Punk rock is an unusual genre. Punk shows can be exhilarating, enthralling, chaotic, confrontational and offensive. Last night at the House of Blues, it was all of those and less.
I've been going to see punk bands for more than three decades and I thought I had just about seen and heard it all. Then I was exposed to Fat Mike, singing bassist for L.A.'s legendary punk outfit NOFX. These guys have been going at it since 1983 and they have made some decent money and some decent music along the way, but last night they were the antithesis of punk. NOFX have become a caricature of a punk band. Perhaps they have been that all along. Now, it's Fat Mike with his silly blue Mohawk shouting at some guy in the balcony, calling him a "fucking faggot" who was acting like a "prison pussy." As I was being tortured by NOFX, I thanked the punk gods for opening bands. All three, on this particular evening, saved the show.
Was this what punk rock has become? I was reminded of that horrible Mott the Hoople album, the one made after Ian Hunter had left the band. It was called Shouting and Pointing and that was NOFX last night. It was Fat Mike and crew playing some decent songs and then berating some guy for being Filipino, or as Fat Mike put it, "not a real Asian."
Shock value has always been and will always be, I hope, a calling card of punk, but this was something different. This was frat boys playing punk rockers, guys in their mid-40s playing out every sadly dated gay reference with idiotic glee. "We are not a peaceful band," said Fat Mike to the well inebriated throng. The response was tepid, almost nonexistent. It was like a punk band fronted by Rush Limbaugh, only worse, if such is imaginable.
Then, thankfully, Fat Mike would shut the hell up and NOFX would rip through "72 Hookers" or "Murder the Government," songs that pulsed with a punk spirit that harkened back to seminal hardcore acts such as Black Flag and Fear. But the songs were even surface punk. They were mean-spirited attacks without merit or intelligence. They reminded me of a seventh grader regurgitating the politics of his father or grandfather, shit he would later condemn if he had only gone to college.
First up, early on at 7:30 was Implants, a great, if horribly named outfit from Southern California consisting of members from such acts as Strung Out, Pulley, Ten Foot Pole and Death by Stereo. These guys were all right, playing meticulous and intricate metallic punk that featured shout-along choruses and not a single homophobic shout-out.
Next it was Masked Intruder, a pop/punk act out of Madison, Wisconsin. Even though I was warned by several young men in the crowd that these guys "really sucked," I was pretty much blown away by this foursome in different colored ski masks. Playing really loud pop music, kind of like the Ramones, I guess, Masked Intruder were charming and stupid, everything a good punk band ought to be. "I Don't Want to be Alone Tonight" may well be the best song ever written about a punk rocker looking for love.
The third band of this crowded bill proved to be the best as Minneapolis' Dillinger Four were nothing short of greatness. Somehow, these guys meld the entire punk history of their home city into a potent and catchy roar. Elements of Husker Du, the Replacements and Soul Asylum are caged and released in the stupor that is frontman/bassist Patrick Costello.
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"I need to shit," Costello said early into the band's set. "It's all this Texas barbecue." Later on when confronting a heckler, Costello said, "Don't sweat me like Britney Spears."
Now that's more like what I expect from punk, taking on the big players, poking fun at consumerism, commercialism and commerce. Hell, Costello was probably as politically incorrect as NOFX's Fat Mike. But Costello's punk ethos was much more aligned to that of Johnny Rotten. Costello was an instigator, a true punk, a thinker. Fat Mike was just shouting and pointing, playing to a crowd, getting a paycheck and drinking whatever free alcohol the venue might provide.