Live Reviews

 Screeching Weasel /Queers/Yesterday's Kids

4/28/01 at The House of Blues in Chicago, Illinois

Billed as "Thirty Minutes of Screeching Weasel," this all-ages afternoon show was more like "45 Minutes of Screeching Weasel, a half hour of the Queers, and Fifteen-to-Twenty Minutes of Yesterday's Kids." The House of Blues is the most mainstream venue I have ever been to for a punk show and I have to say it was really nice. Unlike the cramped, smoke-filled dives where most cool bands are usually booked, the House of Blues gave plenty of room for the fans to move. That said, very little movement took place. Save for two very brief rushes towards the stage as the Queers and Screeching Weasel took their places, slam-dancing was conspicuously absent. There was minimal pogoing and only a few people did more than bob their head. Something about the club--perhaps the slick architecture or the burly bouncers who insisted on having all spikes removed from leather jackets and refused to let anyone within a foot of the stage--seemed to discourage the punk aspect of this punk show. However, since Screeching Weasel plays maybe one live show in any given calendar year, I really can't say the lack of a punk feel perturbed me. In other words, the priviledge of seeing Chicago's greatest pop-punkers play a stellar set easily compensated for the rather unintense mileiu of the venue.

Yesterday's Kids, an excellent power-pop band out of Wisconsin really didn't do it for me, but they were nevertheless very good at getting the crowd excited and into a good mood. I can't say any of their songs were terribly memorable for me, but, on the whole, they were a fun band to see and one I would not hesitate to see again if the opportunity presented itself.

The Queers are a band I could never get into when my friends would play their records for me. However, in the two times I have seen them, I have come to the conclusion that they are one of those very rare bands that actually sound better live than on record. They played their set exactly as any band paying homage to the Ramones should play. Each song bled into the next. There was nary a pause to even announce the song title. It didn't matter, though, since they played Queers standards familiar to most fans and covered the Ramones' "You Should Never Have Opened That Door," to which the crowd sang along. Personally, songs like "I Don't Want To Be A Granolahead" and "Kicked Out of The Weebelos" (despite its guitar being nearly identical to the Exploited's classic "Alternative") really sounded great and showcased the flavor the Queers infused into the Ramones' sound. Also, to make the set a bit more fun, Danny Vapid made a cameo as the band mocked Ben Weasel.

In the fifteen or twenty minutes between the end of the Queers' set and the beginning of Screeching Weasel's, an electricity spread throught the 1400 or so people crowing the House of Blues. Screeching Weasel did not disappoint. It was as if the energy accumulating in the crowd had been sucked up by Ben Weasel as the curtain rose and spit back out like venom as the band burst into a brilliant version of Anthem For A New Tomorrow's "I'm Gonna Strangle You." The set did not slow down at all as the band played favorites from nearly every Screeching Weasel Album and covered "The KKK Took My Baby Away." Ben Weasel was very restless on stage and seemed to be constantly fidgeting, drinking water, or walking around stage. However, he never missed a cue and provided some movement when the rest of the band was fairly inanimate. I am clearly biased towards Screeching Weasel and loved every minute of the set. My buddy Todd was somewhat vexed by Jughead's behavior, though with the exception of a pseudo-Who finale where he smashed his guitar and threw the broken remains into the audience, I thought he did a fine job. All-in-all, it was a great time. Danny Vapid joined the new line-up for a song, so there was a miniature classic-SW reuninon for the older fans as well. Rarely do I see a live show where every single band sounds as good as they do on record, if not better. Screeching Weasel clearly has not lost anything by refusing to play live gigs as often. The band uses their recluse-status to full advantage by drawing a loyal crowd that really participates in the show. Plus, the "What's up with Ben Weasel?" aura surrounding the band helps make Ben a truly great frontman.

You really can't do much better than this. 4 1/2 of 5 stars.


The Damned/Swingin' Utters/Caffiene

10/17/01 at Club Soda in Montreal, Quebec

Okay, first off I want to say that I love the Misfits and the Groovie Ghoulies. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I want to say that as far as creepy punk rock bands go, the Damned totally blow the competition out of the water. Good God, what a show...

Being a relatively new transplant in Montreal, it took me a while to find Club Soda. Normally, missing the beginning of an opening band's set wouldn't bug me so much, but the minute I walked within hearing range of Caffiene, I knew that I had missed something. They're Quebecois, if I'm not mistaken, and damn it if they don't look and sound like they crawled out of a New York City cab after nearly passing out behind CBGB's. Sorta, kinda a New York Dolls-Dead Boys hybrid, but not really. Kind of punk, sort of glam, but fucking great. By far, the best opening band I've seen since the Norwegian wunderkinder, Dogpile opened for Cockroach Clan in Oslo way back in '97...If it were the 1970's and you were in the Villiage, you'd run into a hell of a lot of people who'd dream of being as cool as Caffiene. These guys have actually done it.

The Swingin Utters...hmmm...big name...criticized the audience for not dancing...praised the audience for drinking...played a few songs...not much to say. Swingin' Utters have always been a good live show, but their consistancy and by-the-book punk posturing leaves little to be said...I did enjoy the pogoing, though.

Imagine Bono died. Now imagine Anton LeVey possesing his corpse. Meet Dave Vanian, a frontman whose parents may very well have been a witch and a Vegas showman enjoying a brief tryst along the Thames at three in the morning. I have never seen a stage presence quite as intense as Vanian's. Although he looks and sounds like the undead, he posseses an infectious effervescence. With a wry grin and Preslyan flair, Vanian magnetically draws all attention to himself...which is a shame for Captain Sensible, who resorted to sticking his tongue out at me to get noticed. For the encore, however, the Captain donned a pink raver wig and the thin bottom of his sister's tutu and elicited more than a few marriage proposals from adoring female fans.

Oh, yeah...and there were some great tunes, too. Despite a quarter century on the road, the Damned clearly have not skipped a beat. "" and other tracks from "Grave Disorder" proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Damned are still capable of churning out high quality rock and roll. All the while, the band sprinkled classic chart-toppers like "Eloise" and "Love Song" and their seminal punk singles "Neat Neat Neat" and "New Rose" into a set showcasing their new sound, eagerly catering to nearly everyone's tastes. Although, I really wanted to hear "Shadow of Love," the Damned's campy version of "Smash It Up" quelled my pangs for more classics. Really, I can't possibly say how great the band sounded, but I can attest to the Damned's genuine appreciation of their fans. They may have actually had a better time than the crowd, and we loved every minute of it. The first 5-star review in the history of Sobriquet.


Social Distortion/Lost City Angels/The Eyeliners

5/ 12/05 at the Magic City Music Hall in Johnson City, NY

was impressed by the older fans, the wizened thiry- and forty-somethings dressed normally, but looking out of true-blue punk rock eyes; I was annoyed by the drunk kids making punk rock stereotypes plausible; I was a bit chagrined by the frat kids who'd heard "Don't Drag Me Down" on a friend's mix tape beside other radio-friendly alt-rock stuff; I was thrilled by the world of punk rock pixie girls; I was happy to see kids wearing shirts with the names of bands I actually could bear listening to.

So, I sort of forgot to care about the opening band.

Then Mike Ness came on stage and I saw the legendary Chuck Biscuits wearing a cowboy hat and I knew that finally I was being a punk, or so I thought.

You see, at the time I was busy trying to be a punk rocker. For some reason I felt this need to prove (I am not entirely certain to whom...) that I was punk. You know, despite the long hair (which, if I really wanted to justify my appearance, did sort of resemble Joey Ramone's mane--and, you know, he's got punk cred...) and the genuine love of the music.


But like a lot of kids, I had found something I genuinely enjoyed, a scene I truly found encouraging, all the while doubting my own place in said crowd. I just assumed everyone was more punk than I was, so I had to find a way to compensate.

And the funny thing is that I should have learned my lesson years before when I finally admitted to myself that I was anything but an athlete. See, as a kid I did some stupid things and one of the stupid things I did was assume that an individual had to have favorites. You had to have a favorite color, book, movie, sport, and I chose baseball. Seriously, my thought process was actually "I have to find something I like. Kids at school like sports. If I liked sports, too, I can make friends," which, of course, I have pitifully few of (until I realized later on that I actually had better friends than the people I thought had friends). So I up and decided to get into baseball.

The only problem was that instead of basing my decision on a natural inclination or some preternatural ability. No, I was simply going to like something and be good at it. So, like any true athlete, I picked up any book I could find on baseball and read and read.

Needless to say, I made Bob Ueker look like Ted Williams in the batter's box.

And I stupidly did this with other things, too. I wanted to believe in God like everybody else, so I tried to believe in God, which didn't really work all that well towards convincing me that there was a divine plan for me up there in the heavens. See, then I applied it to music. I simply had to have a favorite band. At one point, I liked a Garth Brooks song, so I decided that I liked country music. That didn't work out. Then Naughty By Nature came along and I spent an afternoon thinking I liked rap. Then Nirvana came along and I decided I liked that band.

Then I listened to the Sex Pistols and Frankenchrist--and uh-oh, I hit on something. I really did like this stuff. I didn't have to try. What a revelation for a fourteen-year-old, or whatever I was. Anyway, so after I discovered that I actually liked something, I decided to apply the same idiotic approach to my new interest that I had loosed upon everything else. I liked punk, so I had to like all punk, particularly the obscure bands that positively no one had ever heard of. You know, that would make me authentic or something now that punk's heyday was a decade in the past.

The shame being, of course, that I tainted my own enjoyment of something by doubting my own interest enough to trust my tastes.

Still, by the time I made it to Social D, I stopped calling myself a punk, but still sort of tried to be one. Anyway, so I went to the show to go to a show more than to see a specific band. Social D just happened to play on a day I could make it up to the Twin Cities and I did like "Prison Bound" a lot. So I went. And I loved it. The band was great live and the atmosphere was wonderful.

Then I started listening to Social Distortion pretty much ad nauseam. There was a time when all I did was listen to White Light, White Heat, White Trash and Screeching Weasel's Anthem for a New Tomorrow. It wasn't until yesterday night (well, it's early in the AM, so two days ago, technically), though, that I actually got to attend a Social Distortion show for the right reasons. You know, to see a band I really liked.

What's more, had I not been such an idiot when I was younger, I wouldn't have enjoyed the show as much, methinks. See, Social Distortion is all about lead singer Mike Ness's acceptance of his own youthful foolishness as he grows older. How ironic, huh?

What I missed the first time 'round was the meat of Ness's lyrics. Most of Social Distortion's music meditates, in one way or another, on the old maxim "I wish I knew then what I know now". See "Crown of Thorns." The lyric actually appears in the song, sounding as fresh as if Rod Stewart hadn't been singing it as he kicked soccer balls into Wembley crowds for the last quarter century. So, listening to "Prison Bound" or "Story of My Life" rings a bit truer to me today as I look back at my first Social D show.

In any case, the show was pretty good. My friend and I missed the most of The Eyeliners set, but what we caught wasn't bad at all. Save for the rather trite "be yourself" and "rebel" message the songs seemed to have, the music was good. The girls in the band appeared to really enjoy performing and to genuinely appreciate the crowd. I wished I had seen more.

The second band, the Lost City Angels, were really good at what they played. Namely, they were wonderful at playing utterly mediocre, uninspiring run-of-the-mill Brit-punk. That they were from Boston and had a lead singer who sounded like Andrew W.K. didn't help much towards making them sound anything but derivative. The set was peppered with "fucking" to the point where it became a joke. Everything the vocalist said was modified in some way by the term. There was "fucking music" and "fucking touring" and "fucking shit going fucking wrong."

In other words, the Angels were fucking boring. Like I always say, if you're not Sham-69, don't act like you're Sham-69.

Social D, though, were really great. The band, which now consists of Mike Ness and three non-original members, sound pretty much the same live as they do on record, which is very rare indeed. I mean, save for the Mr. T. Experience who, in my opinion, are unbearably saccharine on record but quite good live, I've not seen a band as musically good live. Others, of course, make up with showmanship for what they lose aurally, but Social D can hold its own.

The venue, the Magic City Music Hall, is actually quite nice, though a strange place for a band like Social D to open a tour. It's got a vaguely northwestern feel, with stripped log railings and the like. Not quite the set for a wintery Juicy Fruit commercial, but oddly "Three's Company go skiing" nonetheless. Still, it was nice.

Like a lot of venues, the MCMH is a bit annoying in terms of ostentation. Billing itself "A Genuine Music Joint" (as opposed to what, a Spike Lee joint? Or an artificial music joint? Anyway...), the MCMH proudly displays autographed publicity shots of David Copperfield, Milli Vanilli, Chicago, and sundry other name acts. That and the obscenely overpriced soft drinks ($2.50 for a small plastic cup of ice and watery cola) remind you that you are not in a punk club. Then there are the bouncers, which I have never seen at a punk show in my life. These burly, tattooed guys leaning over--get this--a barrier separating the band from the adoring masses basically picked up the obnoxious crowd surfers and carried them to a place where they could be lifted again. That and yell at people for taking pictures or smoking.

In any case, the music was good. I particularly enjoyed watching Ness make odd, almost meditative faces as he played. He's a good performer, too. Unlike his predecessor, for instance, Ness's "fuckings" were placed at reasonable intervals throughout his speech. What was cool about the set was that Social D tried to play old standards like "Another State of Mind" and "Prison Bound" while still promoting their new album, Sex, Love, and Rock and Roll. Oftentimes bands neglect the fan favorites, leaning heavily on new material, but Ness seemed pretty content playing a balanced set.

All-in-all, it was a show I would pay to see again, even at the very un-punk price of thirty clams. See, being there made me miss the friends I used to go to shows with and made me feel like starting a band and rejoining the show-going crowd. To me, that's the sign of a pretty damn solid act.




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