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Skate rock (Think Sublime‘s genetic material crossed with that of Minor Threat) is a lot like milt. Some people get a mouthful of the creamy white stuff and think, “So this is fish sperm. Not bad!” Other people take a bite, move it around with their tongues, and then say to themselves, “Oh god, I just put fish balls in my mouth.” They panic. They look for a trash can, a napkin, maybe some condiments to amend the taste. They crunch up crackers and squirt cocktail sauce directly into their gaping, fishy maws. When that doesn’t work, they spit what’s left into their hands and shove it in their pockets.
Likewise, when it comes to seeing West coast skate music live, you either like getting involuntarily spanked by drunk white chicks with neck tattoos, pierced tongues, and exposed muffin tops, and jostled by aggressive white dudes with melanoma, trap muscles that touch their ears, and tattoos denoting their area codes/favorite Stephen King villains—both sets drugged and boozed to the hilt—or you don’t. God help you if you ended up—perhaps by invite—at the 9:30 Club last night for the Jagermeister Tour without prior knowledge that you were entering White Trash Central.
My accomplice and I missed openers the Supervillains, who’ve come a long way since playing house parties in St. Cloud, Fla., and jettisoning their trombonist. Smally is still on sax and Dom is still on drums and vocals, though they brought in some guy named Skart who has dirty dreads and loves weed to sing about, well, his dreads and weed. (Full disclaimer: I was five years behind the Supervillains at St. Cloud High School, and after catching them live my freshman year, joined the Shoehorns—a short-lived Christian ska band—on trumpet. The ska stuff wasn’t for me—I just couldn’t tongue my horn fast enough!—but I did have the privilege of dating the Shoehorns’ bassist and a diehard Supervillains groupie for an entire month, at the end of which she asked me to choose between her and my penny loafers. I chose the shoes. She dumped my ass.)
Though we missed my hometown act, we made it just in time to catch Las Vegas rapper Big Bperform “White Trash Life.” When he asked the crowd, “Where my white trash hoes at?”, nearly every guy in the club raised his hand in the air and then pointed down at the nearest female. I didn’t hear the part about the hoes, so I just waved my hands for the hell of it, which earned me a wary stink-eye or two from a group of dudes in fitted black ball caps and Tapout muscle tees.
Next up was Authority Zero, a Latin- and ska-tinged punk band from Mesa, Arizona, that’s been doing this whole music thing for, like, 15 years, with almost no one noticing (which explains why it’s constantly losing members to the Air Force and other Fuck-It-Time-To-Grow-Up jobs). After running through a catalogue of maniacal punk numbers, the band played “One More Minute,” the Sublime-ish alt-rock radio hit from 2002’s A Passage in Time, but declined to launch into their anti-Iraq War cover of Wall of Voodoo‘s “Mexican Radio.” The highlight of the set was Jason DeVore‘s rapid-fire vocals and stage monkery on nearly every song, which earned him mad props from Pennywise‘s Jim Lindberg, who is too old to jump around and likes to sing really, really slowly.
Which brings us to Pennywise, the wizened grandfathers wise godfathers of California skate punk. Aside from a guest appearance by Minor Threat bassist/guitarist Brian Baker and a ballsy rendition of “Bro Hymn” (Next to Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” it is THE rev-em-up sports song), I was more interested in Lindberg’s between-song banter than guitarist Fletcher Dragge‘s oversized and overamped three-chord chest-breakers. Unlike DeVore,who’s consistently espoused an anti-authoritarian political philosophy since 1994, Lindberg is all over the place. At the beginning of Pennywise’s set, he said he approved of Obama “so far,” and that he was definitely preferable to the “last eight years of bullshit.” Later in the set, however, he gave a shout-out to the military’s work in Iraq and Afghanistan, and encouraged the crowd to give a big hand to the men and women of the armed services who are “over there, kicking ass to keep us safe and free,” despite the fact the Iraq War is the bulk of George W. Bush‘s political legacy, and hands-down the stinkiest bullshit from the last eight years.
In between those pronouncements, Dragge and Lindberg riffed on white collar drones and “emo boys who wear their sisters’ pants.” Perhaps the sloppy mix of anarchism and hypermasculine nationalism is a West coast thing, but it just seemed so…not punk. A drone’s a drone, whether it’s sporting Brooks Brothers and a Blackberry or camouflage and an M-16. Then again, the no-neck crowd might have gone apeshit—and not in a good way—if Lindberg had openly criticized the military. The band’s one attempt at inspiring political activism came when Dragge announced—not two songs before “Fuck Authority” from 2001’s Land of the Free?—”This song is for one of you fuckers, hopefully you’ll make it into the White House.” Isn’t saying “Fuck the government, unless we’re the government,” kind of like, I don’t know, Ronald Reagan famously arguing “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem”?
Hawaii dub-rockers Pepper went on last, wandering onto the stage covered in sweat and wearing nothing but board shorts, and did their best to disperse the angry white-dude vibes by shouting “Poonani,” and “If you fight now, you can’t fuck later,” and flashing the triangle/vagina sign. The feel-good members of the crowd quickly caught on, bobbing their heads like a flock of pigeons and shouting “I love pussy!” while the dudes in Tapout shirts left for the curb outside to suck down some nicotine and compare choke holds. The set’s only downfall was that it was loud enough to harsh my buzz.