Favorite show of 2011.
I guess I was 12 years old when I was first exposed to punk rock music? It was the typical "older brother's cool friend" that had a tape with bands like Misfits, Dickies, Cramps, Clash, and plenty of songs from my favorite of them all: Stiff Little Fingers. SLF will always be an important band to me, and back then I thought that punk rock was a long-dead, alien genre of music from the '70s. As a kid that grew up in the hinterlands, I was completely isolated from any sorta scene, and it was only when I came across NOFX and Green Day in the early '90s that I learned that some vestiges of punk rock still existed. It's strange to think that I'd still have the luxury of seeing living legends like Stiff Little Fingers over 20 years after my childhood self was led to believe that they were an obscure, defunct band from a bygone scene. I, for one, am stoked they're still playing the occasional show, because even in my advanced years I enjoy gettin' drunk and seeing great live music. What was I talkin' about? Oh yeah, punk show.
So I ride my shitty bike four miles over to Double Door, which is in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. Twenty bucks at the door is a bargain at twice the price and I'm just grateful it wasn't sold out in advance. I gotta get the show on the fuckin' road so I order a $13 pint of vodka and something. Upon entering the club I was pretty bummed at the meager turnout for my heroes, but that would change drastically throughout the night. Gotta love older crowds that have the wherewithal to stay in the bar until their band takes the stage. See, I live next door to a big club in Chicago called Metro, and when Tooth & Nail bands play, those shitty kids start lining up like six hours before doors. So I get there when main support act Flatfoot 56 is about to start, and as far as Chicago's streetpunk/Oi! scene is concerned, they've got to be the most active and well-known band around town. They do the Celtic thing à la Dropkick Murphys, complete with punky bagpipes and abundant gang vocals. They're excellent rabble-rousers and persistently prod the crowd to physically mix it up. Myself and the other grouchy old curmudgeons at the show were way too invested in our drinks to want anything do with that nonsense, that's for sure. They played about three new songs too, which all sounded promising and were met with approval.
I pound a couple more delicious cocktails—now ready for beer and the headliner. It was a great crowd on hand that night, and I spotted a couple Punknewsers (Jerry Cola and Justin from Underground Communique) among all the sharp-dressed skinheads and beleaguered grayhairs from Chicago's old guard. SLF's intro music was played over the PA: their instrumental, "Go for It", which I always find a little peculiar. It's no "Party in the U.S.A.", but hey, it lets you know who's coming up I guess. Keeping with that theme, they took the stage by opening with "Roots Radicals Rockers and Reggae", an absolutely fantastic song on an album that is somewhat underrated. They weren't fucking around or withholding the hits on this night as they went on to play ample jams from the classic albums. From the essential Nobody's Heroes LP we got to hear "At the Edge", "Fly the Flag", "Tin Soldiers" and more. When it came time to play "Straw Dogs", frontman Jake Burns shared a tale with the audience about how the song came about because the label requested a "chart hit" and they went out of their way to deliver them a shit sandwich. Despite their self-damning approach, the song still charted. As a label asshole myself, it's kind of nice to be reminded of how punk bands have been counter-productive since the 1970s.
You can bet your ass Inflammable Material was also represented on this night as they played "Suspect Device", "Wasted Life", "Barbed Wire Love" and more. They even busted out a song called "Strummerville" off their 2004 release and prefaced it with some kind words about the song's namesake, Joe Strummer. It was a raucous set and the vets from Belfast didn't let a single person down. For their encore they came out and played their trademark cover of Bob Marley's "Johnny Was". I was absolutely ecstatic because this song was really my first and most memorable brush with what we refer to as punk's signature buzzsaw guitar sound. They went on to jam it out for what seemed like 10 minutes, but people were loving the shit out of it. Show was over, I was content.
But the folks wanted more and we all drunkenly chanted "S-L-F!" over and over until they came out for an honest-to-god second curtain call. I certainly wasn't expecting what happened next: a Clash-esque rendition of "I Fought the Law" followed by the almighty "Alternative Ulster". It's exasperating to just recount the events of the evening, but in hindsight I realize that despite my own personal history with the band that dates back to my childhood, there was nothing nostalgic about their performance and stage presence. Maybe it was the booze or maybe I'm getting carried away, but I think Stiff Little Fingers gave us all a genuine taste of '77 that night.