Live in Vancouver (02/09/17)The Commodore Ballroom - Vancouver, BC
By Bobby Gorman
There are several types of concerts. Among others, there are some that you go to just for the hell of it with no real expectations. Sometimes you go to check out a new band you’ve never seen before. Sometimes you go just to hang with friends. Sometimes you’re bored, sometimes you’re engaged. There are times you see your favorite band for the umpteenth time and they put on the show you expect but don’t wow you – sometimes they do. You get shitty shows, and good shows, bad shows and great shows. Shows you enjoy than instantly forget, and some that stay with you long after the final chords ring out. Then you get shows that resonate so hard within you that you’re remembered why you fell in love with concerts in the first place.
Thursday’s show was that one.
A rather large four band bill topped by co-headlining sets by two wildly different bands (Reel Big Fish and Anti-Flag) celebrating twentieth anniversaries of major albums (Turn the Radio Off and Die For Your Government respectively), the show was a throwback to the old school punk tours that used to happen all the time but are an all too rare occurrence now.
Starting the night’s festivities was Toronto four piece Pkew Pkew Pkew who immediately put on the best show I’ve seen in months.
Although they would’ve been more at home in a smaller venue like the Cobalt, Pkew Pkew Pkew made the large Commodore Stage feel intimidate. With their straight forward skate-punk style, and three alternating vocalists yelling chaotically into the microphones, Pkew Pkew Pkew put on the type of show that pulled me into this crazy scene so many years ago.
Their songs are goofy and sometimes moronic, but fun and seeped in earnestness. Songs about trying to skateboard (Mid-20s Skateboarder) and failing (Blood Clot), the need for pizza (Lets Order A Pizza), growing up (Glory Days), and drinking (Drinking In The Park, Hanging Out, Before We go Out Drinking) fill their catalog. These aren’t serious songs, but man are they fun.
You sing, you dance, you let loose in the two minute blasts of passion. For an opening band, the set was almost unheard of in terms of quality and control – this is the type of set that creates punk careers and Pkew Pkew Pkew will be at it for a long time if this is any indication of what to come.
Maryland’s reggae quartet Ballyhoo! came next and performed one of those shows that were enjoyable, but oddly forgettable. Having just passed their twenty year mark together as a band, Ballyhoo! know how to work the stage – frontman Howi Spangler alongside keyboardist Scott Vandrey sufficiently wave their arms around and engage with the audience as they work through their Jamaican flavored tunes but it missed a certain punch. Pulling from the likes of Pepper and IllScarlett, Spangler’s vocals are smooth and the set picked up the pace by the end; yet it still felt like what you’d expect to see from an opening band.
With a giant American flag hanging upside down behind the stage, Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag came next celebrating twenty years of Die For Your Government and ripped into ten tracks from their debut album. It was a smart move to not play all seventeen tracks because their musicianship has definitely grown since their early days and it would’ve been a disservice to ignore some of their newer material. Nevertheless, those ten songs they played showed the foundation of what was to become from the political punk band and helped fill out the best set I’ve seen in years.
With an added guitar now, the songs are fuller and fiercer than they were as a three piece. Justin Sane’s vocals are more confident than they were twenty years ago and Chris #2’s take on Andy Flag’s original vocals fit in their modern incarnation of the band much better. You could sense the teenage angst in the songs of You’d Do the Same, Drink Drank Punk, Davey Destroyed the Punk Scene, and Summer Squatter Go Home. Not to mention their two mainstays You’re Gonna Die For Your Government and Fuck Police Brutality that make their way into every set whether they’re celebrating the album or not. They ended the ten songs tribute portion with Your Daddy Was a Rich Man, Your Daddy’s Fucking Dead – a song, ironically, written about Donald Trump twenty years ago and is possibly even more relevant today.
For the second half of their set, they powered through some of their biggest numbers starting with Turncoat and focused heavily on For Blood and Empire tracks including The Press Corpse, This is The End (For Your My Friend),Cities Burn and One Trillion Dollars. Playing so many from that album made sense since that was released just over ten years ago as well.
Whether they were playing their cover of The Clash‘s Should I Stay or Should I Go or All of The Poison, All of The Pain, it didn’t really matter. Anti-Flag were always Anti-Flag.
I’ve said it before, but Anti-Flag know how to put on a show. Yes, it’s not always spur of the moment anger or unplanned outbursts – the sets are structured and planned to a T, yet the bands’ anger seems real. Chris #2’s guttural screams pull at you, Justin Sane’s political rants ring true, and Pat Thetic’s never ending smile is contagious.
It’s a set full of venomous anger and passion, orchestrated to perfection by the Pittsburgh foursome; and even though they ended the set with Bradenburg Gate instead of Drink Drank Punk, they still moved everyone back and set up the drum kit in the crowd for the final verse. It’s a shtick they do every set, but it still seems just right. Especially since Pat Thetic stays in the crowd for ten minutes hugging everyone he sees.
It was only an hour long set. There was no encore. Without any glitz or glamour, they lowered the massive American Flag and started setting up for Reel Big Fish – but during those sixty minutes, you were able to lose yourself. Momentarily transported to another plane of existence, Anti-Flag successfully put on a set that rocked you to the core and reignited my love for live shows.
And somehow, the night still had another sixty minutes of music.
Swapping out the angry fist pumping and circle pits, Reel Big Fish brought out the horns and skanking shoes for their co-headlining spot of the evening. It was an almost 360 degree spin in tone and performance as Aaron Barrett and his co-horts pull in the crowd through comedy and goofiness rather than anger and speed.
Starting with the Ole chant, the band began their real set with three of the famous sarcastic songs: I Want Your Girlfriend to be Mine, Another FU Song and Your Guts (I Hate ‘Em). It immediately set the pace for skanking and sing alongs before Barrett reminded everyone why they were really here: to celebrate 20 years of Turn The Radio Off.
From then on, it was Turn The Radio Off front to back – Sell Out, Trendy, Everything Sucks, S.R. (and all the possible iterations of it), Say Ten. You name it, they played it.
As Monique Powell of Save Ferris was nowhere to be seen, saxophonist Matt Appleton took over her parts on She Has A Girlfriend Now. It was a good effort, but part of me missed how Scott Klopfenstein used to deliver her parts. In fact, the entire night missed the comedy styling’s of Klopfenstein who left the band several years ago. Him and Barrett’s on stage banter used to be the icing on the cake of a Reel Big Fish set. Without him, Barrett seemed somewhat lost and no longer had that comedic edge that made Reel Big Fish what it was.
Nevertheless, the crowd was there for the music and they delivered. After completing Alternative Baby, the band celebrated the album before realizing they missed the biggest song on the album. This led them to play The Mighty Mighty Bosstones‘ The Impression That I Get segueing into Beer (the missed track) into The Offspring‘s Self Esteem and back into Beer. It was a nostalgia trip if you ever wanted.
A quick encore comprised of Where Have You Been and Take On Me and the night was complete. It was a punk filled, ska filled evening by two of the longer run bands in our scene. Tonight showed why it is that they’re still around.