Live In Vancouver (06/13/15)Commodore Ballroom - Vancouver, BC
By Bobby Gorman
Screeching Weasel and MXPX, from the line-up alone you know you’re in for an memorable night. The latter being a pop-punk band that served as the soundtrack to your high school years while the former being a legendary band that can now safely be categorized as “Pre” and “Post-SXSW”. Combine the two and it was evident the night would be unique – but nothing could prepare me for the reality of the evening.
Upon entering the Commodore Ballroom ten minutes before openers The Piniellas hit the stage, the atmosphere was already unlike any show in recent memory. The floor was literally empty, with the sparse crowd filling up tables on either side – leaving a massive divide through the center like the start of your junior high dance. With Taking Back Sunday and Paramore blasting through the speakers and one of every three people wearing either a MXPX or Screeching Weasel shirt despite the unwritten rule against it, the setting was almost comical.
The Piniellas hit the stage and people slowly wandered up front as the four piece from Seattle served as an appropriate opener for the evening. Heavily influenced by Screeching Weasel, the Piniellas delivered a solid thirty minute set of four-four time pop-punk. Teenage Bottlerocket, The Queers, The Isotopes. Fans of any of them would enjoy these new up and comers and although very few people knew the band in question (myself included), their performance got more than a polite clap from the crowd.
After a quick change over, the famed MXPX logo hung from the stage and the Bremerton three piece – now flushed out with a fourth touring member – came on stage to rather unique house music. I was lucky to have seen them back in 2006 but many people had never had the opportunity to see the band before – despite them being so close to the border. The opening chords of My Life Story started the set and an immediate flood of nostalgia took over the crowd. In fact, had they stopped after that one song I would’ve been content – but they continued playing for an hour and it just got better and better.
It was a set that served as throw-back to simpler times and despite not listening to the songs in several years, we still knew every single lyric. Just like at the Anti-Flag show a few months back, MXPX (and especially Mike Herrera) showed why it is that they’ve still be able to go strong for 23 years. They have a showmanship that many newcomers lack, they control the stage, they banter and they interact with the crowd just the right amount. It’s a skill, and when done right – it brings the show to a much higher level.
The band played their iconic pop-punk tunes all night. We were treated to some newer cuts – Secret Weapon and Here’s To The Life – but also a fair few from their back catalogue. I’m talking Party My House Be There, Tomorrow’s Another Day, and Chick Magnet. Tom Wisniewski took lead vocal duties for their cover of The Clash‘s Should I Stay or Should I Go. Their biggest songs really got the crowd going – despite being twenty-seven, there’s still something cathartic about singing Responsibility at the top of your lungs and ending it with Punk Rawk Show just seemed right.
The set was everything you wanted it to be. It was fun, cheery, poppy and nostalgia laced and you just felt happy afterwards.
Then came Screeching Weasel who did a complete three sixty.
The legendary Chicago band is basically fighting against itself at this point. Ever since their SXSW fiasco that saw frontman Ben Weasel punch two women and the entire band quit on the spot, there becomes a moral dilemma when you talk about Screeching Weasel. Do you boycott the band on principle or look past it to relive the songs that you grew up with and mean so much to you? Does one bad night destroy all the fond memories or taint their entire catalogue? It’s a tough question and one that many people debate whenever they see the band coming through their town.
It was clear Vancouver punk fans had that same concern as the Commodore – despite Weasel’s claims that there were a thousand people there – was less than half full. The top balcony was completely empty and the crowd took up just over three quarters of the floor. As one passerby commented at the end of the night – he may have gotten a big room, but he sure as hell didn’t fill it.
Weasel, with his new band in tow, came on stage at ten PM and barrelled through twenty minutes of music without hesitation. No banter, no speaking – just straight punk rock. For his part, Weasel looked tired and old – but worst than that, he looked bored. There was fire in his eyes when he spat into the microphone, but any musical interlude and he lowered the microphone and simply stared out dead-eye. It was kind of disappointing considering how good his stage presence was last time I saw him.
It turns out though that no banter is the right way to go, because the second he opened his mouth the whole evening churned to a stop. “I want to give you a warning that we will offend you. We are five CIS men up here. We defend the patriarchy and deny rape culture” he spouted off among other things. It was obviously in jest, a jab at all the haters in his new post-SXSW stage – but the misogynistic rant was unnecessary and redundantly antagonistic. The whole concept of punk being rebellious is one thing, but this just came off as an angry old man spouting Men’s Right Activist propaganda. It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t pointed, it was simply uncomfortable.
People swore, flipped him off and threw stuff. He encouraged it and lapped it up.
They jumped back into the set – once again a non-stop barrage of music. The only moments he spoke was to introduce new songs from Baby Fat album. Other than those two, they stuck to some classics – including a lot from My Brain Hurts. You had Cindy’s On Methadone, The First Day Of Summer, 99, Guest List, The Science Of Myth, I Can See Clearly Now, My Brain Hurts, Hey Suburbia. There’s a reason Screeching Weasel are still going – they have written some amazing tunes.
But during Joanie Loves Johnny, it all went down again. Weasel abruptly stopped the set, angered that someone threw an empty plastic cup at him (despite him encouraging things being thrown at him earlier) he yelled at him, kicked him out and went on one of his famous tirades. It was a spoiled brat, bragging that “1000 people” paid to see him and proceeded to attack countless crowd members – calling them fat, tubs of lard, cunts, whiny bitches, morons, fucking idiots, cry babies and more. As more people got kicked out, more and more simply gave up and left. Making an already sparse crowd noticeably smaller.
It was just weird and uncomfortable. I’ve spoken to Ben Weasel before and he was nice, considerate, well spoken and I’ve defended him based on that interaction but last night he just seemed like a cry-baby. Trying desperately to be punk, to show that he doesn’t care what people think and that he’s the one in charge – but it came off weak and unnecessary. This was my second time seeing Screeching Weasel. In 2009 it was memorable because it was an amazing set, in 2015 it’s memorable because it was sad and weird.
Stick to the songs and shut your mouth, and maybe the venue won’t be half empty next time.
But hey, they closed with Cool Kids Club and that was fucking awesome.