Rescued by Jello Biafra: A Sound Fest 2011 Recap
Seattle Sound Fest
August 19-21, 2011
By Andy Bookwalter
Why I still like punk rock reason #1:
I’m on crutches because of an injury suffered while totally dominating two little kids in a squirt gun fight. Hobbling around Neumos on Friday night right before The Avengers came on I slipped and kind of stumbled backwards. Someone caught me and kept me from falling, either on purpose or because I bounced off of them. When I turned around to say thanks I realized I had been propped up by Jello Biafra.
Of course, I will likely embellish this story over time until Jello was fireman-carrying me out of the building and reviving me with a sandwich, but for now the truth will suffice. Such is the spirit of true punk rock.
Since NadaMucho.com got me into Soundfest for free, I figured I should make an effort to seek out lesser known bands rather than just fawning over my personal heroes. This goal I almost, but not totally, failed to accomplish.
Friday, August 19
I walked in on the second half of Dreadful Children‘s set. Old school punk (think Gang Green, in fact they might have actually been playing “Alcohol” when I walked in.) Lead singer/guitarist Lonny has been making great music for a lot longer than I’ve been talking about it, previously and occasionally still fronting Bristle.
Retox does that angry, screamy hardcore thing really well. If you’re into that sort of thing they’re pretty good. On their way off stage they mentioned the generation gap between themselves and Reagan Youth, New York City’s pioneers of hardcore.
Fortunately for Retox, Reagan Youth seemed to have actually brought their children to Seattle as roadies. I can’t imagine the confusion of seeing your dad on stage like that, clearly still cool but …you know, still your dad.
I had high hopes and lowish expectations for The Avengers. On one hand, they’re The Avengers, on the other hand, Penelope Houston is more known as a Bay Area folksinger these days. It’s always dicey seeing your heroes years after their “prime”, which is why a lot of smart people forego any and all nostalgia and reunion shows.
After what seemed to me like a lukewarm opening with “We Are The Ones,” they quickly hit their stride and won me over.
Ms. Houston left Seattle for California about thirty-five years ago, so it wasn’t exactly a homecoming, but remember when people moved away from Seattle to strike it rich in the music business?
Nobody can stay pissed off for their whole lives, unless they are Jello Biafra, who’s still a seething cauldron of rage against Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown, the PMRC, the music industry, political parties, and even the rest of the Dead Kennedys.
Fortunately, he seethes with a hell of a band behind him. When I do it with no band it’s just complaining. That’s why he’s Jello and I’m a whiny bitch.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shOak6hShys]
Among the new songs played by Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine were “Electronic Plantation” and “Panic Land.”
To make the old timers poop themselves they also did “California Uber Alles.” For an old guy he’s pretty spry, jumping around the stage and waving this arms like a conductor. I think he even made some shadow puppets, but I might be wrong about that.
Saturday, August 20
Saturday I had expected to be busy eating cheesecake in the sun all day, so when things freed up earlier than planned I decided to check out the Dickies, U.S. Bombs, and the Vandals at El Corazon.
The Dickies are funny as hell, as are the Vandals. The Vandals are a long time Southern California punk institution, as are the Dickies. The Dickies paved the way for pop-punk, as did the Vandals. This is why I spent the night not being sure who I was seeing.
This doesn’t mean the two bands are interchangeable; they’re very different from each other and both bands were great. It’s just that I’m easily confused.
In between was a short, drunken, sloppy set by U.S. Bombs, featuring a giant beer dressed up as Duane Peters. If I’d been there just to see USB I would have been pretty bummed, but at least he was just wasted and not pitching a diva fit.
Towards the end of the Vandals set I felt…unfulfilled. Also really sweaty.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48GbifTz-dI]
I headed up the hill to Neumos, where John Doe & Exene Cervenka were just getting started, and it was just perfect.
In a sane world the place would have been packed, but hearing John & Exene harmonize in a half-full bar at the end of a long day couldn’t have been a better end to the night.
Sunday, August 21
Sunday rolled around, like it does pretty much once a week.
What doesn’t come quite as often is a night with Swingin’ Utters and Stiff Little Fingers. To quote me on NadaMucho’s Twitter thingy, “EEEEEEEEEEEE!”
The very band that helped knock the hippie out of me twenty-five years ago, right here in my zip code? The question was, would they suck?
No, they would not, but first a word about folk singers.
Tim Barry used to be in Avail, now he’s a folk singer. Normally punks should not sing folk songs, because often punks lack that ineffable quality we’ll call “talent”, or “musical ability.”
Don’t get me wrong, some great music has been made by no talent hacks, but, anyway, back to Tim; this guy had a hot sweaty crowd (that was clearly waiting for Stiff Little Fingers) eating out of his hands. One guy and a guitar singing about civil war era folk heroes, and the whole thing just worked great. Look him up.
Next up, Swingin’ Utters. I was only slightly less excited about these guys than I was for Stiff Little Fingers, as Swingin’ Utters are just a great band that sings songs about the working class, of which I’m a proud and greasy member.
After a short wait (did I mention that at every show the stage crew did a hell of a job getting one band off the stage and the next band on?) Stiff Little Fingers took the stage in spiffy coordinated shirts, looking pretty good for a bunch of old guys.
Jake Burns (lead singer, songwriter, and the only constant member through the years) told stories about how songs came about, and a little about living in Belfast in the mid-70’s. They also played a bunch of songs without mucking things up with a lot of new stuff.
It was a great show, everything a nostalgia-choked guy like myself hopes for. I don’t think I’m a very good critic, because I don’t seem to have much to criticize about this weekend. I’ve been to a few music-type festivals in my day, and must say that this one was remarkably well run. El Corazon could use more fans, I guess. I’m a sap for this stuff, though, and it was nice catching up a little, especially without having to do any actual work or spend any money.
And to close, here’s why I love punk rock, reason #2:
At Stiff Little Fingers/Swingin’ Utters/Tim Barry I was standing next to a woman who had brought her twelve year old son and his friend to teach them a little something about the punk rock.
She was a mosh pit veteran, and watched her boys learning the rules of the pit.
However, she was also a mom, and you can be sure that she knew where they were at any moment. (I will never get tired of watching people get picked up when they fall down in a mosh pit, it almost chokes me up.)
After the show, we’re filing out of El Corazon and mom realizes that her son has met himself a girl. Punk rock love!