It’s Not Dead Festival
The San Manuel Amphitheater Fairgrounds
Saturday, October 3, 2015
By Terry James
Punk Update 2015: Definitely Alive…and Kicking!
In the 1960s, the music of the day spoke for America’s youth, and it seemed to say, “Hey world, I don’t get you!” In the 1970s, that innocence turned to disillusionment, and the new musical voice of American youth was punk music, and later its shinier cousin, New Wave. Now the war cry was more like, “F*** you world! You don’t get me!” That attitude was carried on by bands for decades to follow.
Some forty years later, the punk movement finds itself in a culture whose general statement seems to be “WTF?” But, rather than flounder in mediocrity and ineffectiveness, the punk scene of the New Millennium definitely has a pulse, and it is pounding. To prove this, Warp Tour promoter Kevin Lyman, put together an all-day festival called “It Not Dead” which rocked the Inland Empire this past Saturday, and its colorful title was fully in evidence all day long.
Beneath an unforgiving summerlike sky, a sunbaked crowd clung to patches of shade like tattooed and mohawked lichen on a desert rock, as a string of punk bands – new and old, upstarts and icons – lined up to give the pierced and plaid clad people what they want…great music!
With over thirty bands on three stages, it proved impossible to see every act, and as always happens at these type of events, you end up missing a fave here and there. Our first casualty, punk legends Agent Orange, who for some infuriating reason played first on a side stage while we were still securing press credentials. Grrrrr!
One of the early acts we caught was Fishbone, whose high-velocity frivolity, Addams Family bass lines, and sassy horns made it very clear that the party is still going strong at Ground Zero. Lead singer Angelo Moore may have lost some hair, but not one bit of his quick wit, vocal prowess, and saxophone sass.
Goldfinger was up next, sporting pop-slick vocals and a crispy edge. Their set featured a grab bag of pop, punk and ska; they even had the Reel Big Fish horns sittin’ in on a tune or two. Unfortunately tech problems left lead singer John Feldman mute for half the first tune and buried guitar and horns deep in the mix, putting the kabosh on what could have been a cool cameo by the RBF crew. Overall, though, the band was mean, meaty and mighty.
We caught a bit of Pulley’s set, and it was solid old-school slam, veritable veteran cool. Then the Untouchables arrived. Slinking in on creeping bass lines, they whipped up a ska swing fest with solid sexy soul and precision grooves, including classics like “I Spy,” “Free Yourself,” and “Wind Me Up!” Though they may have been one of the oldest bands on the bill, these gents proved that their sound is timeless.
CJ Ramone cranked out high-powered covers in the warm California sun and Total Chaos was a musical demon growling and scrambling for higher ground. Throughout their sets, we found ourselves frantic for fluids as we all but evaporated in the grueling inferno.
Then seminal punk paladins the Dickies strutted up to the mike. The rattled off rapid-fire 2 minute slices of whip-wire vocals, metal-tinged guitar and pure punk posture. Front man Leonard Graves Phillips was literally kicking ass! Their set included their smokin’ Sabbath cover, frantic flailing, weird-ass warbling, a pornographic dance with a blowup doll, a diver’s mask, hand puppets and hyper- violent pantomime. It was punk rock vaudeville, bring your own popcorn! Damn, what a treat!
Later, we caught the end of Reel Big Fish, and hung out in their happy hoppin’ horny hullabaloo. Lead singer Aaron Burnett was cracking the kids up with a musical bit where the band would play the same song in a variety of musical styles, Funny stuff. The closed with a cover of Aha’s 80s hit “Take On Me,” which had the whole crowd swaying.
Anti-Flag kicked of their round with a crowd-surfing Donald Trump piñata – it didn’t even make it through the first tune before it was decimated by the crowd. Aggressive, raspy, ripsaw riffs with shrill staccato vocals and gut punch drumlines define this band’s powerful sound, with lyrics decrying pervasive corporatism and rampant greed. Despite their nihilistic overtones, a surprisingly hopeful streak ran through their set, as front man Justin Sane declared “punk rock isn’t about records or t-shirts its about empathy… Yeah, you’ve got ink, but you also have a heart. So everyone make a new friend here today!” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
We wandered back over to the side stage to catch the Interruptors. These new kids were all black-and-white skinny tie supercharged ska. Their frantic energy and fun-fueled tunes got the sun-drenched crowd moshing and skanking. You can lead or you can follow, but all you are is white noise to me….
Seasoned pros TSOL assaulted the crowd with their signature brand of musical mayhem, highlighted by the roar of Joe Wood’s relentless guitar and Greg Kuehns Phantom of the Opera b3 riffs. Lead singer Jack Grisham berated crowd for throwing half full beers, “If you can’t drink like an alcoholic you might as well go the f*** home right now! That’s like having a mohawk on the weekends and combing it flat on Monday! Unreal! Never let go of the beverage!” With all the mojo on display, this was definitely a mainstage act crammed on a side stage!
As the sun sank behind the scorched Southland hills, Less Than Jake dropped a finely-tuned set of jams punctuated by their punchy horn section and clever lyrically-driven tunes. Bouncing Souls stepped up next and did all they could to deliver their best despite finding themselves on a main stage that had been plagued with sound problems all day. I’m willing to forgive a misstep here or there, but from a purely technically standpoint, this end of the venue was an unforgivable fustercluck the entire day. Eventually things came together and it was on! Lead singer Greg Attonito encouraged the crowd to chant along to their anarchic anthems. Hold on to what you got!
The Vandals stormed the stage next, bringing along their peculiar breed of silly-serious snark. Machine gun lyrics combined with wicked guitar worked to produce a witches brew of wonderful wonk. Solidly self-effacing and sarcastic, culminating in a spastic rendition of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” for an “encore” delivered to the crowds delight by guitarist Warren Fitzgerald. Great set!
A clever but somewhat annoying element was introduced by spinning the wheel to determine the next band. Round and round it went…
Next up – Lagwagon. Classic hammered-metal punk with an emotive drone. This is the music of the desperate and futile, lashing out at the heartless and cruel. Hardcore heartbreak. The Wheel o’ Punk served up the Descendants next. Their affable front man Milo Aukerman quipped his way through a set replete with hits like “Everything Sucks” and “If Only.” This time-tested team cranked good and hard, and delivered the quote of the day, “Thou shalt not commit adulthood!”
With things beginning to cool down atmospherically, the crowd had begun to recover from sunstroke and were now fueling up on cheap beer for the promise of full on fun to come. The Dial of Doom dropped NOFX in the laps of a crowd that was well into its second, or third, wind and ready to party! Sporting a kilt and an appropriate punk attitude, bassist Fat Mike traded quips with guitarist extraordinaire El Hefe, as this perennial favorite gave us just the high-energy shot in the arm we needed to get through what had turned out to be a very long, but jam-packed day. Their tunes ran the gamut from reggae-infused jam to straight-ahead punk slam. Oy! Oy! Oy!
As the revolving stage of It’s Not Dead rotated to the strains of Jesus Christ Superstar, lo it was revealed unto us, bathed in red light, the glory of Bad Religion. Crushing it in fine form, this bands’ band reminded everyone just what we were here for. Pure power. These punk prophets came out strong and only got stronger as their set progressed. Firing off each bite-sized beauty like tommygun rounds into the all-too receptive brains of the appreciative masses. My personal favorites: the Celtic-tinged “Build Me Up,” anger-driven “Against the Grain,” the downward-spiral wail “52 seconds,” and of course their monster hits “21st Century Digital Boy” and “You and Me.”
To cap off the evening punk powerhouse Pennywise was prepared to deliver, but once again the curse of the mainstage struck as, apparently, the giant turntable refused to revolve. Impatient fans were treated to 25 minutes of watching Bad Religion’s roadies clear their gear before Fletcher Dragge even got to strike his first chord. The road crew actually had to scramble to drag the Pennywise show to the other side of the stage so things could get underway.
Once things got moving, and after dealing with the umpteenth microphone fail of the day. Jim Lindberg and the boys proved that they were worth waiting for, as they proceeded to dive head first into a breathless set of hard-edged insanity spanning the length and breadth of their repertoire. Dogged fans who stuck it out to the end were treated to one almighty body slam of a show.
If It’s Not Dead is any true measure of the state of the American punk movement, we have nothing to fear. The vigor and vinegar pumping through the capacity crowd were evidence of a life force that is anything but flagging. Nope, Punk ain’t dead…not even close!
8th annual Musink Festival
at the Orange County Fair & Exposition Center
Friday, March 20, 2015
Los Angeles punk band The Interrupters opened the MusInk stage, unleashing three great days of high-energy music and tattoo culture upon Orange County. Fronted by firebrand Aimee Allen, their dynamic and gratifying brand of ska/oi punk set the bar high for the entire weekend. Those who had not seen this band before were in for a treat, while those more familiar with them made sure to get over to the stage, generating a larger-than-usual crowd for an opening band. This band just killed it, and their set is still my favorite of the weekend. Supported by the sharp-looking brothers Bivona — Kevin on drums, Justin on bass, and Jesse on drums — who laid down aggressive precision chords and thumping ska bass lines under Allen’s rough, biting vocals and uber-confident stage presence, this unit proved a force to be reckoned with. The three brothers kept their look clean, classic two-tone ska, while their singer arrived decked out in pure bad-ass rock star chic, sporting a hat and leather jacket covering a tee that read “Who the F is Matt Skiba” (with the F as the “Famous” logo) poking fun at the new Blink 182 member. Their fun, infectious vibe kept the room at full attention while their songs struck undertones of deep discord. Like bands such as Operation Ivy (whose tune “Sound System” they covered handily), they cleverly merge up-beat ska with an underlying social conscience, bringing a lighthearted approach to heavy subject matter. This is a band with a good sound, a great vibe and a singular flair all their own. Having them open the event said a lot for the remainder of the weekend of music to come.