I am a sucker for a few things in life. Things like clam chowder (even a vegetarian needs it), hoodies, and apparently two-night "residences" by bands at a club. Adding one of the bands performing being a longtime favorite is just icing on the cake. Over the last weekend of November, the Lawrence Arms and Lagwagon treated San Francisco to two nights of their traveling performance to end their small jaunt up the California coastline, providing one of the most enjoyable series of concerts I've seen.
They brought along with them a couple of openers, which were basically hit and miss. Well, really miss and hit, as it went, as the first night's opener, SetOff, really wasn't so great. I kept trying to nail down their sound, but inconsistencies made it pretty difficult. At times, it sounded like they were going for something along the lines of Lagwagon or A Wilhelm Scream, but they kept missing one important part. Three-part harmonies have become a big part of punk music, with pretty much every band to come out of California using (and abusing) them at some point. The important part to remember about a three-part harmony is that you need, well, all three parts. The problem for SetOff was that the singer and guy on the left (bass, I believe), fit together wonderfully. However, the guitarist (guy on the right), kept joining in with them, using what sounded somewhat between a throaty version of a bad early Fat Mike impression and a cliche nü-screamo scream. Not all that enjoyable, and really ruined what are often the highlight of a band like that's set. Overall, they failed to impress in the live setting, although I did get a copy of their demo which should see review in coming weeks.
Sicker Than Others, the second night's opener, hailed from Santa Barbara, like the headliners, and comprised of 2 folks from the recently defunct Staring Back, with Nick playing guitar and vocals, and Matt, who actually was unable to make it to the San Francisco show. To sum up their sound, I'd just say No Use for a Name. Nick's voice sounds ridiculously similar to Tony's, and many of the songs sounded like More Betterness or Making Friends outtakes. Whether this is a good or bad thing is up to the listener, but I rather enjoyed it. I think that it's nice to hear a band that's playing the type of 3-5 chord power-skate-punk that labels like Fat used to be so derided for, because it's enjoyable music. I got into punk through bands with similar sounds, and sometimes you just want to hear something familiar and enjoyable.
The Lawrence Arms played second both nights, and both nights they played fantastic sets. I've learned one thing from seeing them, and that's never to expect a certain set of songs to be played, and to expect to be entertained. The first night, they were probably as tight as I've ever seen them. I sometimes fall short of being able to describe a band that I really like, because it's just...you know, them. The biggest difference between this time and most times I've seen them was due to the size of Slim's. Slim's has a pretty huge stage. Brendan and Chris were on opposite sides and it was a little jarring at first. Being the tightly knit three-piece that they are, you expect them to kind of huddle as close as possible, but they worked it out, playing far away from each other. Brendan was on point, as always, with his jokes, puns and random political ramblings. Chris even treated the crowd to "The First Eviction Notice" in response to a request from one of the guys from Communique.
The real joy of both nights were the new songs. I only caught the name of one of the songs, "Cut It Up." I remember my first time seeing a band play new material, and it was your standard fare of being interested but bored because you didn't know the song. The exact opposite happened. "Cut It Up" is maybe the hardest, fastest, catchiest song I've heard come out of the Chicago boys in a while. I was pretty much floored and just staring; it was amazing. The other songs weren't nearly as hard hitting, but they were also great. It pretty much sounds like they're turning the knobs to 11 and both going full blast all the time. We've got a lot to look forward to with Oh! Calcutta.
Punk rock confessional time. I don't like Lagwagon. I've got my reasons, but the bottom line is that I've never been interested. Just not quite my thing. Close, but not quite, and that in particular drove me farther away from them, I think. I will say that I was interested in hearing Resolve however, if only to hear how a long-running band deals with the loss of a longtime bandmate and friend. I was pleasantly surprised to see them. Judging by the fans, they played a great set. I can say from my impartial, if not biased against them, view they definitely are a good live band. While Joey's voice was sometimes low in the mix, it overall was a great sound, with all of the solos sounding on point and definitely not muddled. You also have to hand it to a band that encourages crowd participation after 15 years of being at it. Some random yah dude got on stage and wanted to sing the song "Sick." So Joey let him. Walked away, gave him the mic, and the young man went to town. This wasn't a pre-scripted move as far as anyone could tell, and shows a connection with the fans, after all these years, is still alive.
By the end of the second night, I was singing "Violins" along with them, and raising a glass to "Sad Astronaut." On the point of that song, and others like it, I'm not even a fan, and I could feel the emotion pouring out of it. I'm not sure if this album, or even these shows are Lagwagon's swansong, but it would be a fitting ending, to go out with an album and songs that can move someone completely unfamiliar with their catalog, and predisposed to not enjoy their music.
The two nights were great. They were even better because I actually grew to appreciate a band that before I had no reason to give a second glance. My band, the Arms, were on point, giving us fans a taste of the familiar while strutting their new stuff and giving me reason to place them at the top of my "most anticipated" list for the coming year. The openers were enjoyable, and most importantly didn't overstay their welcome. All three sets were pleasant lengths and there were pretty much no sound issues. I'd say catch this tour when it comes through your town, but we were the last of it.