with Johnny Socko, Hollywood Beach Brian, and the Alkaline Trio

Salvation, Miami • December 19, 1998

South Florida shows have moved from the more centrally located Ft. Lauderdale to Miami Beach’s Salvation, a move I can’t say I’m terribly pleased with. The location does a brilliant job of deterring fans from the Coral Springs and Boca areas from attending due to the drive, and the amount of kids from the south Miami area that attend shows was never that big to begin with. But alas, Johnny Socko and MU330 were coming into town, and I was certainly not going to let an hour-plus drive stand in the way of me and these two spectacular musical entourages.

Opening was the Chicago-based Alkaline Trio, playing what was one of the loudest sets I’ve ever had the misfortune of attending. Presenting the tiny crowd — which flocked to the front of the stage — with a brand of punk rock that was filled with so much distortion that I could hardly make out the actual tunes, their stage presence was barely noticed. The bassist and guitarist traded off vocal responsibilities, each staring at the ceiling as they delivered their lines, which were sometimes ear-piercing, at the fault of the soundman. Twice during the set, the Alkaline Trio was plagued with technical problems that left their bassist standing like a deer in headlights in front of the crowd, trying his best to provide any words to entertain the small mass of people. Finally, the drummer chimed in by asking if the crowd had ever seen a certain movie. Someone hooted. “Hey, now it’s a party!” chirped their bassist. Oh, boy.

During the set change, local legend Hollywood Beach Brian (or, HBB for short) pulled up a stool on stage, sat down with his acoustic guitar, and began playing a song called “Fast Food Nation,” as a group of about twenty kids in the crowd cheered and sang along. For the next fifteen minutes, HBB offered a variety of cutesy 2-minute pop and ska originals, to which the crowd in front of him didn’t miss a beat. For one guy with a couple songs and an acoustic guitar, this guy has made quite a name for himself. EVERYONE knew his material, and he was constantly bombarded with an onslaught of requests. Keeping the crowd entertained during set changes was a wonderful idea, and HBB certainly did the trick.

Next up was Indiana’s Johnny Socko, back after a court case with the National Meat Council – this time, complete with full, bright-red jumpsuits and a trumpet player with more hair than Don King. These guys never fail to please, bringing with them an unparalleled amount of energy – they make the crowd move for every note they play, and are goofy enough to keep everyone smiling. Unfortunately, they played absolutely nothing off their first album, Bovaquarium. Still, their show was incredibly fun, as the horn section from MU330 (if you can call two trombonists a “horn section”) joined in for “Vinny’s Hooch,” and their staple “best dancer prize” was given out to an obnoxious couple that made their way onstage earlier in the set. Johnny Socko is one of the most enjoyable bands in the business, as their mix of ska, rock, and polka always leaves you wanting more.

But if there’s one band out there that can rival Johnny Socko’s fun aura, it’s MU330. Even if you don’t like their music – which has definitely ceased to be ska and has now moved to straight-out punk-rock-n-roll – the atmosphere these guys create is reason enough to religiously attend each and every appearance. You can almost feel the energy drip out of each song, and the constant banter and interaction with the crowd from lead singer/guitarist Dan Potthast is wonderfully entertaining. For “La,” members of the previous two bands hijacked the stage and played the song, while the members of MU330 took a break and Dan went for a crowd surf. Following that up was the fan favorite, “Stuff,” and soon after came trombonist Gerry Lundquist’s moment in the sun.

The last time I saw MU330, Gerry did an impression of Hulk Hogan on stage that, as accompanied by the band’s heavy-metal backing and Gerry’s chainsaw, left me laughing so hard I almost puked. So I had very high hopes for what this man, who has been dubbed “the Ayatollah of Rock-n-Rolla,” was going to do for the crowd this time. Wearing glasses like Geordi from Star Trek, Gerry grabbed the microphone, and in a startlingly perfect Hulk Hogan impression, began to tell the crowd about how he used to work out on Miami Beach building his biceps. But, Gerry said, he was giving it all up. He was “giving it all up… for this.” With those words, the large man that is Gerry Lundquist sang, in his sweetest voice, “Close To You.” After singing THE WHOLE SONG, he grabbed the chainsaw, chased a few band members around with it, ripped his shirt down the middle, and flexed. Once again, I laughed so hard I almost puked. Long live Gerry!

With both these bands doing what they’ve been doing for a long while, Asian Man Records finally put together what should have been done ages ago. Johnny Socko and MU330 belong together. The two bands together made for one of the more enjoyable shows I’ve been to, and one of the most humorous as well. And really, who can pass up an opportunity to see Gerry in action?

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