Categories
Sound Salvation

2020 on Fire

2020 on Fire

I’ve been working on this playlist for several weeks, as the protests following the death of George Floyd have continued and the battle for social and racial justice rages on, as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to win more and more support, as more and more people have had enough of institutional racism.

Here, then, is something of a soundtrack for this modern age, made up of music old and new, all of which continues to fight the good fight.

“White People for Peace” — Against Me!

Against Me! has been a protest band from the very start, so what better place to start than this track from 2007’s landmark “New Wave” album, a protest song about singing protest songs? The title has never been more relevant, with the number of white people who’ve finally had enough of racism being a driving force as part of the current protest movement.

“Ghost Town” — The Specials

This song was written and released during a different series of riots — 1980 in the UK was rife — but it almost feels more timely now, with COVID-19 making all of our towns even more like ghost towns, and absolutely, “bands don’t play no more.”

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” — Gil Scott-Heron

The prescience of Gil Scott-Heron’s seminal song may seem somewhat questionable now. The revolution is being televised… and streamed. But the message is really that revolutions don’t happen from your sofa.

“What’s Going On” — Marvin Gaye

“This is America” — Childish Gambino

Did the current movement start here, with this utterly prescient song and video from Donald Glover? There’s an argument to be made that it did, with this song debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard chart and sweeping the Grammy Awards, it certainly did as much to sharpen focus and draw attention to what’s happening than virtually anything else in pop culture.

“Polaroid Baby” — Bratmobile

“Bang! Bang!” — Le Tigre

One of many songs of this list to reference previous police killings of unarmed black men, this song includes “newcaster” voiceovers directly discussing the killing of Amadou Diallo in New York City in 1999. The countdown to 41 reflects the number of shots fired at Diallo, 19 of which hit him.

“Make America Great Again” — Pussy Riot

Released two weeks before Donald Trump was elected president, this song envisioned what the world would be like under his rule. It’s sadly and eerily accurate.

“White Privilege II” — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Jamila Woods

Macklemore is never given enough credit for what he says. Listen closely to all 8:45 of this song, in which he analyzes his own privilege, the way other white people react to him and weighs all of that against his own desire for change. This is required listening.

“Hands Up” — Daye Jack feat. Killer Mike

“Fuck tha Police” — N.W.A.

“Fight the Power” — Public Enemy

“Sound of da Police” — KRS-One

Of course, this list would be incomplete without these three seminal hip-hop classics, but I wanted to take a moment to update on some things happening with these artists today.

N.W.A.’s Ice Cube — who has, of course, become a hugely successful actor, artist and entrepreneur — has been advocating for “A Contract with Black America,” a document that represents “a complete paradigm shift in how we run our institutions and operate our country,” which outlines ways to combat racism including education, legislation and police reform. Follow @icecube on Twitter to keep up with the developments.

Public Enemy, meanwhile, recorded an updated version of “Fight the Power” that kicked off the recent BET Awards, with new verses from Nas, Rapsody and Black Thought honoring recent victims George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Check it out at www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHQolYuO6Ew.

“Baltimore” — Prince

Sometimes it seems as though, much as there is a “Simpsons” reference to fit almost all occasions, that there is likewise a Prince song to pair with virtually any sentiment. Prince wrote this one in response to the 2015 death of Freddie Gray.

“(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” — Heaven 17

“Youth Against Fascism” — Sonic Youth

“American Idiot” — Green Day

As the current president edges the country closer to a fascist state than ever before, it’s noteworthy to consider that musicians have been predicting and agitating against this slide to the right for decades, from Heaven 17 at the dawn of the Reagan era and Sonic Youth at the tail end of the George H. W. Bush presidency to Green Day’s brilliant concept album taking on the George W. Bush administration.

“Clampdown” — The Clash

The only band I allowed two songs on this list, and honestly, I could have included a half-dozen others. Once known as “the only band that matters,” the Clash made a career of fighting for social justice in song. Dating to 1979’s seminal “London Calling” album — one of the very best albums ever made — this is yet another song that sounds eerily prescient today, so much so that Beto O’Rourke used it in his aborted presidential campaign.

“I Wanna Riot” — Rancid

“Don’t Pray on Me” — Bad Religion

“American Crisis” — Bob Mould

The newest song on this list, the great Bob Mould has been speaking out through music for decades, and he’s continuing in 2020. “I never thought I’d see this bullshit again/To come of age in the ’80s was bad enough/We were marginalized and demonized/I watched a lot of my generation die/Welcome back to American crisis,” he opens before continuing to rail against “evangelical ISIS” and “a fucked-up USA.” He’s tired, but unbowed.

“The Only Good Fascist is a Very Dead Fascist” — Propagandhi

“Nazi Punks Fuck Off” — Dead Kennedys

“If the Kids Are United” — Sham 69

An uplifting message? Yes, because overall, wheat’s being fought for is an uplifting goal, and it’s important that those who are doing the fighting remember to stand together as one and to never be divided.

“Know Your Rights” — The Clash

“All You Fascists” — Billy Bragg & Wilco

From the vaunted “Mermaid Avenue” sessions, this is a song that goes some distance to illustrating how far back these issues go. The song was recorded for 2000’s “Mermaid Avenue Vol. 2,” but the genesis of the project was a book of unused lyrics by the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie — writer of, among other things, “This Land is Your Land” — that were unearthed by his daughter and handed to British folk singer Billy Bragg, who brought the great American band Wilco in on the project. Guthrie wrote these lyrics in 1942, while the U.S. was fighting fascism in World War II.

“Riot Van” — Arctic Monkeys

“Freedom” — Beyonce feat. Kendrick Lamar

I wanted to end things on an uplifting vibe, and this gospel-tinged rave by Beyonce fits the bill. “I break chains all by myself/Won’t let my freedom rot in hell/Hey! I’ma keep running/’Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves,” she sings, and that’s a message we can all do with. Keep up the fight.

Categories
Screen Reviews

A Fat Wreck

A Fat Wreck

directed by Shaun Colón

starring Fat Mike Burkett, Erin Burkett, and Joey Cape

Open Ended Films

Once upon a time, rockers threw TV sets out of hotel rooms. Today, a post-punk band offers to re-carpet Fat Mike’s apartment in exchange for signing them to a one-disk deal. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. And who is “Fat” Mike, anyway? He’s the heart and brains behind the one label that summarized the whole 1990’s skate punk scene. Remember Labels like Roulette, Swan Song, Motown, Epic, Stiff, 4 A.D., or Swan Song? They all had their day in the sun, and Fat Wreck Chords carried on that tradition. His motto: “Great Music played by Drunk musicians.”

Burkett began with a stint as a gofer at Epitaph Records, he concluded correctly making records wasn’t really that complicated, and went on to release his own material. Right place, right time, right sound, and his project took off with the help of his now ex-wife Erin. He treated his bands right; many of the interviews here report he actually paid them for record sales, an almost unheard of generosity in this trade. Bands were singed to single record deals, so they could move on if they felt mistreated, but few did. As time went along, the operation grew, then got caught in the real estate collapse. This may sound weird, but Mr. Burkett has a middle class streak in him, he loves to golf.

The film offers a long series of congratulatory interviews with bands like Propagandhi, Strung Out, and Good Riddance, and it’s all pretty huggy-huggy, kissy-kissy until about two-thirds of the way through the doc. Then we get some dirt dished, but it’s never terrible or bitter. We hear Fat Mike tell his story, but puppets act it out for key scenes that lack archival footage. Mike’s felt alter ego is pretty intimidating, but punk puppets in general are pretty darn cool. Snippets of songs, reminiscences, and fond memories of that last genera of music primarily issued on black vinyl disks. It’s great to see a single person make this sort of difference, and be mostly nice along the way.

www.afatwreck.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Face to Face

Face to Face

with The Attack

The Social; Orlando, FL • August 7, 2015

A band performing an album from start to finish live can be either a super cool, or mad frustrating experience depending on both the album in question, and the degree in level of fandom. When it comes to Face to Face, and yours truly, hearing their 1994 record Big Choice in full was a welcome proposition. It was my introduction to the California punk band as a teenager and remains my favorite release of theirs. So when they announced a residency at The Social for their “Triple Crown” shows (3 nights, 3 albums), which night to attend was a no-brainer.

Face to Face

Jen Cray
Face to Face

The Attack, a local band long overdue for a breakout, opened up all three nights. They play Sick of it All- style punk and they play it like Ronda Rusey’s abs — hard and tight. The band has got a new album called On Condition coming out on Paper & Plastick Records later this year and if its first single “Four of a Kind” is any indication, this could be the one that gets these guys top billing. For now, though, they appeared to be more than happy to be warming up the near-capacity crowd for Face to Face.

The Attack

Jen Cray
The Attack

The room quickly squeezed tight as the headliners filed onto the narrow stage, a mere sweating distance from those in the pit. Beers were spilled, air pounding fists made accidental contact with strange’s’ body parts, and at least one stage diver was kicked out — and that was all before the third song. Veteran punk rock fans are no joke — they may be old enough to need a babysitter to watch their kids, but when these fans decide to spend a night at the punk rock show, they’re not messing around.

As advertised, the night’s featured setlist was Big Choice so the pace was set to breakneck from the opening notes of “Struggle,” with only a breather being taken when a bassist Scott Shiflett needed to change out a cable.

Trever Keith

Jen Cray
Trever Keith

“I think I’ve given all you old fucks a sufficient amount of time to catch your breath,” Frontman Trever Keith joked before adding, “I include myself in that ‘old fucks’ comment, so don’t take it personally.”

They even played the album’s “bonus tracks” of “Disconnected,” which was introduced comically by Keith in a pushy know-it-all record exec voice. The story is, as Keith summarized for the crowd, the label insisted the band’s debut album’s “hit” song also appear on the second album. The compromise, for the band, was that a second bonus track — a cover of Descendents’ “Bikeage” — was also included. Predictably, the already amped up audience lost their minds for these extra tracks.

Jen Cray

Like Social Distortion, or Bad Religion, Face to Face are California punk royalty and the fact that they included Orlando on their mini “Triple Crown Tour” makes me wanna give them a great big hug… or maybe just an enthusiastic high five, they do look rather sweaty.

Galleries of live shots from this show: Face to Face; The Attack.

Face to Face: facetofacemusic.com

Categories
Music Reviews

The Shell Corporation

The Shell Corporation

Mandrake

Paper + Plastick Records

There’s still some righteous anger left in the music industry, although it’s starting to feel as old as hippies singing about free love and ending the war that their grandparents fought. The Shell Corporation takes their vocal cues from the ’90s high dudgeon about civic unfairness, lack of opportunity, and the general pissy feeling we all have on the back side of adolescence. Although, if you take that with a spoon of ipecac you’ll have a wonderful time banging your head, air guitar-ing in front of the mirror and spray painting the circle A on your skateboard.

I love the energy here, but I was put off by the opening track “Appetite for Distraction” with its metal battering. By “Trust Us,” I’m totally on board with the angry slide guitars and angrier lyrics. There’s more than a few anthems here; if you rocked out to The Offspring, these guys might as well be their moral descendants, but it’s not all fancy guitar work. “Hear Them Wail” echoes The Clash’s later work sans the reggae line, and the best title is even more ticked off, “Even Bob Villa Couldn’t Fix This Old House.” Now there’s a cultural reference kids today will miss completely. Get up off your butt and start dancing or protesting, there’s things WRONG in the world today and YOU need to get angry at them. Not that it will change much, but if you don’t start somewhere, The Shell Corporation will be standing out in the storm playing to no one but themselves, and that would be a cultural shame.

The Shell CorporationMandrake

Categories
Music Reviews

Bad Religion

Bad Religion

Christmas Songs

Epitaph Records

There’s no Christmas like a Punk Rock Christmas, and no better way to celebrate that holiday than with this collection of traditional songs set to a Gabba Gabba Hey back beat. “Angels We Have Heard On High” might fake you out: it opens with the band singing a reasonable acapella version of this old hymn, but after 30 seconds the fake out ends with a blasting 4/4 time guitar and drum thrash out. There are 9 zippy tracks here and all but one began life on a “Greatest Holiday Hits Album.” “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “O Come, O come Emanuel” all will wilt your Sunday school teacher’s ears: while Baby Jesus never specifically calls out loud music as a sin, this cut might make him reconsider.

Their “White Christmas” puts Bowie and Crosby to shame and “Little Drummer Boy” seems ready to enter the War Against Christmas on whatever side will pay the best. This whole collection is a sharp and tasty counterpoint to the pap you’re already sick of hearing at the mall and in the car. There’s one odd ball track here, “American Jesus.” It offers the social commentary that you’d expect from Greg Graffin and the boys. You know they couldn’t do a project like this without some dig at organized religion, but it’s remixed to blend in to the background and if mom listens all the way to the end, she might not even register what’s sung. Happy head banging holiday, my friend, and see what you can do to slide this into the holiday mix at dinner time.

www.badreligion.com; www.epitaph.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Bad Religion

Bad Religion

with Polar Bear Club, The Attack

House of Blues, Orlando, FL • March 17, 2013

There’s a consistency to shows by bands that are getting gray around the edges that borders on predictable, but Bad Religion (birthdate: 1979; discography: 16 albums) manage to turn the expected into an enjoyable experience.

Bad Religion

Jen Cray
Bad Religion

With a setlist that takes up three sheets of paper (the plight or promise, depending on your point of view, of the three minute punk song), there are bound to be a few surprises mixed in with the fistful of songs that have always been, and will always be, played.

The night’s first surprise? The inclusion of local band The Attack as the opener. A little background on this tour: two weeks before the show, main support act Against Me dropped out (due to the lack of a drummer), leaving a large hole in the bill that now offered only Polar Bear Club as opening act. The band was such a selling point for this show that signs at the venue’s box office offered refunds and apologies for any fans that had purchased tickets specifically to see Against Me.

The Attack

Jen Cray
The Attack

Enter: The Attack — an Orlando staple who have played and practiced themselves into auto-pilot. They play melodic hardcore that sounds old enough to satisfy those fans in attendance whose tastes were formed around the sour bite of Lifetime or Agnostic Front. The band is tight, almost too tight. There’s no spontaneity to their performance. A cover of Beastie Boys’ “Time For Livin'” was a nice touch, but, like the rest of their set, lacks the fire to really ignite the room.

Polar Bear Club

Jen Cray
Polar Bear Club

With Polar Bear Club, I can always expect to be entertained, even if their music doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression. Singer Jimmy Stadt has that manic hot potato presence that is fun to watch, despite the emocore he screams along to. Jump splits and toothy grins highlight their set with exclamation points. The lanky, bespectacled Stadt carries the band on his narrow shoulders, serving as the sole focal point, save for the impressive sweat that dramatically flings from bassist Erik “Goose” Henning’s brow. I’ve seen these guys a number of times and yet I couldn’t pick their song out of a lineup. Ah, well, they do their job and they wake us all up, even get the beginnings of a pit going.

Bad Religion's Greg Graffin

Jen Cray
Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin

The touring version of Bad Religion, these days, consists of most of their core members (Greg Graffin on vox, Jay Bentley on bass, Greg Hetson and Brian Baker on guitar), but they had a fill-in on drums in the way of Polar Bear Club’s Steve Port. If there was any anxiety in having to learn the drum parts to 30 songs (told ya the set list was long!), it didn’t show. Also not showing: the age of this band. If not for the receding hairline of Graffin and the salt and pepper (that’s mostly salt) of Bentley, the passage of time would not have poked its in head at all.

Bad Reglion's Greg Hetson

Jen Cray
Bad Reglion’s Greg Hetson

In fact, some of their songs feel more modern now than when they were written decades ago. Take “21st Century Boy,” with its chorus of Cuz I’m a 21st century digital boy/ I don’t know how to live but I’ve got a lot of toys/ My daddy’s a lazy middle class intellectual/ My mommy’s on valium, so ineffectual/ Ain’t life a mystery?. That was written in 1990 — long before our society had gadgets coming out the yin yang to distract us from the reality of our lives and waaaay ahead of its time!

On the topic of gadgets, I must acknowledge the lack of digital toys in the House of Blues audience for Bad Religion’s ample set. You can’t hold a smart phone, steady above your head, for the length it takes to video an entire song when you’re busy running a pit, or riding across outstretched arms. Cameras were kept in pockets (mostly), cell phones were ignored, and the audience lived in the moment. That is something to be recognized and commended! Those on the floor, in and out of the pit, were not seeing a band that’s been doing this for over 30 years; they were participating in a Bad Religion show.

Bad Religion's Baker, Bentley and Graffin

Jen Cray
Bad Religion’s Baker, Bentley and Graffin

Even the new songs off of the just released True North (“Past is Dead,” “Fuck You,” “Robin Hood in Reverse”) were met with pounding fists and screamed-along choruses. The responses didn’t quite measure up to the classics that bear the weight of nostalgia like “Do What You Want,” “I Want to Conquer the World,” or the encore of “Infected,” but a song still in its infancy can’t possibly compete with decades worth of mileage… but give these new songs a few years, and they’ll stand the test, just like the band has.

Galleries of live shots from this show: Bad Religion, Polar Bear Club, and The Attack.

Bad Religion: www.badreligion.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

The Other F Word

The Other F Word

directed by Andrea Blaugrund Nevins

starring Jim Lindberg, Tony Adolescent, Art Alexakis, Rob Chaos, Joe Escalante, Josh Freese

Rare Bird Films

You’re young, snotty, and in a band with no musical ability. Then you’re a father of three cute daughters, have a loving wife, and a job that keeps you on the road more than you want. What’s the bridge, the connection, the common thread? It’s called punk rock, and if you were hip and tatted in 1979 and you’re alive in 2011, well congratulations and here’s you AARP letter. You may have a Black Flag doormat, a zebra-striped bathrobe and a post-menopausal wife, but you’re still a punker, but now you have to tell your five-year-old why you have a tattoo of a Dominatrix with a ball gag on your bicep. Rebel against THAT, smart boy.

www.theotherfwordmovie.com

Love punk or hate it, this documentary is subversively funny, touchingly insightful, and proves that no matter how weird, anti-establishment, and hip you think you are, you’re still human. These aging punks raise children, take them to the park, form stable relations with middle-class women from respectable families, and become… middle-aged, if a bit eccentric. Jim Lindberg (Pennywise) puts Tabasco on his dog’s poop so it won’t get eaten. Fat Mike (NOFX) takes his daughter to a hoity-toity Hollywood preschool and Lars Frederiksen (Rancid) can clear out a public playground with his tattoos and hair dye, while Tony Adolescent (The Adolescents) looks like hell and complains that touring is killing him. Most of these guys have nice places in LA or Hermosa Beach, and there’s one thing that seems to run throughout each story: When they were kids their dads were either brutal or absent, and they are determined to make up for that with these children.

Sure there’s a sappy moment or two, and the middle-class lifestyle they now inhabit makes them look like everyone else in the 33% incremental tax bracket, except they wear more body art. The stories are war stories — hair dye and Ambien keep them moving forward, videos of their early days keep everyone’s expectations for parenting low, and the quote of the film might be, “It never dawned on me I’d be a father and have to buy the clean version of my albums” (Mark Hoppus, Blink 182). I loved punk, still listen to it, and check out the shows thanks to this gig, and somehow I’m happy for these guys — it might look like they sold out and became their parents, but they also have found some sort of traditional happiness, even though they never changed the world.

The Other F Word: www.theotherfwordmovie.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Face to Face

Face to Face

with Strung Out, Blitzkid, The Darlings

House of Blues, Orlando, FL • May 27, 2011

On their first album in eight years, California punk rock veterans Face to Face pick up right where they left off — filing down the sheen of rock ‘n’ roll and dragging it through the mud just enough to give it a good coating of grit. Like Social Distortion or Bad Religion, these everyman punks have a fanbase decades in the making (Face to Face’s birthdate was 20 years ago, if you can believe it!), which made for a comfortable fill inside the confines of the House of Blues.

Face to Face

Jen Cray
Face to Face

Cut from that same vine, but of a much less seasoned vintage, are The Darlings. The tail end of their set was all that I caught and, though it was nothing to lose your shit over, it was agreeable enough. They play greaser-charmed R ‘n’ R and though singer/guitarist Buddy Darling hasn’t quite found all of the charm and wit that makes for a memorable front man, he sure tries real hard.

Blitzkid

Jen Cray
Blitzkid

Secondary openers, Blitzkid, made the memory of The Darlings grow sweeter by the second. A self-described “horror punk” band out of the spooky metropolis of West Virginia, the only thing memorable about the black-clad band is the ridiculous asymmetrical curtain of hair that vocalist/bassist Goolsby hides behind. That, and the ill-advised moment when he turned his bass vertical and playfully spun and “played” it as if it were an upright. Your bass part can’t be too difficult if you can pretend to play it with your foot. Just get an upright, dude, you look pretty silly… and cut your hair!

Strung Out's Jason Cruz

Jen Cray
Strung Out’s Jason Cruz

Strung Out was the saving grace of the opening sect. Singer Jason Cruz was drenched by the end of the first song — such is the full throttle acceleration of the Californian’s set. There is no pause for breath, no coasting along for this 20-year-old skate punk hardcore thrasher, from the opening chords of “Too Close to See” to the closing notes of “Matchbook” (both off of fan favorite Twisted By Design), the fury never faltered. And the audience, as has become expected for Strung Out shows in Orlando, treated the floor like four year olds in a sandbox full of sugar.

Strung Out

Jen Cray
Strung Out

Opening up with a new song (“Should Anything Go Wrong”) off of their new album (Laugh Now, Laugh Later), that had just been released one week prior to the show, could have been the death knell for a band less bold, but Face to Face nailed it to the wall and proclaimed it a new classic. Of course, following on its tail was a true classic dating back to 1992, “You’ve Done Nothing” and diving that far back into their catalog so early on was an even smarter move.

Face to Face's Trever Keith and Chad Yaro

Jen Cray
Face to Face’s Trever Keith and Chad Yaro

“We’ve got a new album out… we’re gonna play some songs from it, if you don’t mind, but it’ll be mostly old shit,” guitarist/vocalist and only original band member Trever Keith told the rabid crowd.

Jen Cray

As the room got humid with the excited funk of too many men pushing each other in a circle, the band — which included on-again/off-again second guitarist Chad Yaro — flawlessly played through a hits-laden set. “Walk the Walk” and “Ordinary” gave the bodies plenty of reason to pulverize one another in the friendliest of manners. By the time the group got around to wrapping up a sweaty night, there was just enough of a surge left in the collective energy source of the room to explode appropriately for “Disconnected” and “It’s Not Over,” a pair of the band’s best.

Face to Face's Trever Keith

Jen Cray
Face to Face’s Trever Keith

“We were broken up for about a minute,” Keith joked earlier in the night, “but we’re back together again.”

Long live the undying energy of old-school California-bred punk rock. They must put something in the water out there, cause these bands never seem to age and never seem to die! Long live the power of the Pacific!

Gallery of shots from this show: Face to Face Strung Out Blitzkid.

Face to Face: www.facetofacemusic.com • Strung Out: www.strungout.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Social Distortion

Social Distortion

with Lucero, Frank Turner

House of Blues, Orlando, FL • November 14, 2010

“I still believe in the need for guitars and drums and desperate poetry… I still believe that after all, something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll will save us all,” Frank Turner sings in a brand new song (“I Still Believe”) that becomes an immediate sing-along and highlight of his already stirring opening set.

Mike Ness

Jen Cray
Mike Ness

Few things are more rock ‘n’ roll than Social Distortion, and iconic frontman Mike Ness, in particular. A sold-out crowd for the band’s recent Orlando date at the House of Blues would surely agree.

Frank Turner

Jen Cray
Frank Turner

Though booked for a Sunday, the fans were treating the night like it was a Friday. Never-ending lines at every bar in the place may mean good things for the House of Blues’ bottom line, but it also means a huge increase in the obnoxious-and-too-damn-drunk factor within the audience, which is never a good thing.

Drunken distractions aside, the night’s bill of music packed a huge promise with a pair of strong openers supporting a major chapter in the history of punk rock ‘n’ roll.

Frank Turner, the Winchester, England road warrior who first began garnering buzz last year as part of Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour, was playing his 21st show in 18 days, but didn’t show an ounce of wear. Backed by a full band, including an adorably shameless dancing guitarist, Turner’s acoustic punk storybook songs exploded with 3D effects onstage. His music is good on record — “The Road” and “Photosynthesize” in particular — but inspired rooms full of new listeners to flock to his merch table for souvenirs, like autographs scrawled on body parts, after just one 30-minute set.

Frank Turner

Jen Cray
Frank Turner

His time onstage was soaked in sweat and smiles, and offstage he greeted and chatted with lines of fans who decided that meeting the man who turned a 7pm Sunday night audience into a party was more important than watching Lucero’s set. The dude is a natural entertainer, and a damn nice guy, to boot!

Lucero

Jen Cray
Lucero

Lucero’s got a big Orlando fanbase, so you’d think they’d have taken advantage of performing in front of a crowd four times the usual size and would have really tried to nail down a solid performance. Instead, it was an uneven night for the whiskey rockers — one that found frontman Ben Nichols messing up earlier than usual, at the start of the second song. Stopping abruptly, he poked fun at his own misstep before beginning again, but their set never fully got on track.

Social Distortion

Jen Cray
Social Distortion

They had their own fan faction, who sand along and didn’t seem to notice how uneventful their performance was, but for those not completely hammered — it was a kink in the night and the headliners’ set couldn’t come quick enough.

Like fellow Epitaph label mates Bad Religion, Social Distortion are heading into their third decade as a band and have a multi-generation arsenal of songs to pull from. Reaching deep into their pockets for some that date back to before a good portion of the night’s audience was even born, a trio of classics blast past as an intro to the night’s program. “The Creeps,” “Another State of Mind,” and “Mommy’s Little Monster” — all off of their 1983 debut Mommy’s Little Monster — have, like Ness’ voice, only gained momentum with age.

Social Distortion

Jen Cray
Social Distortion

After this early tease, the set was piled up with brand new material off of the upcoming Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes — material that it was hard to make any sort of judgment on due to the ever increasing levels of drunken chatter. They didn’t jump out at me the way songs from 2004’s Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll did when I heard those performed live prior to the album’s release, I can say that. Oddly enough not one song was played from that underrated record. Also missing was the Social D staple and chart topper on my personal all time Top 20, “Story of My Life.”

It’s hard to complain about these minor omissions, however, when so much of the superb Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell album was included. Much of the music was slowed down a bit — like “Cold Feelings” which was dialed down to a bluesy pub tempo, giving the blue collar punk a mature feel — but not a thing was lost in the translation.

Ness and Wickersham

Jen Cray
Ness and Wickersham

The SoCal band, whose sole original member is songwriter/ singer/ guitarist Ness (though guitarist Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham should be grandfathered in as a solid member for his 10 years of service), has always been able to cradle punk rock, old country, and good ol’ fashioned ’50s rockabilly with incredible ease. Ness can name check Joe Strummer and Johnny Thunders next to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and they all live in harmony like hot rods & tattoos. It’s this ability to churn it all together into a beautiful musical butter that spits out bits of perfection like “Ball and Chain.”

Ness

Jen Cray
Ness

The future rock ‘n’ roll hall of famers (I’m calling it. It’ll happen one day, you’ll see!) said “goodnight” with a roaring rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” that got the whole house stumbling through a gloriously drunken sing-along. The old country classic has very much become a Social D song in the same way that Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” became a Johnny Cash song after the man in black owned it with his haunting cover. Purists may disagree, but any listener who has heard those bittersweet words of love and longing spewed forth from the likes of Mr. Mike Ness will attest to the sanctity of the Social Distortion version. On that note, we called it a night.

To see more photos from this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com.

Social Distortion: www.socialdistortion.com • Lucero: www.luceromusic.com • Frank Turner: www.frank-turner.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Bad Religion

Bad Religion

with The Aggrolites, Off With Their Heads

House of Blues, Orlando, Fl • October 30, 2010

Who would have thought 30 years ago when they made their debut at a warehouse party — opening up for Social Distortion — that Bad Religion would stand the test of time and be touring the country behind their 15th album (The Dissent of Man) in front of sold-out audiences? Certainly not the band, you can bet.

Bad Religion

Jen Cray
Bad Religion

Call it fate, call it perfect timing, or call it just pure luck, but the fact stands that the little high school band from the San Fernando Valley has gone on to become one of the most influential punk bands in history. Further defying the odds, they’ve managed to keep the core of their band intact over the decades with Greg Graffin (vocals), Brett Gurewitz (guitar), and Jay Bentley (bass) still on board (though Gurewitz is busy running Epitaph Records and so doesn’t tour with the band). Filling out the rest of the impressive lineup is guitarist Greg Hetson (member since 1984; also co-founder of Circle Jerks), guitarist Brian Baker (since 1994; also co-founder of Minor Threat), and drummer Brooks Wackerman (since 2001).

Off With Their Heads

Jen Cray
Off With Their Heads

Their Halloween eve show in Orlando was a hot ticket made hotter with The Aggrolites and Off With Their Heads added on as support acts.

The forever shifting road lineup of Off With Their Heads found the Minnesota band arriving as a trio for this leg of the tour. Missing was Zack Gontard on guitar, altering the dynamic of the usual dual guitars and gang vocals, but vocalist/guitarist Ryan Young shouldered the load alongside Robbie Swartwood (bass) and Justin Francis (drums). Their set was the usual no-nonsense approach. They plowed through nearly a dozen songs, giving the not-yet-warmed-up fans an early excuse to start getting rowdy, and barely spoke in-between bursts of fury. “Drive” and “Fuck This, I’m Out” were especially volatile, and the fans were appropriately awoken from their beginning of the night sluggishness.

The Aggrolites

Jen Cray
The Aggrolites

While everyone else was gearing up for The Aggrolites, Off With Their Heads were loading up their gear and hauling ass up to Gainesville for a secret late night show at The Fest. Overachievers, road hogs, or just a bunch of dudes unable to resist the draw of a city full of punk bands playing all day and night? Place your bets, gamblers.

Hetson, Bentley, Graffin

Jen Cray
Hetson, Bentley, Graffin

Dropping some fine vintage ska reggae sounds, or “dirty reggae,” as they call it, The Aggrolites’ music gave off hints of hours spent listening to Toots & the Maytals and Mr. Review. The inclusion of an organ, and the exclusion of a horn section, helped this band steer clear of the ska punk realm and keep it rocksteady in feel. Energetic to a dizzying degree and unabashedly happy to be performing in front of an audience that quickly began skankin’ and singing along, this Los Angeles group was the epitome of what a warm up band should be. Though their set ran a little long at 45 minutes, the fun level made those minutes fly by with a smile.

Bad Religion's Greg Graffin

Jen Cray
Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin

With a couple hundred songs from which to pull from, Bad Religion may as well have drawn names out of a hat when constructing their setlist, especially since the tour is a celebration of their 30 year career and not just a PR push behind their new album — an album, by the way, which expands the Bad Religion sound in a way that no album has since 1994’s Stranger Than Fiction. All of the usual elements are present — the intelligent lyrics (lyricist Graffin is a college professor with a Ph.D from Cornell who just released his first science book called Anarchy Evolution), the speedy tempo grounded with melody, and Graffin’s distinctive voice — but inside of it all are melodies that tap into rockabilly and pop territory. The album is that of a band that is comfortable in its own skin and has got nothing to prove, and it is GOOD.

Bad Religion

Jen Cray
Bad Religion

Now, back to the setlist. They covered the whole gamut, playing the super old “Fuck Armageddon… This Is Hell” (from their debut How Could Hell Be Any Worse?), the classic “Suffer” (from Suffer), the mainstream “21st Century (Digital Boy)” (from Stranger Than Fiction), the politically charged “American Jesus” (from Recipe for Hate), and the brand new “The Devil in Stitches” (from The Dissent of Man). They played it all, and they played it like they were half their ages.

For a band whose lyrics pack such weight, their light humor onstage may come as a bit of a surprise. When someone tossed a hot pink wig onstage (Halloween, remember?), Hetson put it on and made a crack about how he was now dressed up as Lady Gaga. “I Want to Conquer the World” (…or was it “The Resist Stance?” So many songs!) was then performed with the pink wig in place.

Bad Religion

Jen Cray
Bad Religion

The audience was made up of seasoned fans as well as the young things eager to get their pit on. Neither time nor evolution have been able to weed Bad Religion out of the Punk Rock caste.

To see more photos from this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com.

Bad Religion: www.badreligion.com • The Aggrolites: www.aggroreggae.com • Off With Their Heads: www.myspace.com/offwiththeirheads