924 Gilman: the starting (and ending for some) point for some of the greatest, most well-known bands in the independent music scene. From Operation Ivy to Fifteen, this venue has been a pillar in the community for a long, long time. Combined with the chance to see Mike Park, the owner/operator of Asian Man Records, frontman of seminal ska act Skankin' Pickle, and more recently the frontman of the Chinkees, as well as the Bruce Lee Band, his own solo work, founder and operator of The Plea For Peace Foundation (busy man!), I was easily sold on going to this show. Add in the entertaining Dan Potthast and ever-talented Colossal, and I was making it across the Bay Bridge come hell or high water.
The night opened up with Chinkees member Jason's other band Short Round, with a fairly pleasing blend of punk and a hint of ska. Unlike some shows I've been to lately, where if an opener resembled punk, they were probably pretty horrible at playing it, Short Round displayed a sense of melody reminiscent of the mid-90's as well as the positive and fun attitude of that time as well. They only played about six songs, but it was an entertaining set, and they received a fairly decent response.
Next up was Shinobu, a fairly mediocre band bridging the realms of indie rock, traditional melodic emo, and punk. So incredibly bland. The vocalist/guitarist had all the stage presence of a field mouse. His inability to enunciate his between-song banter led to a widely confused audience, while his off-key crooning (poorly harmonized with by the bassist) kind of hurt my ears. Although I seem like I'm being exceptionally harsh, I will say that if they were playing another show opening for band that I liked, I wouldn't purposefully miss them. The music, for the most part, was competently played (minus the ill-advised keyboard smashing at the end of one song) and enjoyable, and overall were much less offensive to the ears than others who've tried this sound have been.
Next stop, POTTHAST. I'll be honest; while I was the token ska kid in my small West Virginian town growing up, I was just never that "in" to MU330. I checked out Dan's solo stuff mostly because at the time I had an emusic account, when you could download as much as you wanted for a small price. His acoustic guitar crooning was endearing but nothing special, until I saw him on the Ska is Dead Tour at The Bottom of the Hill last fall. Between his stage presence, voice, and overall honest approach to his solo stuff, I was sold on him, and was looking forward to the same feel this time. Boy, was I surprised. Dan took the stage, backed by bass guitar and drums, plugging in an electric guitar for himself, and proceeded to rock us with some really fun, catchy punk music. I was extremely surprised, but not disappointed. Dan's voice is easily one of the most recognizable and enjoyable I've seen live, and he makes the transition to power-trio frontman with grace and aplomb. Extremely enjoyable.
Colossal's Welcome The Problems was one of my favorite albums released last year, and having seen their live show before in Boston with the Lawrence Arms, I was all a-titter waiting for them to come out. I found it curious that they were simply setting up an additional drumset on the stage instead of disassembling the one previously used, but basically paid it no mind, 'till I noticed not just the normal drummer warming up, but another as well. As they started out, Steve Choi was introduced as "a guy we just met, who's never played drums before" and they broke into their super solid set of indie/post-punk rock. I'm not one to gush over a gimmick like two drummers because they can be done in a way that really adds nothing to the music. But here, here was a use of them that was appropriate to the situation. Using both the other drummer to fill in the small gaps where there was a drum hit, Colossal powered through their set, playing a good selection from both their LP and EP releases on Asian Man. The drumming was fantastic, the guitarwork fantastic, the bass-lines spot on, and the vocals excellent. The only complaint I could have was that the trumpet's mic was a bit low in the mix, but life goes on when you have two drummers.
Mike got up on stage, setting up a projector and screen, as well as his acoustic and amp, and got started right away. His set began with him playing to an 8-minute video that he and the other fabled AMR employee made. The video, for those who haven't seen it, has Mike showing us the records that "got him through high school," questions to the audience as to who their heroes are (his include Chuck D, MLK Jr., Gandhi, and other important musical and social characters), questions the roles of Asian-Americans in popular culture, and spurs us on to change the state of things. I don't know what it was, but the very honest, stripped-down video, combined with the lyrics of "Can You Get Me Out of Here?" were a bit much for me, and I got a bit choked up. Mike stopped the video, played a few songs, and stopped to compose himself (he was feeling it too).
While he was stopped, he took a few minutes to address a request that he apparently gets a lot in e-mails, the concern that while the new music is good, it's just "too damned serious!" He fixed that by playing a Skankin' Pickle standard "A Girl Named Spike." It was good to hear an old favorite and to see the huge smile on his and everyone else's face while he did so. He powered through a few more songs, then invited Hellen up on stage to play cello with him. After a short dedication from Hellen, they played "Supposed To Be There Too" together, which may be one of the most moving songs ever when heard live in its full instrumentation. A few songs later, Mike told us all about the new album that he just recorded, backed by the guys from Colossal. So they came up, played a couple of the new songs, and they sounded great. Colossal, mixed with folk, fronted by Mike's voice: incredible.
Mike closed the set with "Don't Sit Next To Me," and hung around to talk to kids and participate in my interview. On the way home, my brother and I talked about the show, and came to the conclusion that the honesty, rawness and intimacy of Mike can only stem from someone who's doing what they do for the love of it, and out of a desire to do the right thing. This was beyond compare one of the best shows I've ever seen. Between the ambience of the venue and the talent of the performers, I'd see this show a million times over. Catch it if it's in your town.
Photos from the show