When I arrived at the First Unitarian Church (Philadelphia's bastion for larger scale DIY shows) I was greeted by perhaps the longest line I've ever witnessed at the venue. Dillinger Four live is a rare commodity, and apparently one that Philadelphia's punk fans weren't willing to miss.
After fighting off the cold, the jagged-toothed homeless that roam around outside the Church, and the stares of those unable to score tickets, I entered the venue to the sounds of local Philly act Mischief Brew. The band played a rollicking set of music that was equal parts street punk and rockabilly with lyrics that leaned towards the political. The band's energy was high, and they even had enough fans for a solid sing-along or two, but the singer's forced sneer grew grating at times.
Canadian punk act Fucked Up then took the stage and belted out some massively loud old-school-tinged hardcore tunes. Their set wasn't bad, but after a few songs it seemed you knew all the band's tricks, both musically and stage presence-wise.
Paint It Black was next to rock, and having seen them a few times now, in a few different incarnations, I can honestly say was the best performance I have ever witnessed from them. Dan Yemin was truly electrified, putting to shame front-men ten years his minor with his devious scowl, throbbing neck veins, and kung fu-like freak-outs. Yes, I said kung fu-like freak-outs, because on multiple occasions Yemin left his preferred Henry Rollins stance to cut loose with swinging arms and legs. Bassist Andy Nelson was also in his usual run amuck state as he violently swung his bass and teetered on the edge of the stage.
Yemin and company opened with "Ghosts" and then flew through their set, which included songs such as "Atticus Finch," "Election Day," "Pink Slip," "Cannibal" (the song with the best opening scream since Ian MacKaye's on "Guilty of Being White"), "CVA," "The New Brutality," "Void," "The Insider," "365," "Womb Envy," and "Panic." To end their set, as they always do now, the band played "Memorial Day." Being in Philly, Dave Hause just happened to be on the side of the stage with beer in hand, and was more than willing to throw down his vocal parts on the set's closer.
The commentary that Yemin usually dabbles in between songs was kept to a minimum; at one point he even said, "Let's get the politics out of the way," and then fired off short declaratives such as, "Republicans, evil. Politicians, liars. Organized religion, tool for social control. Gay marriage, thumbs up." His most interesting comment of the day however might have been when he said, "Punk and hardcore are like the Harry Potter of independent music. You are embarrassed to tell your friends you are reading the books, even though they contain plenty of literary allegory and a great story." Yemin then clarified his comparison by saying that Paint It Black does want to have fun, but they also want to bring some intelligence into a genre that people often view as anti-intellectual.
Hard Skin, a fake skinhead band from England, were next to take the stage. The three-piece offered a set that was equal parts stand-up and musical performance, opening with the comment, "Paint It Black said what they stood for, now we will tell you what we stand for: Getting pissed and getting laid." The band played catchy-as-all-hell Oi! tunes whose lyrics were almost as ridiculous as the band's banter. Songs titles like "A.C.A.C. (All Coppers Are Cunts)," "Copper Cunt" and "Oi, Not Jobs" should give you some idea of what I am talking about.
Hard Skin not only prompted many a sing-along, but also many a laugh, as between songs they spent most of their time insulting the other bands on the bill. Their bassist said his band wanted to sell out and build community just like Paint It Black did by "Putting that song on the Tony Hawks (sic) DVD." He also said that the members of Fucked Up took part in England's newest trend, "Straight on straight gay sex," and that Paddy from D4 was a "fat fuck," a comment made all the more ridiculous by the fact that Hard Skin's bassist is himself a man of immense girth. At one point during their set a naked concert-goer climbed onto the stage and the bassist announced mid-song, "They make them a lot smoother here in the U.S."
Now let me stop right here and say that although the show up until this point was far from disappointing, Paint It Black were incredible, and Hard Skin, if nothing else, were a sight to behold; my score for this show mainly pertains to the incredible amount of devotion and passion that Dillinger Four exhibited. In fact, I debated merely writing "Holy fucking shit!" about a hundred times to describe Dillinger Four's set, but decided I'd give you a bit more than that.
After setting up their equipment, the performance started on a bit of a somber note. Paddy came up to his mic and stated that he had been trying to go around being all "nonchalant and professional," but that he had to be straightforward with us instead. He then explained to the crowd that he has ulcers and spent the weekend very sick and vomiting. Now this disclosure was definitely a downer, but because this is Paddy, he quickly followed his comment up by saying that he had a puke bucket on the stage and that, "Since we are using someone else's equipment and it will probably sound like shit, and I am puking, that means this is going to be old school!" The band then launched into "Mosh for Jesus," the crowd immediately surged forward with a hundred fingers pointing to the ceiling, and any signs that Paddy was sick or that someone else's amps were being used were non-existent.
Dillinger Four moved through their set with their typical high energy, but after a few songs it became apparent that something was missing. That something was the usual comic insight of Paddy. At first he got out a few jokes, saying he brought this sickness on himself and that punk rock wasn't the Harry Potter of independent music, but the scientologist work Dianetics. It wasn't until a few songs in that Paddy's silence became apparent. He spent more time by his amp and puke bucket than his mic, while his bandmates tried to fill in for him in the joke department. At one point Billy was even asking the crowd how many times they thought Paddy would puke before the end of the set.
It seems that at this point many bands would have called it quits, but in true "the show must go on" fashion, Paddy would march to the mic for his vocal duties and spit out the words through a cringing face that only hinted at the pain he must have been feeling. It was both moving and slightly uncomfortable to watch, but the crowd did their best to pay back Paddy's perseverance by singing along and, for lack of a better term, going off.
The band marched on, playing songs such as "Doublewhiskeycokenoice," "Who Didn't Kill Bambi," "Let Them Eat Thomas Paine," "O.K.F.M.D.O.A.," "Noble Stabbings!!," "Fuzzy Pink Hand-Cuffs," and "Folk Song" before they decided to cut things a bit short. They closed with "D4 = Putting the 'F' Back in 'Art'," and you could tell Paddy was really giving everything he had left as his voice strained and his face wore an expression of pure agony. At the end of the song he immediately ran off the stage, and it was soon after announced that Dillinger Four would not be playing a later show they had originally been scheduled to do.
I don't think I've ever seen such a selfless display at a show before, as Paddy ignored his own personal comfort to give the kids in Philly a performance to remember. As I was leaving, I couldn't help but think that what Dan Yemin had said earlier in the night was true. When giving the obligatory "up next" statement he described Dillinger Four as "The best punk band in the U.S.," a moniker that is not only accurate, but well earned.