Stage Times: Alkaline Trio

Matt Skiba walks us through his most memorable performances

The lesser known fifth horsemen of the apocalypse, Chicago punk legends Alkaline Trio have been tinting the scene with their morbid curiosity for darkness for almost three decades.

Dead-set on forward motion, they’ve long been documenting the tragedies and survivals of life across boundary-pushing punk songs. But with the project taking a backseat during frontman Matt Skiba’s seven-year stint with pop punk stalwarts blink-182, when Tom DeLonge returned to tag him out in 2022 – Alkaline Trio owed their fans something special. 

Colliding their gallows humour with an invitation to dance as the world burns down, the band’s landmark 10th studio album, Blood, Hair, And Eyeballs, sees them on their finest form to date. A reflection of the bleak times we’re living through sprinkled with glimmers of hope and courage, it’s a reminder that despite the horrors, there’s still love out there – and when you find it, you should hold it tight.

Sailing into a new era following the departure of long-serving drummer Derek Grant and the arrival of powerhouse sticksman Atom Willard, Alkaline Trio’s vision has never been clearer. As they prepare to bring the world of Blood, Hair, And Eyeballs to the UK for the first time this July, we sat down with Skiba to chat about the most memorable shows of their enduring career.

Alkaline Trio - Warbrain

That gig that made you want to play music

It would have been Social Distortion at the Cabaret Metro in Chicago, which was back in 1989. I remember everything about it. It was the first time I made out with a girl, and the first time I’d been in a bar brawl. When I saw Mike Ness walk out onto the stage, I knew that’s what I was going to do. It put a face to all the weird little dreams I would have as a kid, so that show was the defining moment for me.

That venue is also where Trio grew. The name shortened from Cabaret Metro to just Metro, and we’ve played that venue more than we’ve played anywhere else. I still call it Cabaret Metro, and to me that’s the venue.

Did you ever see Social Distortion again after that?

I saw them a couple weeks ago in Santa Barbara! They were playing with Bad Religion, who are another band I love. Honestly, I see Social Distortion at every chance I get.

Alkaline Trio - Enjoy Your Day (Live) - Past Live

The first

The first show we ever played was in a backyard for a local skate shop benefit, when I would have been 20 years old. At the time we were bike messengers, and we put on a show in our backyard to raise money to build a mini ramp in one of our friend’s yards. That would have been in 1996, so it’s a blur now. I couldn’t tell you a thing about it, but I remember being nervous and probably overserved. I’m sure it wasn’t very good, but you’ve got to start somewhere… 

The worst

Unfortunately, there have been a handful, especially when we were all partying a lot. There wasn’t just one bad one, and there have been multiple where I was blackout drunk or someone else in the band was on some kind of drug and couldn’t play. There have been plenty of self-inflicted embarrassing shows along the way, but luckily when things like that would happen, it would snap us out of it. People paid to come there, and they didn’t come to watch me get drunk and make an ass of myself. Everybody’s on point these days, and if anything goes wrong at our shows it’s because of something technical. When you still have people coming out to see you after being around for so long, you owe it to them to give it your best shot. I’m so glad we outgrew the selfish mentality of mixing the party with the show, and I’m sorry to anyone who had to see any of those shows.

The smallest

It would have been the first show we played in Philadelphia, back when I was our booking agent. We played the upstairs of this tiny tavern in Philly, which didn’t do punk shows. We just about managed to convince somebody to let us play, and there were literally no people there. It was just the bartender and a couple of waitresses, and I remember talking to one of the waitresses for ages from this little stage. I broke the D string, and I was like, “Oh, I can get through this without it”. She was like, “No, you can’t! You can’t even play a full chord!” We were having this full conversation at our show, but it didn’t matter because there was nobody there. That would have been before we put the first record out, and I don’t know what we were doing out there, but we were giving it a go. We played the show and then went and slept in a tent somewhere.

Alkaline Trio - Mercy Me

The biggest

It was in Quebec City, and there were 98,000 people watching one stage. I couldn’t even wrap my head around it, and it was so big that it almost became inhuman. Every year they do this summer festival which is free to anyone and everyone that wants to come. You couldn’t even see most of the crowd, there were just little dots of heads as far and as wide as you could see.

Coming from a punk background, how do those huge shows feel?

Playing in front of that many people is an honour. That year The Offspring were playing, and there were tonnes of other bigger bands there who were way more of a draw than us. I’ve seen photos from the year that Pink Floyd played it, so it’s incredibly huge. After that show though, I reckon the biggest we’ve done is the main stage at Reading & Leeds Festivals. There’s something special about that many people giving a sh*t. 

The weirdest

Any time we’ve played in Japan. The first time we played there, I think people had told us how different it was, but we just didn’t believe it. The culture is beautiful, and I love it over there, but what’s customary or polite in society is very different. In between songs, the crowd falls completely silent out of respect rather than applauding. That was startlingly odd, but in such a cool way. When the songs are playing, kids are losing their minds. Everybody has these towels that they swing around above their heads, but as soon as the music stops, you could hear a pin drop. It’s so weird in such an awesome way. 


The best

We played Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom on our last tour, and that was the best gig we’ve ever played. Often one of us will be having issues and won’t have as great of a time as the others. Somebody is usually off in one way or another, or battling something throughout the set however mild it may be, but at that show everything just locked into place. It was amazing, especially because I grew up going to shows there. I saw bands like Ramones and Beastie Boys there, and it’s this huge room that holds 5,000 people. We’ve played it before but never sold it out, and this time we did it. There were people watching the show from the stairwells who couldn’t even see the stage, and it was completely jam-packed. Everyone was going bananas, including us. To be able to do that almost three decades into our career is incredibly humbling.

Alkaline Trio start their 2024 UK tour on 16 July. Find tickets here.