Smoke or Fire at the Fire. Smoke or Fire at the Fire. Smoke or Fire at the Fire. Oh man, it never stops being fun to say. A good crowd found themselves set up for a deeeeelightful small venue show from the Fat Wreck band Friday, October 3, with some help from Far from Finished, Static Radio NJ, 9:18 and Stay Sharp. Sure, things may have started off awkwardly for early concertgoers, with The Fire’s bartender insisting just a little too hard that he’d give a free shot to whoever danced to Tone Loc’s “Funky Cold Medina” and Michael Jackson’s “Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough,” but in his defense, it was totally “Freaky Friday.” Either way, once Stay Sharp starting playing in the adjoining showroom, everything was A-OK.
Philadelphia’s Stay Sharp dabbles in the catchy hardcore perfected by Kid Dynamite, although the vocals have a forcefulness more reminiscent of early Propagandhi or Good Clean Fun. Regardless of how you break down their style, though, Stay Sharp is pretty dang awesome. Plus, they have a song called “Hatfield of Dreams,” a joke that only makes sense to Southeastern Pennsylvanians and ham enthusiasts. These guys seem to open for every half-decent punk show to come through Philadelphia. I’ve seen them open for Crime in Stereo, Fake Problems, Paint It Black, the Menzingers and Smoke or Fire before, and I like them a little more each time. Either they’re getting better or I’m getting more and more addicted to this style. Either way, Stay Sharp’s brief set was an excellent opener, although the sound guy seemed to pile on the reverb for no particular reason. The echo effect was distracting at first, but as the show went on it began to strangely enhance certain performances.
The second opening act, 9:18, consisted of four fresh-faced, `90s punk-loving New Jerseyians. Boasting the kind of ramshackle quality in fellow Garden Staters the Ergs! and early Bouncing Souls, 9:18 took some time to get into their set. The group’s first few songs were sloppy in a rushed, nervous way, as if the band was spooked to be opening for Smoke or Fire. 9:18 gradually found a nice groove, however, and even threw in a Souls cover. I’m pretty sure it was “Say Anything” from The Bouncing Souls, but I’m not going to lie. I was kind of buzzed at this point.
While Stay Sharp and 9:18 were workmanlike with their sets, the onstage mood became much more relaxed once Static Radio NJ started their set. “Here’s the deal: Buy something, or we die,” the band offered, earning a few chuckles. Splitting their set between the recently released An Evening of Bad Decisions… and last year’s One for the Good Guys EP, more than a few folks wound up at the merch table. The Org’s already made the case for Static Radio NJ blending the ever-so-subtle differences between Lifetime and Kid Dynamite, so I won’t bother trying to find a new way of mentioning that. What does need to be said, though, is that Static Radio NJ is one of the most jovial up-and-coming punk/hardcore acts I’ve seen in a while. The genre sometimes gets too bogged down in spin-kicks and chest thumping; it’s refreshing to see dudes have fun by actually making music. The reverb got more prevalent during the group’s set, which the band joked about several times. In a way, though, it actually enhanced the band’s set, making the aggressive parts more intense (Quote: “It’s like I’m on a mountain”). In addition, the longing in a direct line like “When will I see you all again?” from “Green Hoody” became much more touching and profound when drenched in all those audio layers.
The Fire started to fill up during Static Radio NJ’s set, but it wasn’t until Far from Finished went on that the crowd became energized. These Boston bashers turned the audience into a churning mass of sweaty flesh and slurred New Jersey accents with their streamlined take on the Clash, Social Distortion and Dropkick Murphys. Not as reggae- or Celtic-tinged, Far from Finished is still perfectly suited for a bar show, as evidenced by the massive reaction they got. Frontman Steve Neary constantly fed off of that energy, at various points running into the crowd, even traversing tables to get to people. While I must admit to being a novice to the group’s catalog, Far from Finished won me over with their trusty chords, charming smiles and kickass tunes. Dudes had a great set, except during the part where I got knocked through a doorway into a dark alley. That sucked.
As for Smoke or Fire, they at least deserve props for soldiering on. The band got screwed for time, singer/guitarist Joe McMahon’s voice was a bit more shredded than usual from a cold and bassist Gwomper (of Avail! Swoon!) was thoroughly drunk because it was his birthday. That the band’s set ended up being pretty dang fun was a nice addition. To compensate for time, the group kept the chatter to a minimum, ripping through as much of This Sinking Ship as possible, starting with "Melatonin.” McMahon skimped on the shoutier moments of his songs to save his voice, which meant no commands that, hey, maybe you should burn a state down during “California’s Burning.” As for Gwomper, well…it was his birthday. Plus, McMahon kept him in line with the promise of the occasional homoerotic boob grab.
In spite of these hindrances, Smoke or Fire had perhaps the most fun set of the night. The Sinking Ship material sounded great live, with highlights including “Irish Handcuffs,” “The Patty Hearst Syndrome,” “I’ll Be Gone” and “What Separates Us All.” Hearing McMahon’s socio-political analysis in “What Separates Us All” (“The upper class, the middle class, the lower / We’re all one of the three / It’s true there is a color divide / It’s not black or white it’s green” goes one memorable line) is even better when he can look you in the eye. While it would’ve been nice to hear more Above the City material (No “Point Break?” Denied!), the band was wise to include the fine drinking song “Cryin’ Shame.” Concertgoers were flopping every which way throughout, so I assume I’m not the only one who had a blast.