Anti-Flag's "Die for the Government" was a very important record to me when I was thirteen or fourteen. The band's release on New Red Archives put them, and with it melodic political punk rock, on the American map of the 1990's. Having only seen them twice before (ironically both times at a large festival-style concert tour I would rather not mention for fear of my inbox being inundated with accusations of being a poseur), I jumped on the chance to see them play a relatively new venue in Brooklyn, the Warsaw, at the Polish National Home. Hey, Joe Strummer tickets were forty dollars...
My girlfriend and I arrived late and unfortunately missed the opening band, The Code, so I'm afraid I cannot comment on their performance.
We walked into the massive hall as Strike Anywhere took to the stage. Being a pretty tough-to-impress, self-proclaimed, psuedo-scholar-snob of punk music, it makes it all the more profound that my initial reaction to their sound and presence was "Wow." Having never seen or heard them before I didn't know what to think of the set other than that the guitar work was top notch and they dispensed the rock in thick, heavy doses. Their sound is assaulting, relying very much on creating tense, dissonant guitar leads that border on harmonic and resolving them with muted, thudding power chords pounding in sync with the percussion and bass. The vocals were a unique contribution to the tasteful auditory soup. When the singer screams, one is reminded of Canada's sadly-forgotten I-Spy and even a little of the legendary Born Against. The 'straight', less screechy parts don't always land on the right notes, but the band's engaging, energetic appearance on stage more than makes up for this distraction. Last but not least, I was delighted to see a group of such slick, rockin' young lads take such a political angle with their music. We need more of this, when we've got a president who waves at Stevie Wonder. Do yourself a favor and support these guys -- pick up their CD "Change is a Sound," and see 'em when they come to your town.
Next was Good Riddance, who I've never really listened to. I wasn't blown away by their performance but that also must be attributed to the latter. They are skilled musicians and rolled through their set with ease, but a couple of things marred their performance. 1) the singer, who's name, regrettably, I do not know, seemed unusally pissed off and became irritated with the crowd who, 2), repeatedly voiced that they "didn't wanna hear no emo shit" and wanted "the old punk stuff." A lot of kids seemed to be enjoying the music, however, and displayed this by stage diving, often eighteen or twenty-six times individually. At one point the singer asked "How many of you are having a good time?" -- the standard rhetorical stage-talk bands use to excite the crowd a bit. The crowd claps and yells a bit and he responds "Good, because in about two minutes you won't be anymore." Not sure what this meant, I tried to enjoy the rest of their set and made my way to the front to witness the headliners of the evening.
Anti-Flag raised a banner with the logo that graces the cover of their new half-live, half-studio album "Mobilize": a star made of broken guns...very Crass-inspired. The bassist came out and asked that their be no stage-diving because the hall-owners were worried (of too many of the eight hundred pre-teens breaking their necks...parents sueing, etc., I suppose). Much nodding and agreement ensued. When the band actually came out the squealing reached new heights of irritation and annoyance. I was surrounded by a sea of middle-school girls in well-designed babydoll t-shirts proclaiming the death of lady liberty and the martyrdom of the oppressed. Now, Anti-Flag's political stance was one of the things that originally attracted me to the band as a young man, but this seemed to be a twisted incarnation of that stance -- a mob of young people who's parents bought them tickets to the show on their credit cards, dropped off in Audi's and Mercedes', given money to buy t-shirts deploring the plight of the working class in a corporate-run political state, singing along to anthems of struggle and I, in the middle of all of it, asking myself if I looked this silly when i was thirteen. But hey, maybe this sort of irony only happens when they play close to Long Island.
Anti-Flag played a pretty straight-forward, generally uninteresting set. They said the same things they always do about how "this country is really fucked up but if we work together we can totally make it better and take it out of the hands of the fucking bastards who wanna send us to a fucking war we're too smart to fight in," which left me nodding in agreement with my head cocked, wincing. I don't intend to spark a debate about selling-out and the inherent contradictions in the white middle-class phenomenon that is the American punk scene. All I intend to communicate is that Anti-Flag appeared to be a well-oiled machine. They could've been lip-syncing it was so humdrum. I didn't see or hear much that inspired me, but hey, maybe I'm just a jaded old fuck (at eighteen). Or maybe it's just that they had been on tour for two months straight when I saw them?
Oh, and by the way, first thing my girlfriend and I see on our way out the door: three punkette fifteen year-olds climbing into a Mercedes, mom in front. I don't know what to make of that. Do you?