(Disclaimer: This review is really long as was the show. If you’re like me and mostly concerned with the set lists, feel free to scroll down to the end of the review; they’re about 95% accurate, with the Against Me! one a little shady. As always, criticisms are welcome; onto the review.)
Typically two dichotomies prominently exist in the realm of punk rock: (1) political punk, which contrasts with apolitical punk (you know, songs about girls or really fucked up shit) and (2) major label acts who often polarize fans opposed to ardently DIY, cult groups who operate on independent labels or even their own. Such dichotomies have existed as long as the genre itself, perhaps best illustrated by the contrast between the Misfits and the Clash of the late `70s and early `80s. The Clash were revered for their social conscience but denigrated by Crass and punks who deemed the band’s signing with CBS a sellout move. From 1977-1983, the Misfits played apolitical songs with B-movie subject matter, many of which were released on 7” on their own label. Though revered as cult heroes, critics shrugged off the Misfits as mere shtick, an image, not real music. So it shouldn’t be surprising that two bands currently fit the aforementioned archetype of their predecessors: the Alkaline Trio and Against Me! Like the Clash before them, Against Me! play an eclectic style of music and are bashed for their signing on major label Sire. Like the Misfits, the Alkaline Trio write dark, gloomy songs over poppy melodies releasing material on independents. Overall, the Early Songs for Eerie People Tour serves as an intriguing contrast point between bands: It is one of Against Me!’s final tours before releasing an album on Sire and possibly gaining new fans, but garnering further disdain from old ones. For the Alkaline Trio, the tour is an opportunity to appease older fans by playing Goddamnit, along with rarities after the subpar reception to their recent LPs. Though I wouldn’t dare to say this tour would be analogous to a hypothetical Clash-Misifts tour prior to the Clash releasing on CBS where the Misfits played Walk Among Us with fan favorites, it may very well be the closest my generation ever has to such a show. No, I’m not saying that the Alkaline Trio are the new Misfits nor that Against Me! are the next Clash -- I’ll leave that up to AMP. It’s just a reminder of the certain splits and trends in punk that continue to persist be they in the `70s and `80s or the `00s.
It merits mention that it was an overcast, rainy Saturday outside the Quest, an appropriate premonition of the gloomy mood to be set by the Alkaline Trio in a few hours. But as the proficient bass of Elvis Costello’s classic, “Watching the Detectives” resonated over the PA, their were certainly a slew of eager fans ready to eye out Against Me!, a band sure to strike a chord. At 7 P.M. the lights dimmed as “A Brief Yet Triumphant Intermission” blared. One by one Against Me! walked onstage donned in black to an ecstatic contingent of Minnesota fans. Of the handful or so songs they could have opened with, Against Me! shockingly started with a rousing rendition of “Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious...” Though the vocals were often drowned out by the booming roar of guitar, bass, and drums, it was an interesting way to start things off. Four songs from SFAC and a passionate “Reinventing Axl Rose” composed the set’s first half with “Miami” sounding superior to the recorded version albeit no horns. Whether Against Me! were playing material new or old, they put on an excellent stage show, throwing their whole bodies into the performance by constantly moving, shaking, and jumping. The alternating vocals provided a nice touch; Gabel and company became more audible as the set wore on, not falling victim to the drowned out vocals that often dampen opening bands at the Quest. “Sink, Florida, Sink” served as a great sing-along with the band allowing the audience to sing the “fuck it up” part transforming a tender, acoustic number into an electric sing-along. Fuck it up Against Me! did not with the one-two punch of “TSR” / “Cliché Guevara,” a potent combo and two of their best songs off Cowboy. Gabel thanked everyone stating, “If you want to meet us we’ll be at the Triple Rock.” Yes, the Triple Rock was where Against Me! began to build their Minnesota fanbase and would have been a more appropriate venue for tonight’s show, but “We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)” closed things out in a familiar fashion, leaving everyone singing and one last stunning performance from the group. One can only hope that Against Me! can laugh off critics by prospering on a major label both commercially and artistically and break any rules about the pessimistic future of a punk band on a major.
If Against Me! are a Minnesota favorite, then Alkaline Trio are a Minnesota fixture. A palpable excitement grew until the lights darkened and three video screens descended, each adorned with a black and red clock tower backdrop. An eerie organ intro boomed through the Quest and the Trio tore straight into “Cringe.” It seemed as if everyone sang along to it, along with a relatively rare “Cop;” for five minutes, it was 1998 again. Skiba addressed the crowd and dedicated “San Francisco” to anyone who made a long trip to see them eliciting further audience participation. The rest of Goddamnit was played to extraordinary precision. Deviating from the recording, “Enjoy Your Day” was played electric but the somber “Sorry About That” stayed true to the studio version: acoustic. This started the acoustic set of the show, with a solo Skiba sending out “Blue in the Face” to Johnny Cash. As Matt departed, Dan Andriano took the stage to play three straight songs from Good Mourning before all three returned for a semi-acoustic “Good Fucking Bye.” Dan played electric bass and Derek drummed on certain parts while Skiba strummed an acoustic guitar, thus ending the acoustic segment of the show and foreshadowing the electric one to follow.
Making the transition from an energetic, electric Goddamnit from a mellow, acoustic mid-set back to an electric one could be a bit tricky. Rather than haphazardly start a rapid-paced number, a mid-tempo, slugging riff slowly formed into “Hell Yes.” Initially, only a few people (myself included) sang along, but as Matt Skiba enthusiastically stormed around the stage often opting to scream the words sans microphone, the crowd caught on and gave as potent participation as a B-side available only on 7” and a few comps could elicit. Somehow, rarely played “I’m Dying Tomorrow” made the cut as did a trio of Infirmary numbers that sandwiched the sole concession from Crimson, “Dethbed.” Though politics do not play a prevalent part in the Trio’s music, Dan talked about the West Memphis Three shirt he was wearing, asking everyone to learn about another type of trio while Skiba introduced B-side “Warbrain” as a song off of the Rock Against Bush compilation dedicated to our friends in Canada. Also of note, the mysterious second guitarist played on the aforementioned two tracks virtually invisible onstage before abruptly departing.
Not departing from the Alkaline Trio’s allegiance to their hardcore fans, they played none other than “Old School Reasons.” Yes, I will be first to admit the song was foreign to me (and many others) but it did make me realize why this song has been so incessantly hyped and desired to hear by fans. Venturing into older, more familiar territory, “You’ve Got So Far to Go” was my personal favorite of the night as 21+ Trio fans rose their glasses to Dan shouting back each word and appreciating his splendid bass playing. In punk fashion, Alkaline Trio closed their set with a pair of track ones. “Private Eye” was preceded by Matt’s anecdote about being arrested the last time he saw D4 each note thundering away to perfection as Derek Grant displayed his outstanding drumming on one of his least favorite songs to play. Though the first song from Good Mourning, “This Could Be Love” served as a perfect closer for the night as a grim tale of a captive heart unable to meet the other’s desires and in four short steps how to erase any memories of said love...for fire. One by one, the audience shouted each step by Skiba’s request and with that, the show was supposedly over.
Taking a cue from Against Me!, the Alkaline Trio deemed an official encore lame so they never left the stage, slowly breaking into a guitar-less cover of the Misfits’ “Some Kinda Hate” with Matt joking about Axl Rose fans not knowing who Glenn Danzig was. Soon, Alkaline Trio’s classic skull and heart logo was projected on the video screens and the opening chords of “Radio” started. Having heard how it received the strongest audience response many times before, “Radio” had everyone singing along to the point where Skiba was almost inaudible. The show ended after an epic 102 minute, 29-song set, by far the longest set I have ever seen by a punk band.
Nearly a decade has passed since the Axl Rose entity that is Guns N’ Roses began work on Chinese Democracy, a supposedly epic and ground-breaking album that will change the face of rock 'n’ roll and mainstream music as a whole. Oddly enough, the pop-punk craze began to peek around the same time in the mid-`90s prior to third wave ska’s 15 minutes of fame with quasi-emo mall punks dominating the spotlight and Billboard charts as of late. Much like the initial wave of UK bands in the late 1970s, American hardcore in the 1980s and the skate sound of the mid-to-late 1990s, the punk genre has recently been watered down and tarnished by countless copies of homogenous sound-alikes. Within the genre itself, it might be time to re-think scene politics and remember what made punk rock so captivating in the first place: the innovation, energy of the live show, dedication to fans, memorable lyrics, and a general opposition to conformity. Be they political or not, independent or major label, as long as punk acts maintain the aforementioned traits and maintain a certain level of ethos, nothing else should really matter. Perhaps it’s finally time for a clash of misfit groups to breathe new live into the punk by continuing the storied past of their predecessors. Whether or not the Alkaline Trio will be as influential as the Misfits or Against Me! breaks through on a commercial level á la the Clash remains to be seen. Nevertheless, this tour was one short step in the never-ending process to re-invent Axl Rose by playing loud and hard every night, not caring about the ticket sales or price, and changing lives on any sort of scale be they by the dozens in basements, thousands at the Quest, or simply be at the right place at the right time to prove any preconceived notions of modern punk dead wrong as everything turns out just fine.
Against Me! (7:03-7:46 PM)
- A Brief Yet Triumphant Intermission [intro]
- Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious...
- From Her Lips to God's Ears (The Energizer)
- Rice and Bread
- Reinventing Axl Rose
- You Look Like I Need a Drink
- Don't Lose Touch
- Unprotected Sex with Multiple Partners
- Sink, Florida, Sink (electric)
- New Song
- Cliché Guevara
- We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)
- San Francisco
- Nose Over Tail
- As You Were
- Enjoy Your Day
- My Little Needle
- Southern Rock
- Message From Kathlene
- Trouble Breathing
- Sorry About That
- Blue in the Face (Matt solo; dedicated to Johnny Cash)
- Every Thug Needs a Lady (Dan solo acoustic)
- Blue Carolina (Dan solo acoustic)
- Emma (Dan solo acoustic)
- Good Fucking Bye (Matt joined by Dan and Derek)
- Hell Yes
- I'm Dying Tomorrow
- Take Lots with Alcohol
- Mr. Chainsaw
- Old School Reasons
- You've Got So Far to Go
- Private Eye
- This Could Be Love
- Some Kinda Hate