I’m a huge Alkaline Trio nerd, so on a night where bands ranging from Good Riddance and Dead to Me to the Templars and Old Firm Casuals were playing in my city, it was no contest for me when it came to choosing a club show on the second night of Punk Rock Bowling 2012--Matt Skiba and Friends at the Beauty Bar. Seeing the frontman of one of my favorite bands in such a small setting was an easy sell and the anticipation for who the “friends” would be made it all the more enticing. Looking over the Punk Rock Bowling roster and seeing who was actually going to be in town that night left me stumped, though I was holding out hope that it would be a certain non Punk Rock Bowling band that was appearing on the other side of town that day.
Arriving early I noticed a familiar sight on stage--the vintage Buck Owens guitar belonging to Johnny Carey of Old Man Markley was leaning against the Beauty Bar’s street art-covered wall. But it was actually Carey’s bandmate, bassist Joey Balls, who would be opening the night. The self-proclaimed “acquaintance” of Skiba was asked last minute to fill the opening slot and basically stall for time while Skiba and his special guest traveled from sister city, Henderson. And on short notice he did an admirable job, mixing covers of Hot Water Music’s “Trusty Chords” and a variation of R Kelly’s “Ignition” with Old Man Markley originals “Song Songs” and “Guts N Teeth.” A tweet from Skiba tipping off fans to the identity of the secret guest caused the Beauty Bar to quickly fill up to maximum capacity, many coming from the Good Riddance gig next door, and a long day of drinking on the hot blacktop at the day festival caused the crowd to grow impatient as Mr. Balls ran out of material and was forced to sing bowling score updates.
Most of the now-rowdy crowd was satiated, however, by the 1 a.m. arrival of Skiba and his friend--Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, who had played a gig with her band earlier that day at the M Resort opening for the Cult. Mike Weibe from Riverboat Gamblers introduced her as "Laura Gabel" and Skiba referred to her as Laura Gabel as well. I’m not sure if she decided to keep the Gabel last name after all or if it was just an easier way for people to know who she was for the one or two in the audience who hadn’t heard the news, but either way, the crowd greeted her with thunderous applause and cheers. And as big of an Alkaline Trio fan as I am, I’m an even bigger Against Me! fan, so I couldn’t have been happier to be seeing the vocalists of two of my all-time-favorite bands together in one small bar.
Taking to the stage in a loose-fitting black t-shirt, long wavy hair and eye makeup, the frontwoman mixed two new tracks--"Black Me Out" and "Transgender Dysphoria Blues"--into a set consisting of fan favorites, including "Reinventing Axl Rose," "Baby I'm an Anarchist," "Sink Florida Sink," "Pints of Guinness Make You Strong," "Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious," "We Did it All for Don" and “Walking Is Still Honest.” Grace has never sounded better and it was great to sing along in such an intimate venue with a packed crowd harmonizing on all the “whoa-ohs” that filled her set. Laura stayed afterwards to sell merch with Skiba and there were quite a few fans stopping by to congratulate, hug and just offer their general support to her. There was a really nice vibe during her set and I was happy to see Grace looking so joyful and confident on stage so soon after embarking on such a life changing journey.
Skiba finally took the stage at close to 2 a.m., joined by an imposing man dressed only in bikini bottoms and a horse mask. After a strong start, he seemed exhausted, turning down a handful of requests either because he didn’t feel like playing them or because he didn’t feel they would translate well into the acoustic setting. To the audience’s obvious disappointment, he played only six songs. Cries for classics like “97” and new songs like Skiba and the Sekrets’ “Voices” went unanswered but we did get “Hell Yes,” “Clavicle,” “Blue in the Face,” “Olde English 800” and "Cooking Wine.” Amidst a sea of disbelieving faces, the frontman announced that he would end his set early with the seldom played (as least at Alkaline Trio shows) “Good Fucking Bye.” After a few minutes of no one leaving, Skiba returned to the stage to announce that this was, indeed, the end. While he did play, his voice sounded fantastic and the crowd that screamed along with Laura only got louder for Matt, particularly Alkaline Trio artist and Grace’s wife Heather Gabel, who shouted along with the hits louder than the rest of us. Despite the disappointing lack of song-playing, Skiba did stay long into the night to meet fans and take pictures and seemed very appreciative of all the adoration. I would have preferred a longer set--a much, much longer set--but the songs we got were among Skiba’s finest so I can’t complain too much about what was an otherwise fantastic night.