, the intensity of it and everything. And then towards the end of the show, a stage diver jumped on top of me and hit my head and actually cracked one of my front teeth off. I had footprints all over my shirt from people climbing over me to get on the stage, but I made up some crazy story to my parents and somehow it worked out. That night was a little bit different from when I saw Neil Diamond.”
And so began Coons’ love affair with punk and live music—a liaison that has endured for decades across several continents.
“I went to Tokyo in February of 2020 to see Gauze with Crow, and that was incredible,” Coons says of going to the ends of the earth in pursuit of great shows. “I first saw Gauze on their U.S. tour back in ’96 at Gilman Street, and to this day that was the best punk set I’ve ever seen in my life. So I was obsessed with seeing them in Japan, and I finally had an opportunity to go many years later. And then the irony of it is that it was actually their last show as a full band.”
Coons has only been behind the lens for seven or so years thus far, but his involvement with punk extends much further back—having joined the Maximum Rocknroll team as a volunteer in the early ’90s. Starting as an editorial assistant, Coons would eventually helm a column for years, focusing his efforts on some of the heavier music that existed on the fringes of the legendary magazine. Today he DJs their radio show, in addition to a second program outside of MRR called Psyched Radio.
But as much as he enjoys shooting at the venue, he loves unique locations and performances even more.
“These bands False Flag and Surprise Privilege are really young, super active kids in the Bay Area who push the envelope of where bands play—a series of what they call ‘fuck-it shows,”’ says Coons. “They’re always in weird locations: abandoned lots under the freeway, abandoned warehouses, even on the BART train. About four or five hundred people showed up for the BART train show, and it was pure magic.
“I’ve always been excited by the bizarre or anything that’s high-intensity or super visual—just pushing the edge of what’s expected or even ‘appropriate,’” he continues. “When bands really push the boundaries of performance art with costuming or anything like that, I find it really appealing. Cancer Christ is like that—they’re this insane band with snake masks and this whole religious-like baptism, flamethrowers, and more. Plus, they tend to be really destructive when they play. Every show is wild, and they have such a unique presentation and everything.”
With all this varied experience shooting some of the wildest bands in traditional and nontraditional spaces, Coons offers some key advice about shooting:
“If photographers ever ask me what’s important—any tips or anything—it’s to enjoy the band first, and photos are always second. If you’re not having fun and enjoying the band, then I think your photos will reflect that.”
Does cracking your teeth off count as enjoying the band? Different strokes, I guess.