Day 4: End of music ‘utopia’

Day 4 – June 13

Japandroids Dissapoint…Me At Least

I specifically woke up early this morning to get into Centeroo and attain a good spot for Japandroids, the Canadian garage-rock duo that took the indie music world by storm in 2009 with its debut studio album “Post-Nothing” that SPIN rated as its 16th best album of the year.  I have to say, the music was good, but the production was shit, and it ruined the experience for me.

Japandroids is too eccentric and strange to be widely accepted and it will not break through into the mainstream music machine, but these days who would want to?  This band has the potential to develop into a solid indie act, but these guys need to get their shit together.  I know the band is going for a minimalistic, “we don’t give a fuck” attitude, but, they were late to the stage, the lack of a sound check caused major acoustic problems, their equipment kept breaking, the roadie couldn’t figure out how to tighten the clasp on a microphone stand, and do you have to complain about the heat after every song?  We get it, the two of you are from Canada and are not used to this weather.  Neither are we, everyone is hot, play the next damn song!!!

That being said, when the pair mustered up enough energy to actually play music they performed with such emotion that just being within hearing distance of the speaker could instill life into the most burnt out festival patron.

When Brian King ripped into “The Boys Are Leaving Town,” the band’s escape anthem, with a fuzzy guitar riff played over David Prowse’s manic stick-work, it was like an espresso filled syringe shot into the jugular.

I love the music, but the live show needs work.  There is a lot of energy but this particular performance had major pacing issues.  The crowd would get worked up into a frenzy and then be denied that non-stop euphoric rock session it so desired.  Most attendees could only muster up a simple head bob.

Mission Accomplished

If you’ve been paying attention, you know about the botched interview on Friday.  This afternoon was one of redemption and one of the prouder moments of my journalistic career.

About to exit the press compound for the last time, I decided to take one final walk around in search of a departing interview. It being the final day of the festival, many musicians had left, and most of tonight’s night’s performers had not yet arrived, subjects were scarce.  With nobody around, I was about to give up when I noticed a large guy in a Boston Celtic’s jersey, kilt, and black steel toed boots strolling toward me.  It was him, Scruffy Wallace, the bag piper for Dropkick Murphys.

“Nick!,” called out Evan, the Murphy’s Tour Manager.  “Anybody seen Nick?”

I continued to hover, and five minutes later, Evan came back in search of the mysterious Nick, with no such luck.  We locked eyes and I seized the moment.

“I’m not Nick,” I said, “but if he doesn’t show up, I’ll take his spot.”

“Who are you,” said Evan? ”Just some guy?”

“Yes, I am just some guy looking for an interview.”

“Wait here,” said Evan.  “If this douche doesn’t call me back in five minutes, it’s yours.”

Long story short, Nick never showed, and I got his five minutes at a shady picnic table with Scruffy Wallace.

I’ve read about the band’s influences, but I’d rather here it straight from the source…

“Obviously we’re influenced by traditional Celtic music.  We all grew up in the environment of it, like The Chief Tones and The Pogues.  Then we got stuff like Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash and Billy Bragg.  Good, honest, rock and roll.  And I think all of that definitely plays a very big part of our musical influence in Dropkick Murphys, the way we amalgamate all those different sounds.”

When talking influences, a lot of musicians discuss their sound, but what did these bands mean to you, what messages did you take away from their music?

“That the working class, it’s an honest way to make a living.  That your family and your friends are number one.  And that there’s nothing more important than the people that have surrounded you and the people that have worked to help give you what you have.  We stay very true to those ideas and very dedicated to our fans because they are the people that make us what we are.  Everything we produce is for them and because of them.  We try to stay true to who we are as people and the music follows suit.

Bands come and go, especially punk rock bands.  Dropkick Murphys are going on 14 years now.  What’s the secret to your longevity?

“For 14 years it’s been the greatest fucking job ever, and we only have our fans to thank.  Without them we wouldn’t be who or where we are.  We try to stay true to them and remember that they’re the reason we do it.  That’s why we’ve been given the opportunities that we have, because our fans have stuck by us.  It’s a give and take relationship, and I think it’s very cool, very unique.”

You just put out your second live album, Live On Lansdowne, Boston MA, and you’re currently touring, so what’s next?

“We’re actually writing a new studio album, we’re in the process of it.  We’re taking about 25 days to tour, we’re flying down to New Orleans tomorrow, then over to Copenhagen to do a few festivals in Europe.  Then we’ll fly back and get back to the writing.  The way we try to do it is, we’ll go home for a few weeks, write some new songs, get them down and let them sit, and then we go back on the road.  Back and forth and back and forth.  We’re always writing, even on the road, but we’re really concentrating on the new record and trying to get it done because it’s been three years since The Meanest of Times came out, we’re kind of overdue you know?”

The Murphys contributed to the Rock Against Bush Vol. 2 album, you guys are involved with the AFL-CIO, many in the band have claimed to be Democrats, you’re about head down to New Orleans, what are your thoughts on President Obama and how he’s performed in office so far?

“Personally, my best thing when it comes to politics is just not to get involved.  I honestly don’t have any kind of opinion on anything political because, it doesn’t, well, it affects me in the long run, but directly it doesn’t affect anything that I think about.  I bother not with any kind of that trivial shit…As far as politics go, we’re kind of a tongue-in-cheek band, we don’t really sing about politics, that’s for other people to decide.  We’re just a band that wants to have fun.  We want to talk about things that should be important, like family and friends, and the unity we have in our scene, and staying strong.  We don’t like to get wrapped up in bullshit that mires you down.”

Well let me ask you about something you may care about.  What are your thoughts on the Red Sox slow start?

“I am a Red Sox fan but I only really started watching baseball about a week ago because there was no more hockey on.  I’m a big hockey guy and it was big let down with the Bruins, the Flyers were like a bad cold you couldn’t get rid of, but they [Bruins] played a hell of a season, they played through a lot of injuries.  As far as the Sox go, I know they had a rough start but they’ve won the last three or four in a row so that’s cool. And now with the Lakers and the Celts I’ve been wrapped up in that, go Celts! Beat LA!  So with all that, baseball’s been on the back burner a little bit.  But once the playoffs are over it’s back to the Sox.”

My five minutes were up.  Scruffy was on his way to go catch the Against Me! show and so was I.

Against Me! Is Reinventing…Itself

This collection of Gainsville punk rockers has transformed its sound from that of gritty, thrashing, basement dwellers to a polished, major label, poppy punk band.  Anybody who has a problem with that, who labeled these guys sell outs, who has continually trashed their vehicles and equipment outside shows, who has tried to keep this band from taking the stage, fuck you.

Why is it that every time a punk band has an important message to send, one that needs to reach more listeners than an indie label can cater to, their fans turn on them?  Fuck you!  A true fan would be excited about their favorite band’s success.  A true fan would want their favorite band to reach as many listeners as possible.  True fans wouldn’t sucker punch their favorite band when it came back to town.  That isn’t “punk,” or “revolutionary,” or “anarchic,” it’s a temper tantrum.

Seeing Against Me! Perform live, one wouldn’t understand what former fans of this punk rock quartet have to gripe about.  They were one of the hardest rocking collectives at this festival, playing to an audience of shirtless skins, denim clad punks, and innocent bystanders that didn’t know what type of fist pumping they were in for.

The “audience” could no longer be referred to as such when the first galloping notes of “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” were struck, it transformed into more of riot, an amorphic mosh pit that spilled out of This Tent into the burnt and shriveled grass and mud.

The ruckus didn’t skip a beat when the band charged into “Rapid Decompression,” a powerful little number off the band’s latest release, “White Crosses,” that lasted less than two-minutes, yet was actually able to take us to a new level of madness described best as an unruly mob of slam dancing hooligans.

The self titled single off “White Crosses,” the track that “hardcore” fans seem to have a beef with, came next.  The song rips into the many flaws of the Catholic Church with guitar hooks, and choruses, and catchy lyrics, and apparently that’s against the rules of Punk Rock!  If it’s good enough for The Who, The Clash, and The Ramones, it’s good enough for any punk band that walks the earth, so get over it!

One captivating pop-punk single deserves another as the band followed up with “Don’t Lose Touch” off its 2005 effort “Searching For A Former Clarity.”  The song is slow building but explodes after the first chorus.  It’s a track that begs for repeated tossing of the fist into the air.

The band performed “White People For Peace,” and “Bamboo Bones” followed by “I Was A Teenage Anarchist,” a song that wouldn’t be out of place on a Bruce Springsteen record.  This is the track Tom Gabel and company addressed to all the “fans” that turned on them.  “I was a teenage anarchist, the revolution was a lie!” yells Gabel before the final chorus kicks back in.  This song is basically a big “fuck you” to all the scene punks that have no loyalty or integrity, you know who you are.

They Are Giants

Finally, after years of waiting, I have seen They Might Be Giants in concert, and it was everything I ever hoped it would be:  great tunes, lots of laughs, and of course, a puppet show.

The great thing about TMBG shows is that, love them or hate them, you are going to learn something.  I still stand that I learned more about Astronomy from Here Comes Science than I retained from Professor Hiack’s 8:00 a.m. on Monday and Thursday of sophomore year.

The music is accessible by people of any age, especially children.  John Linnell and John Flansburgh (The Johns) have continued what Raffi started back in 1975, but updated it.  Kids these days are mentally more advanced and “The Wheels On The Bus” just will not cut it anymore.  That’s where TMBG comes into play.

Apparently The Johns have been playing too many kids shows lately because they forgot just how beloved this band is.  We packed into The Other Tent like dorky cattle awaiting a much needed feeding of nerd rock.

“We honestly were not expecting this,” said a bewildered John Flansburgh to the explosive mob of dweebs.

Let me paint a more vivid picture for you. With my black, thick framed glasses, I was the meet inside one of many nerd sandwiches.  To my left was a guy with an extremely detailed Spiderman universe themed tattoo that ran the length of arm, featuring such villains as Doc Octopus, Green Goblin, Rhino, Scorpion and Venom entrenched in battle with none other than Spiderman.  To my right was a “Clerks”-era Kevin Smith look-alike, minus the trench coat, for obvious reasons.

Anyway, want to know a country that starts with the letter “S?”  TMBG notified us of one by opening up with “Alphabet of Nations,” and its called Suriname.  Suriname, at 163,000 sq. km is the smallest sovereign state in terms of area in South America. The country is the only Dutch-speaking region in the world that is not a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands or Belgium, and is the only state outside Europe with Dutch as an official language.  I just hit you with some knowledge.

The Spiderman guy and I traded verses on “Birdhouse In Your Soul,” just to prove that neither one of us was an imposter TMBG fan, a friendly test of our nerdhood.  The tension eased when positive results came out of the exhibition.

John Linnell introduced us to his friends that call the periodic table home with “Meet The Elements.”  Did you know carbon in its ordinary form is coal?  True story.

“Particle Man,” “Boss of Me,” “Your Racist Friend,” and an electrically juiced up version of “Doctor Worm” in a row was absolute ecstasy.

I believe I mentioned a puppet show.  This happened.  And I feel like if any other band in the world tried to pull it off, the situation would be totally unacceptable.  But when TMBG do it, it’s just right.  The Johns donned gym socks on their arms.  The socks had googly eyes and paper Gatorade cups for hats.  The pair of socks performed a duet on “What Is A Shooting Star” and were banished back into their drawer.

TMBG closed the show with “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” at an exceptional speed shaving at least 45 seconds off the track that is originally only two and a half minutes long.  Amazing.

The crowd cheered so loud that The Johns and friends graced us with “Ana Ng” as an encore.

Dropkicked

It turns out that the biggest conflict in my schedule came on the final day, between the final two shows I would see and TMBG won out over Dropkick Murphys.  It was not an easy decision by any means.  However I was still able to catch the last 40 minutes of the Murphys, and it was probably the best performance I saw.

I got to This Tent just as James Lynch sank his pick into the first notes of “Famous For Nothing,” the opening salvo off The Murphys’ 2007 record “The Meanest of Times.”  This hard rocking number caused multiple pits to open within the crowd, expanding its border further toward the outskirts and denying me any chance of getting close to the stage.

I strolled around to the left side of the tent and saw my opening.  Matt Kelly clubbed the opening drum hits to “Worker’s Song” and I charged into the sea of black and green.  By the songs end I had squirmed my way 20 from the stage.  Victory was mine.

As reward for my efforts Ken Casey, the bassist and only remaining original member of the band, sang the opening verse to my favorite Murphys’ song “Black Velvet Band.”

We stepped into the way back machine when Scruffy Wallace sunk his breath into the opening pipe play of “Barroom Hero,” a classic Murphys song off the band’s 1998 studio debut “Do Or Die.”  I’ve never been punched in the face so hard.  I didn’t give a shit either.  That dude and I wound up hugging by the end of the show.

The band sped through “Captain Kelly’s Kitchen” and “Flannigan’s Ball” en route to their ode to the Boston Red Sox “Tessie.”  As a Yankee fan I should despise such a piece of music but I can’t.  My musical taste won’t allow it.  It’s a damn fine song led by the collaboration of a beautiful piano lick, AC/DC-like hard rock guitar, and Scruffy’s superb pipe work.  I challenge you to listen to this song and not get amped.  You can’t help it.

The band’s unity song “Forever” was up next, a slow bag pipe heavy track with an elongated, single word chorus of “forever,” built for the audience’s vocal accompaniment.

The band closed the show with “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” the track made famous by Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.  The Murphys took a bow and exited stage right but the crowd didn’t budge.  We wanted another song and were prepared to yell as loud as it took to get it.  And eventually the band emerged with an encore to the tune of “Kiss Me I’m Shitfaced.”  It was the perfect way to end the best weekend I’ve ever lived.

If you want to know why Bonnaroo is such a great experience it’s moments like this:  Bonding with total strangers over a common interest.  Name another place where it’s totally acceptable to wrap your arm around somebody you don’t know, someone from another part of the country, even the world, and join them in song.  Bonnaroo is the perfect community, the archetypal utopia.