Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What A Weekend! (Part 1 - Friday in Philly)

It has taken me until now, Tuesday afternoon/evening, to completely process and begin to write about the past weekend. Three nights. Three cities. Nine different bands, two of them twice. Meeting and talking with four very cool musicians, two of whom are unqualified punk rock legends (one I expected to see and one who was a complete - yet pleasant - surprise!). It was a wonderful weekend filled with great music; it reaffirmed for me how much more I enjoy seeing a band in a tiny club with 200 - 300 people than in an arena with thousands. And, at an average of $15 cover per show and $4 a beer, plus $20 to pick up 2 CDs, the whole weekend took less out of my wallet than seeing some big-name band in some stadium somewhere where you need binoculars to see the band and your chances of actually meeting and talking with them are slim to none. Let me share the highlights with you.

The weekend kicked off Friday night in Philadelphia, at the fabulous Trocadero, seeing ex-Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra's newest band, The Guantanamo School of Medicine. (Many years ago, friends and I got into the habit of always calling it "the fabulous Trocadero." Given it's history - dating back to 1870 as a vaudeville theater, through the middle 20th century as a burlesque house, to its current incarnation since the 1980s as a club where many a Punk Rock show has taken place - it just deserves more than simply "the Trocadero...") Probably about 300 people were in attendance Friday for an all-ages show that featured three opening bands.

Mirrors and Wires

When we arrived, Mirrors and Wires were already into their set. Wish I would have caught them from the beginning. As a rule, first acts are kind of throwaways; in this case, they left me wanting to hear more. Playing all instrumental psychedelic punk material, the band delivered a solid performance. I see that they have a couple of releases under their belt; may have to check them out. Up next was Common Enemy, a local thrash band who were unfortunately just not my cup of tea, mainly due to the garbage-disposal vocals which made every song sound pretty much the same. But the band had a strong fan base among the kids in attendance, and to their credit, they got the crowd moving. Always does this old punk's heart good to see the youngsters out there slamming in the pit like we used to in the old days...

Common Enemy

Witch Hunt took the stage next, and impressed the hell out of me. This was my first time hearing the local Philly band, and I'm kicking myself for not picking up their CD. The four-piece band (two girls, two guys) blasted out energetic hyper-speed material interspersed with mini-speeches about the injustices of the world. Call their stuff emo-thrash, I guess, but I loved it and so did the hometown crowd.

Witch Hunt

Then it was time for Jello. I was very excited to see Jello perform live - I was lucky enough to catch the Dead Kennedys in Charlottesville, VA in 1985 on what would be their last tour before splitting up in the wake of Biafra's obscenity trial, and they have always ranked among my all-time favorite bands. The current band playing with him includes Ralph Spight (from Victim's Family), Andrew Weiss (ex-Rollins Band), Jon Weiss (ex-Helios Creed) and Kimo Ball (from Freak Accident), and the new material from GSM's debut The Audacity of Hype compares very favorably with anything Jello has done in his myriad musical collaborations since the DKs disbanded. The band is tight and powerful, and Jello is mesmerizing as ever on stage. Pacing, frothing, sneering, pantomiming lyrics, ballyhooing and pontificating between songs, Biafra commands your attention unlike any other performer I've ever seen. He hasn't lost a step since 1985.

In fact, the whole performance in Philly was like a Punk Rock time machine taking me back to 1985. The kids were stage diving and crowd surfing (yes, the club allowed it - more about that in a moment), the pit was constantly swirling, and the energy was positive. The band played for almost an hour and forty-five minutes, giving us all the new material and - to the elation of everyone from the old fogies like me to the kids in the pit - a handful of Dead Kennedys' classics: "California Über Alles," "Let's Lynch The Landlord," "Holiday In Cambodia" and, in the second of two encores, "Bleed For Me" were all played as solidly and as well as the original band played them back in the day. I felt the urge to dive into the pit myself, but thankfully the voice in the back of my head reminded me I'm not 18 anymore!

Jello Biafra

About the stage diving. I have not been to a show where the club allowed stage diving in at least 20 years. Most clubs forbid it because it is possible to get hurt, and the club would then of course be liable. In fact, during Friday night's show, we saw two kids land badly. The first did a sort of feet-first leap into the crowd and hit the floor hard; the bouncers helped him off to the side, but he seemed more shaken up than banged up, and he was back in the mix in short order. The second, however, took the headfirst dive and came down where there were not enough people to properly catch him. He was carried off to the side and attended to by the bouncers; at one point I caught a glimpse of him and he had one heck of a knot on the side of his forehead. After the show, I asked one of the bouncers how that kid was. "He took a header," the bouncer told me. "I expected him to be leaving in an ambulance, but he walked out of here on his own." I told him how surprised I was that they were allowing the stage diving; he said the band had requested no barriers at the stage and they had to respect the band's wishes, but they were concerned, too.

Hoping to meet Jello and maybe get some records signed, we hung around for twenty minutes or so after the show, talking briefly with the road crew. The Trocadero staff let us hang out for a bit even after they pretty much herded everyone else out, but it was late and we had a 90-minute drive ahead of us, and when word came that the band had high-tailed it out of there, we did the same.

A great night of music in Philly, a great deal of fun, and had that been the only show I saw this weekend, it would have been enough. But the weekend was just getting started...stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!

Below is some video I attempted to take Friday night. Unfortunately, the sound is horribly distorted (cheap video camera too close to the amplifiers!), so it is virtually unlistenable - I highly recommend turning the volume way down. Still, the visual is there and gives you a sense of the energy in the club.

Visit That's What I Was Going To Say's fan page on Facebook to see more pics from the show...

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  1. Stagediving at the Troc is not uncommon. The kids were all over the stage and the crowd at ManMan a few weeks ago. -
    Glad you had a great time and sorry that we could not meet up-maybe next time.
    Sue White

  2. While I don't read about pitchers, (sorry, Bry, but sports just aren't my THANG...) I'll eat up anything about music...and Jello Biafra. I never enjoyed actual Jello, but what a blast to come home and be able to read about him. Thank YOU.

  3. That amazes me that they let the kids stage dive. Don't get me wrong; if the kids want to stage dive, let them! It's just that in today's litigation-happy world, a club is really putting themselves out there by allowing it.

    I hadn't been to the Troc in probably 15 years until seeing The Residents there a couple years ago - and that was definitely NOT a stage-diving kind of show, so I didn't realize it was commonplace. Also didn't realize ManMan was there recently! Dang it!

  4. Well you'll have more music stuff to gulp down over the next couple of days, Janine...there's many more stories to tell from the weekend...