Celebrating its 15 years in the music business, Asian Man Records hosted a five-day, 12-show celebration featuring a roster of bands throughout its history. With the Lawrence Arms and Toys That Kill playing literally three blocks away, the July 19, 2011 Thee Parkside show in downtown San Francisco seemed to put the old classics of Asian Man against the up-and-comers.
Mike Park, Asian Man Records founder, kicked off the show with a few acoustic ditties while his band collected themselves on stage. Paying tribute to the new with a track off his upcoming children's album, Park opined the benefits of eating apples. He then cut into an old Bruce Lee Band classic that commented on racism by way of him recounting how people used to use him for his smarts (he's Asian, FYI). Soon, Park's backing band, San Jose's Hard Girls, loaded in and the band tore into their set proper. The band tore through high-energy third-wave ska renditions of songs off Park's new record, exemplifying that children's music, when supplied with a skankified beat, can stack against the more "serious" stuff. Now that Park's label duties and dad duties have merged, it was telling that he had to wipe a tear from each eye—not when thanking the audience for 15 years of support, but for when the audience sang him a rendition of "Happy Father's Day" based off the "Happy Birthday" song.
Shortly thereafter, Mikey Erg took the stage for an intimate solo performance. While his mainstay band, the Ergs!, were known for their high-energy bubblegum rampages, solo, Erg seems to tone it down a little and let the lyrics earn their keep. Although his songs sounded something like stripped-down Green Day and Weezer jams, he was impressive in his skill to create multiple colors in sound with relatively simple guitar work. Still, Erg got the most energetic reaction with his rendition of the Ergs! classic "Pray for Rain".
Up-and-comer Laura Stevenson (sans Cans) followed Erg! with her unique lo-fi pop. Starting her set with just an acoustic guitar, she created simple songs with interesting, wide-ranging melodies that, at times, with their extended vowels and withering whispers, almost sounded like Celtic folk songs. Halfway through her set, she was joined by a ragtag group of musicians, including Bomb the Music Industry!'s Jeff Rosenstock, who both beefed up Stevenson's sound with a thick guitar and added an edge of brittleness with a few sparse xylophone pings.
Jacking up the energy, Hard Girls returned to the stage for their own set. It's remarkable how much the band has progressed in the last year. While this time last year they were cutting warm—if not necessarily engaging—introspectives, now they've congealed as a band. From the minute they jumped into their first song, they swung with more energy and vibrancy than in the past. Flowing one song into the next, supported by almost Thin Lizzy-ish riffs, they've become both more punkish and more rockish. But, most interestingly, while they've upped the energy and have become somewhat more savage, they've retained the inward gaze that gives their songs such soul, merging the violent with the contemplative.
To close out the night and celebration, Bomb the Music Industry! took the stage for an extended hour-and-a-half set. As the massive troupe whirled through thick and energetic versions of tunes from across their catalogue, through example I think they made the argument that they are the punk rock Parliament/Funkadelic. Although Rosenstock seems to be the mastermind of the recorded material, live, the band members each seemed to share the spotlight, often competing for attention as much as complementing each other. Rosenstock jumped on top of the bar to lead a crowd sing-along, but John DeDomenici held his bass like Hendrix held his guitar playing as much for show as sound, while the other members made their way from the back to the front of the stage, pulled by the audience literally and figuratively.
Live the band plays fairly loosely. But they played in such a way that they would fall to shambles only to snap back together at a particularly powerful moment, showing that their sloppiness is as much style as the result of dedicated practice. While the band has a new record coming out, only a few newer songs, including "Hurricane Waves" and "Vocal Coach" were featured, with their more classic material taking the forefront.
Near the end of the set, Mikey Erg joined the band on stage for a Weezer blowout. Soon, Kepi Ghoulie jumped on stage for a revved-up version of "Hey Kepi Let's Go!". The band closed out their set by thanking Park. Interestingly, near the end, Rosenstock stated that he didn't feel as miserable as he used to due to his recent engagement. But, after that group's final encore, I don't see how anyone could have been miserable on a night like that.
- Thee Parkside serves a hella tasty fried chicken sandwich. It's delish.
- Like the Upsetters and the Funk Brothers, it seems as though Hard Girls are the new Asian Man house band, having played four different sets for four different bands across the five days.
- Speaking of Hard Girls, Classics of Love (which features HG and Jesse Michaels) absolutely destroyed it the prior night by totally jacking up their hardcore aspect. Mark my words: CoL—album of 2011...and I haven't even heard a single recorded note yet!
- The prior night, Gnarboots also tore it up with their 110% wacky punk/hip-hop/muzak-ska selection.
- Although Thee Parkside usually has pretty cool security, one bouncer hassled me for a good five minutes because my "watch was covering my wrist band" and demanded that I "do something about that, brah." Don't taze me, brah!
- During the BtMI! set, Punknews icon Thegimper got a shout-out from the band. Ambulances arrived shortly on the scene to perform resuscitation.