Fat Wrecked for 25 Years. Fillmore. 08.20.15
“Fat Wreck Chords? You don’t know shit about Fat Wreck Chords!” Those words stabbed me in the back as I made my way across Colfax last night. I was wearing a Good Riddance shirt that displayed the fat vinyl logo on the back. Evidently some gutter punk thought I bought the shirt because I liked the color. Part of me wanted to turn around and fire back – “I bought this shirt in 1995, you piece of shit!” – but then I decided there was no point in getting involved. The kid was in diapers last time I was at Soma in San Diego. His girlfriend probably wasn’t even born the first time I saw Lagwagon and Strung Out perform together. So sure, I could’ve quizzed him on the first Fat Music for Fat People compilation. I could have listed my credentials in the form of more than forty Fat-related shows. I could have literally quoted the entire Punk in Drublic album before asking him which Wizo song he preferred. And then I could’ve landed the kill shot by asking him where he was when “Board in Orange” preceded the first Warped Tour by almost a year. That would have just been cruel though, so I just flipped him the bird and kept on walking. Ten minutes later I was watching Strung Out perform “In Harm’s Way” while he was still out there on the longest, wickedest street in America, convinced that he was so much ‘more punk than me’.
That first paragraph might color me an asshole, and maybe I am, but I lived in San Francisco (one block off Haight St.) for a couple years, and if those years taught me one thing, it’s that our country has way too many street urchins. I’m not talking about the kids who don’t have a choice – the ones who lost their parents, or even worse, were used and abused and discarded by their own families — I’m talking about the entitled dirtbags who pollute our streets, demanding money and booze and cigarettes, even though they can afford new clothes, skateboards and tattoos on a daily basis. There is a big difference between the kids Fat Mike has campaigned for over the years and the assholes who leave home because their parents cut off their allowance when they turned sixteen. You know, the ones who yell derogatory things at people minding their own business on Colfax…the ones who were never a part of the community-based culture punk was built on. In fact, I’m pretty Mike wrote a song about them.
Whew, ok, now that I got that out of my system, let’s talk about the show. Doors were at 2:00pm, with Toy Guitar kicking things off at 3:45pm, so by the time Strung Out were overseeing a gigantic pit, the venue smelled like a bucket of sweat, spiked with stale beer and vomit. So, in a way, it was exactly like those early Fat Wreck Chords shows. I think the Fillmore took the “Fuck the Kids” song a little too literal though, because the venue became nothing more than a prison with live music. Seven bands over a seven hour period, with no ins-and-outs, classifies as cruel and unusual punishment…but at least they provided overpriced food to soak up the overpriced booze. As Jason Cruz, Jake Kiley and Rob Ramos orchestrated the chaos, the same way they’ve been doing for a quarter century, the inmates were oblivious to their dire surroundings. They just ran around in circles bouncing off each other, only stopping to help out when one of their own took a spill. The sound was crap and Cruz’s vocals were echoing as if in a tin can, but it was a punk rock show, so sound quality wasn’t a concern. And when they covered No Use For a Name’s “Soulmate” in memory of Tony Sly, I instantly felt twenty years younger.
Lagwagon is the one Fat band that I’ve consistently followed since their debut album, so it’s always exciting when Chris Flippin walks on stage to tower over Joey Cape. Making a few comments about the under-age crowd, Cape promised Trashed in its entirety, even though “some of you might not remember it.” That plan was put into effect with “Island of Shame”, but was aborted after the third song. Sensing something in the crowd during “Know It All”, they put it to a vote. “Should we perform Trashed? Or should we do a set of songs from all our albums?” The response was overwhelming in favor of a ‘greatest hits’ set, which disappointed me at first, but I immediately forgot about it once “Violins” blew the place apart. “For a bunch of stoners, you guys are pretty violent.” Us old folk were still rewarded for our dedication with “Give It Back” and “Coffee and Cigarettes”, but even the Hang material kicked all kinds of ass. And they really couldn’t go wrong with “Sleep” and “Razor Burn”. Out of all the Fat bands, I have always found Lagwagon the most skilled in balancing goofy pop punk, musical prowess and hard hitting politics, and after twenty-five years walking that tightrope, they once again proved they are the perfect group of unprofessionals to carry that Fat Wreck Chords sound into the modern era of punk rock.
By the time NOFX’s equipment was setup on the stage, many people had been inside for too long. As one girl slipped and fell right into a pile of someone else’s puke, I wondered how ugly the night was going to get. Monty Python’s “Lumberjack Song” was piped over the PA as the headliners took their sweet time backstage. It wasn’t until 9:15pm when Fat Mike’s mohawk could be spotted…and it wasn’t until a little later that he took his place at the mic in between El Hefe and Eric Melvin. Erik Sandin rounded out the line-up of white trash, two heebs and a bean, but the audience would be kept waiting as Mike explained that his voice was fucked up due to food poisoning. “We are going to talk for another ten minutes and then we’ll play some music.” Luckily it wasn’t really ten minutes, but like every NOFX show, the talking never really stopped.
The set consisted of songs from across their thirty-two year career, but the highlights for me came in the form of a big chuck of Punk in Drublic, the entire The Longest Line EP, and “Bob”. The newer tracks, which seemed to be much more political/(anti-)religious in nature, were crowd favorites among the younger generation though. And as always, the songs were only part of the show. The rest of the night’s entertainment came in the form of banter between members of the band and their audience. Making fun of the shoes that were being tossed on stage (“orange and green Nikes are not punk rock, you must be a Green Day fan”), the average age of the crowd (“this is an old one, you should probably go get a drink because you won’t know it”), our marijuana laws (“When will you be so rich that you sell joints for a dollar? $4.25 is overpriced!”), their own music (“this is our worst song, there’s always gotta be a worst”), their limitations as musicians (“that song was so difficult to play, it was like a Lagwagon song”), racism as comedy (“only Mexicans drink Coors Light”), Slayer (“remember when we played Riot Fest and we were so much better than Slayer?”) and mohawks (“my mohawk looks better than that guy’s, his looks like balls, did you forget you were going out tonight?”). NOFX were full of all the political incorrectness that has been bleached out of our current culture. They were making gay jokes while rainbow flags adorned their equipment. They were talking shit about Jews, even though they have two Jews in the band. They verbally abused their fans, but they let those same fans bombard them with beer cans and dirty footwear. It was stupid, silly, inappropriate punk rock…and that’s what we were all there for.
NOFX played for just over an hour (counting the short break for Mike to fix his hair) and the set consisted of well over twenty songs. At the end, a genuinely appreciative Fat Mike thanked the crowd for coming. He thanked us for our continued support through the years (“The banner says 25, but it’s really only been 24 years…I just wasn’t sure I’d be around next year”) and congratulated Denver for having “the best vibes“. It wasn’t the greatest NOFX show I’ve ever been to, but it wasn’t the worst. It also wasn’t the best Lagwagon or Strung Out show I’ve ever been to, but seeing the gigantic Fat Wreck Chords banner hanging above the bands made it special. It was also great to see all those bands on a single bill two decades after I first discovered them in San Diego. I was surrounded by kids that reminded me of myself back then. They also reminded me that punk rock really is timeless. As I walked back down Colfax after the show, I kept an eye out for the gutter punk that had yelled at me. I wanted to thank him for providing me with my opening paragraph for this review (it was already forming in my head), but he was nowhere to be found. In his place were a group of people that had just exited the show. One of them complimented me on my shirt.
Strung Out: (partial setlist)
In Harm’s Way
Island of Shame
Know It All
After You My Friend
Give It Back
Made of Broken Parts
Coffee and Cigarettes
The Cog in the Machine
NOFX: (partial setlist)
Seeing Double at the Triple Rock
Leave It Alone
Quart in Session
We March to the Beat of Indifferent Drum
The Death of John Smith
The Longest Line
I Believe in Goddess
Dinosaurs Will Die
Ronnie & Mags
Kill All the White Man
I Am an Alcoholic