As I’m sure most of you are aware by now from last week’s ending at the Troubador show in Hollywood and the subsequent cancellation of their tour in Mexico, Dan and Ryan officially announced the end of the 15-year-long ska-punk institution, the Suicide Machines. While I didn’t initially intend to write a review, I felt I owed it to fellow fans who weren’t there, my account of the night this band took the stage for the last time. The review is pretty long but I figured some of you guys would want as much detail as possible so here goes.
With Operation Ivy playing during set changes all night, it looked like the bill with Buck-O-Nine and Toys That Kill was going to be a great one. I caught the tail end of Los Kung Fu Monkeys set and while not knowing anything about the band, they did put on a fun, high energy set. With a small skank pit on the floor, the 6-person ska-punk outfit were rocking it hard on stage, especially the two front-men taking turns at the mic. After raising a beer and giving thanks to the Suicide Machines for taking them on their Mexican tour, they finished and up next was Toys That Kill.
Having just recently gotten into this band, I was looking forward to their set and they did not disappoint. Because they were the odd band out on this ska-heavy lineup, the crowd response was somewhat subdued despite the band's request for people to get moving. But that didn’t stop them from slamming out a fun, rockin’ set. And it paid off because I thought more people were getting into their set as it wore on. Jay from the Suicide Machines certainly was enjoying it from the floor. The band was tight as they charged through with short, infectious melodic punk bursts and jagged tempo shifts that seemed to spark more and more of people's attention. And by the end, most in the audience were paying full attention. Some songs I recognized were “Bullet from the Sky,” “Runnin' the Front,” and “Little Bit Stranger.” By the end, I was thoroughly impressed and looking forward to more from them in the future.
Buck-O-Nine was next and the crowd swelled to fill the entire floor. I never got into these guys back in the `90s ska craze, but it was obvious their following here in southern California is still huge. The skank pit was huge and the energy was through the roof as the band whipped through their poppy ska/punk songs. The band fed off the energy and good vibes of the crowd, especially the horn section that was dancing all night and catching air early and often. The lead singer acknowledged that the band had been off the radar for some time but were excited to be playing again and were looking to do more shows in the future. A great cover of Operation Ivy’s “Soundsystem” finished the set that had the floor shaking in one massive circle pit. I still can’t say I’ll ever be a big fan of these guys but they put on a good performance tonight.
Having already seen the Suicide Machines a handful of times, I was getting pumped for another face-melting experience from one of the best live bands I’d ever seen. During the set change, I noticed Danny Lore from Against All Authority setting up on bass and the new drummer as well. I had heard the band was going through some lineup changes, so none of this was too surprising. And when MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” blared from the speakers and the guys filed down the steps and onto the stage, the crowd started to move up. Everybody was ready. Jay, sporting a hippie/full beard look, was ready. And as soon as “SOS” ripped through the speakers, the crowd exploded and bodies were flying. But almost immediately into the second song, Dan was having trouble with his guitar cabinet as the sound would come in and out, forcing the band to stop and start again. The guy was visibly pissed but Jay urged him to play through and it was game on again.
Some fans there said Dan’s guitar was making awful noises throughout the set and that he looked like he couldn’t take it anymore, but I honestly was too busy singing along and dancing to notice. I thought the band was still pumping full throttle skacore like only they can. And the crowd went off in a stage diving, circle pitting, pogoing frenzy like only we could oblige. Early on, I was glad to see “All My People” from in my opinion the underrated Steal This Record album. One of my favorite hardcore tracks off Battle Hymns, “Hating Hate” also got a turn. They blazed through live staples and crowd favorites “Someone,” “Break the Glass” and “Islands” in anthemic fashion while the hardcore piss of “Burning in the Aftermath,” “DDT,” and “War Profiteering Is Killing Us All” had the circle pit raging. That left me needing a breather for a few songs and convinced me yet again they were hands down my favorite live band.
It was a bit strange seeing Danny off to the side instead of front and center tearing through AAA songs but the guy was holding down the low end admirably. The new drummer Steve, who Jay said they had practiced with just once and who was also skipping his college graduation to play with the band, was a bit out of sync on some songs and had his share of miscues. But overall, he played as well as you could have asked considering he just joined the band.
Jay did his thing. Whether he was stage diving, passing the mic all over, or singing with the fist-pumping crowd, he seemed to love every minute of it. Always in a talkative mood, he commented on how he wasn’t down with the recent Germs reunion and talked about how his “gringo” ass could‘ve been murdered during their trip to Puerto Rico, which got a few laughs from the crowd. Jay then started to reflect on the Troubador show I saw last August. He thanked everyone who was there that night for giving him one of the greatest shows he’d ever seen. The band that blew the roof off the house and the near riotous crowd that night reminded him why he loved punk rock so much. Thanking all the bands on the bill, he was in a truly appreciative mood and in hindsight, perhaps knowing the end was near. And then, after about a half-hour, everything came to a stop. The band finished “War Profiteering Is Killing Us All” and left the stage to which I thought seemed like a much shorter set than usual. The clapping for an encore ensued for a few minutes only to have the stage lights and the house music turned on. Now, there was just mass confusion as we all looked at each other, some booing, some leaving.
Jay came back on stage to give a thanks to the crowd and signaled that the set was indeed finished. People were getting even more annoyed now and chanting for one more song. Another few minutes went by before Jay finally agreed to do one more: “Vans Song.” Dan was nowhere to be found so a drum 'n' bass acapella version would have to do to, which Jay asked for someone who knew the song cold. In response? Half the crowd invaded the stage, the only way to finish off a Suicide Machines set. And with his friends surrounding him, off they went into more chaos. One guy started crowd surfing on stage before being thrown into the audience (got caught). It didn’t matter that the pissed off security guy was trying to shove people off stage -- the band continued on, the fans continued on, and nobody gave a shit. And that was the end. The real end as we now know.
Here’s where I ramble a bit and tell you my story so skip the rest if you’d like. It was a true privilege to have seen their last show. No, not their last show, any show of theirs. We often talk about the gateway bands that got us into punk rock. I didn’t jump right into the Ramones or Black Flag or the Dead Kennedys but took a more circuitous route via ska and Destruction by Definition in the summer of 1997. For someone who never really fit in anywhere, they opened my eyes to a whole world of possibilities that were limitless, vast and liberating in a way that suddenly made almost my entire music collection obsolete. In this world, I was drawn to a sense of belonging. The band's love for the music was seemingly only matched by their love for the fans and vice versa. Integrity, camaraderie, equality, mutual respect, and the passion for it all, these guys embody the true spirit of punk rock and they will have influenced my life in more ways than they’ll never know. I will always be grateful to them for that.
It may have been a bittersweet ending, but what a ride it’s been. If my last memory of the band is of them on stage with 50 kids in a crazy, chaotic finale, I’ll gladly take it. So for all the times we screamed our heads off or fucking lost control at a show or grew deaf listening to “New Girl” in our rooms for the 200th time, for all the times that guy requested “I Don’t Wanna Hear It,” and for the countless number of people you’ve inspired and changed (definitely not bad for a bunch of working class kids from Detroit), we thank everyone that has been a part of this band since Day 1. We wish you all the best of luck and say so long…and good fucking bye.
Score is for the Suicide Machines.
Set list (I may be a song or two off but this is what I remember):
- All My People
- Break the Glass
- Hating Hate
- Burning in the Aftermath
- Did You Ever Get a Feeling of Dread?
- Your Silence
- 17% 18-25
- Capitalist Suicide
- War Profiteering Is Killing Us All
- Vans Song