Flipper with David Yow
with Hot Apostles and Television Generation
Marquis Theater, Denver, CO • July 20 2019
by Julius C. Lacking
Many iconic punk and hardcore bands that emerged in the late ’70s and early ’80s made their mark only to be commemorated in T-shirts available for purchase at your teen retail outlet. This is not the case for Flipper, whose particular flavor of loud and self-destructive seems to remain a well-remembered but rarely talked-about detail. The band emerged from the San Fransisco Bay Area scene, one that never got the attention that Los Angeles and NYC did, but one that eventually spawned everything from the Dead Kennedys to Metallica to Faith No More, all acts that likely drew something from Flipper’s protean grind.
It’s now 40 years later. Two original members, guitarist Ted Falconi and drummer Steve DePace, are touring in celebration of the four-decade milestone, teaming up with David Yow (Scratch Acid, The Jesus Lizard) to fill in on vocals for the departed Will Shatter and retired Bruce Loose. The tour – recently finishing its winding way through Europe – featured mostly California dates, plus some in the Midwest like the Denver stop we got to witness.
The first band on the bill was Hot Apostle, and they were not quite what the audience of grizzled punks had in mind. The highly-animated four-piece featured singer Eryn Swissdorf in cut-offs and a ponytail, and had no problem sharing their hot style with the audience, but their style was more turn-of-the-century polished hard rock than the hostile screech and thud that made Flipper the perfect music to end your party.
The second band, Television Generation, was more aligned in style with the headliner, and some clusters of people actually got off their stools to see their youngish howl and wail, a three-piece meandering through their own distorted catalog and some very recognizable covers of Kraftwerk’s “The Model” and the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. There may have been some Velvet Underground too, but I can’t recall if it was a song or a very strong influence.
This is as good a point as any to go off on a tangent regarding punk rock T-shirts, especially since there was a second wave of Flipper fans that came along in the early-mid ’90s due to Kurt Cobain’s predilection for wearing home-made Flipper t-shirts on videos and photo shoots. There’s a lot more to the Nirvana-Flipper connection, but that’s left as an exercise for the reader. There was no shortage of vintage, obscure punk rock t-shirts on display, including a couple of tattered home-made Flippers that no doubt were brought out of hiding from disgusted partners just for this show. I felt out of place in my regulation DJ uniform of Hawaiian shirt and jeans; fortunately, I had a friend with a doozy from The Birthday Party to lend some legitimacy to my presence.
As the band occupied the stage, we got to hear a bit of unaccompanied rumblefuzz from bass player Rachel Thoele , who has been touring with Flipper for a few years now. The Flipper formula, if it can be deconstructed as such, is keyed to this sound, and it’s based on heaviness and repetition, with a ponderous rhythm section powered by ultra-distorted bass backing delicate feedbacked frenzies from the guitar and unhinged vocals. It was just a quick soundcheck, but it was good to hear that foundation before things got truly heavy for the evening.
The set started out with “The Lights, The Sound, The Rhythm & The Noise”, the band mounting a quick offensive that overcame any reservations the audience, faced with musicians on stage old enough to turn them down for a mortgage, may have had. Singer David Yow may not stand out in a crowded subway car, but put him on a stage and let him take off his shirt and his presence is unmistakable. The band played mostly songs from the Will Shatter catalogue, Shatter’s style being better aligned with Yow’s particular lunacy. When Bruce Loose songs like “Ever” and “Way of the World” were performed, Yow seemed more inclined to encourage members of the audience to sing along.
Although this was ostensibly a Flipper show, most of the theatrics came from Yow, as the other members seemed more absorbed in their instruments than the audience. This was fine; it takes a lot of attention to keep track of what Yow is doing. As his renditions of Roger Miller’s “One Dyin’ & a Buryin'” and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Damned for All Time” have previously proven, Yow can take someone else’s work, complement it and move it forward, and retain its essence. Also, he’s developed a knack for lackadaisically dropping the mic – a sort of spur-of-the moment movement, not unlike releasing a too-hot burrito that you prematurely extracted from the microwave with your bare hands. It punctuated songs with a different type of hideous clatter and it must have soundmen across the nation cursing his name.
Meanwhile, Falconi seems off in his own world, playing monster riffs like he’s hearing the band from across the hall and has decided to amuse himself by joining in. The result is a sort of floating layer of din on top of the proceedings. Despite the unassuming presence, Falconi’s disjointed but aggressive style has been an influence on many a band. Even Yow himself stopped to admire a couple of times, remarking that he couldn’t believe he was friends with Ted effing Falconi. The rhythm section of DePace and Thoele did not flag either, handily locking together to recreate the low-end rumble that is part of Flipper’s signature.
The set list, for completists, also included “Ha Ha Ha”, “I Saw You Shine”, “Love Canal”, “Get Away”, “Life is Cheap”, “Brainwash”, and “Sacrifice”. Of course, the closing number was “Sex Bomb”, arguably Flipper’s most well-known composition. For this particular show, the organizers managed to round up a theremin, trombone, and saxophone to join in, for a glorious, raucous, all-out finale that was exactly the sort of climax required.
As the show wrapped up and the concert-goers filed out, it was time to reflect on this music’s now-long and always-sordid history. The show had been well-attended, but considering the impact this band has had on music, it was a small audience. As they filtered outside, everyone got a final look at the Punk Rock T-Shirt Cotillion, a parade of personally-significant garments, every one of them not just an affirmation of love for a band, but an artifact with a history for the wearer. It was as if Fang, the Flamin’ Groovies, and the Circle Jerks were paying the respect due to Flipper.
Cover photo – Ted Falconi and David Yow, by Chris Ritter. Thanks to Chris and to Charles D.J. Deppner for their assistance with this review.