This past Friday, we threw the Punknews Summer Soiree 2 in Philly! Pushin'' It 2 the Limit opened the show. Then, Joe Jack Talcum of the The Dead Milkmen did a full band set with Dan and Woods Stevens. Finally, Stza of Leftover Crack did a full band set backed by Crazy and the Brains!
Check out a re-cap of the evening below.
The Punknews Summer Soiree 2
When Spring rolled around, I must admit that I was considering not even throwing a sequel to the first Summer Soiree. World/Inferno Friendship Society completely blew the house down at a sweltering and electric packed show last year, so how in the world could I ever hope to out-bombast the megaton wattage of the nine piece World/Inferno. The short answer is you can’t out-do the Inferno, so I considered the canning the whole thing as a one-and-done spectacular.
But, being that last year was such a blast, that didn’t seem to sit right. If there’s one thing we don’t do at Punknews, then that’s play things safe. So, I set about pondering how I could, not out-do WIFS, but differentiate from that. After some spitballing with the rest of the Punknews crew, I decided to compliment Summer Soiree 1 not with more grandiosity, but with intimacy.
My first communication went out to that colossus welded inside the fleshy frame of a five foot four man, Joe Jack Talcum, he-of-the-Dead-Milkmen. Joe Jack, being an eternal champion of punk rock and the nicest guy in Philadelphia, was down for our wacky idea even though none of us knew exactly how the show would manifest.
Next up, I asked one of my favorite newer bands, Crazy & the Brains to act as main support. These days, CatB function as a five piece berserk electric band, pulling equally from Johnny Thunders and John Waters, but in their earliest form, they were a folk-punk duo informed by The Moldy Peaches and Mischief Brew acoustic, so the stripped down side of them would compliment Joe Jack nicely.
Then, late one night, at about two AM, I had the insane idea to make the show not a one-headliner evening, but a dual head-liner. We’ve never had a double headline bill and, for us, if there is one time of the year to pull out all the stops and really swing for the fences, it’s the Summer Soiree. In a blind grasp, I reached out to Stza of the iconic and at this point legendary Leftover Crack, to see if he would be interested in coming down and playing alongside Joe. I then forgot about the hair brained idea and fell asleep.
But, by the time I awoke the next morning, much to my great surprise, Stza was excited to play with Joe Jack, one of his great musical influences, except he too had a bold idea: what if, instead of Stza playing solo, he played a full Choking Victim/Leftover Crack set backed by Crazy and the Brains? It was a plan so insane that there was no way it couldn’t work… right…?
I made a frantic phonecall to CatB and lo and behold, they were mega LoC fans and were up for the challenge. Suddenly, my plan for a “quiet” evening transmutated into a house rocking, amp blasting, one-time-only special event! Now that the show went from coffee house style to raging punk rock show, I had to bring Philly’s baddest ass headrippers , Pushin It 2 the Limit into the mix. Meanwhile, Joe Jack had the A-plus idea to not only perform solo, but to perform a band set along with Dan Stevens (also of the Milkmen) and Dan’s cousin, Woods. The party was now oooooonnnn.
Realizing the size of the bite that they had bit off, Stza and CatB set into the task of learning to work with each other and work up an entire set from scratch. Keep in mind that they had never even played a single note with each other and the show was a mere 60 days away!
My work was cut out for me as well, having to pull together goodie bags for the audience, create an entire Soiree centric board game (starring all the bands playing) to be included in the goodie bag, get my door people sorted out, figure out the finances, and, oh yeah… get a venue….
I opted for Creep Records as our venue. The Philly record store has a venue with a small-ish stage attached to it, the caveat being that shows must be over by 10pm due to sound ordinances. It’s a small room and strictly DIY, but we can do what we want to do without the hassle of bars, alcohol sales, or bouncers bothering us, so no doubt, this was the place for us.
With just 60 days counting down until the big event all of us furiously set to work on our respective tasks getting ready for this likely ill-advised ventured. Stza and CatB began building a set. Joe Jack, Dan Stevens, and Woods prepared for their first ever trip performance. Pushin It 2 the Limit rehearsed their brand new songs. And I e-mailed everyone involved every seven and a half minutes (ask Audrey of Pittl) with questions, concerns, demands, and riddles.
And then, the evening rolled around.
Sadly, I was without Dynamite Adam white this year, as he inexplicably chose familial duties over a zany, ulcer inducing, money losing venture.
So, it was just me to ringlead this crusade. Luckily, I had Ginger of the Droogettes running the doors for me and Philly icon and voice actor (true fact) KB Vickers acting as my second-in-command. I changed into the Punknews blue and white tuxedo, complete with cummerbund and top hat at 6:50. Doors were at 7:00 and the show kicked off at 7:30 and the show was sold old, so we were basically in great shape.
Except that, the only problem was that Pushin it 2 the Limit hadn’t shown up yet, Crazy & the Brains hadn’t shown up yet, and Stza hadn’t shown up yet. The only guy that was actually there was Joe Jack Talcum, who had been there since 5:30 because he is a divine human being.
Then, suddenly, Pittl showed up… well, 66% of them did. The problem was that Audrey was running late because she had the best answer for any band to be running late and I earnestly would not have been hurt if they had just canceled. Except that Pittl never say die, so bassist Leta asked if we could push back the show. The problem with that was we had a very tight schedule. I asked Leta if she could do one of her solo sets and she basically did that thing from Warner Brother cartoons where someone pulls has his collar and makes a “Eeeeeaaaahhhhh…” sound. 7:44 hit the clock and suddenly, that punk rock champion Audrey Crach blasted through the backdoor. With nary a word, she zapped into the bathroom, changed into her Pittl gear and was back on stage with bass in hand in a mere 90 seconds. Now that’s a trooper.
And just before Pittl was about to play, one of them asked me, “oh is it cool if I park in the permit parking only zone?” At just about the same time, the tow truck man came bounding down the street, salivating and laughing. If you live in Philly, surely you know how bizarrely efficient the towing operation is and you must also wonder why nothing else in the city works as “perfectly” as the car snatch crew?
With seconds to spare, KB and DJ Ryan Chitty held a gigantic banner in front of the stage that simply read “Soiree.” Vivaldi drifted across the speakers, setting the audience a-kilter. Suddenly, an explosion ripped across the speakers while propulsive New Orleans bounce music blasted out with a percussive tribal beat. I screamed on the mic, “Philadephia, make some nooooise!” The crowd went wild. I yelled, are you ready “Crazy and the Brainaaaaains!???” They went wilder as I “made it rain” with fake million dollar bills with the self affirming message of “your image here” instead of a presidential figure in the center. I screamed, “are you ready for Stza Craaaaaaack!!!!?” The crowd were foaming at the mouth by this point. I then screamed out “Are you ready for Crazy and the Braiins!!!??” because I had forgotten my place, so I immediately belted out “Are you ready for Joe Jack Taaalcummmmmm?!!!!” and the place went mad. Finally, I shredded my voice with a bellow, “are you ready for Pushin it 2 theeee limiiiiiit!!!!!”
A louder explosion rocked the speakers, I tore the banner down and slammed into the crowd, revealing the triumvirate of Pittl in neon green jerseys, each that read “PEFRECT TEN” and purple skirts. They howled out “WE’RE PUSHIN IT 2 THE LIMIIIIIT” and they smashed into a sound cacophony that shook the room, before immediately ripping into a berserk rendition of one of their newest, hard charging rippers. They were loud and fast and as bombastic as I’ve ever seen them, their songs rocketing along without abandon, yet a certain whimsy was ever present in their neon covered assault.
But meanly, just as I had rolled into the crowd, I sprinted out the back door, with the keys to the Pi2tl vehicle in my hand. Just as Mister Tow-Truck was advancing on the vehicle, I lunged into the open window, fired that baby up, and slammed it out of the parking spot as the truck driver cursed me and my mother, blaming me for stealing bread from the mouth of his children. I bolted down the block, stashed the car, and sprinted back to the venue. During the race, a guy in a BMW with lighted ground effects called out to me, “Yo bro, what does that P on the back of your jacket stand for? Polo?!” “No!,” I hollered back. “Punknews dot org. It’s a weeeebsiiiiiiiite….”
I made it back to Creep records by Pi2tl’s third or fourth song and they were killing it. Their new songs walk a confident line between pop-punk, hardcore, and thrash metal, somehow finds the humorous link between them, and then takes that and actually makes somewhat of a profound statement from that linkage. That is all to say, Pi2tl rock like now other and they were fast and furious and the crowd ate up their hard rocking, good times effect. Audrey brought thunder to boom the room. Leta shredded people’s faces off. Mike smashed the skins hard enough to make the ground quake. Of course, each song still begins with a battle cry, such as the Angela Lansbury themed “That’s all… murder she wrote!!!!” or “Secret messages… exploding under pressure!!!!!!” Pit2l are a perfect band and that’s that story.
By the end of Pit2l’s set, Stza came tumbling in. Covered in sweat and discombobulated. “I need to cool off! I just biked here!” he called out to me as he made a b-line directly for the hot floor of the venue, desperate to catch Pi2tl’s last song.
After Pi2tl’s set, two-tone ska bounced off the speakers as KB and I went around collecting donations for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital via raffle tickets. The prize? An original painting by Jesse Michaels! Not too shabby!
Next, Joe Jack Talcum took the stage with Dan and Woods Stevens. Ever a humble man, Joe Jack announced, “Hi, I’m Joe ,” to the crowd as if the entire crowd didn’t know who he was and wasn’t waiting with bated breath for his set. Listen, some people are just people (you and I, for instance) and some people are pulled from a different cosmic ether all together. Joe Jack is one of these people. The man may stand a mere 65 inches, but his presence fills a room.
The Joe Jack trio played an astounding set, mixing Milkmen cuts about equally with the equally moving (and often hilarious) Joe Jack solo tracks. (“Dean’s Dream” was especially awesome.) Joe has the rare distinction of being able to mix well-worn tunes along with rarities and make them all seem equally important. He’s able to play each song with the same enthusiasm, care, and conviction as if he just wrote it last week. He’s able to present new songs and show that he’s an artist that has always stayed true to his core essence, but has grown as a poet.
Most of my favorite bands destroy stages with volume. Joe conclusively proved that this is not the only route. Most Joe Jack solo tunes rely on nuance, humor, and raw skill as they do melody, and he was able to completely hold the room down with quieter, introspective songs. Though, it was equally exciting when he revved it up with tracks like “I walk the thinnest line” that had the whole room bopping, in part in thanks, to the power punch of the dual-Stevens bass and guitar.
Just before that track, Joe said, “I think Sturgeon is playing with us… where is he?” I opened the back door and called out to Stza and said, “Sturgeon! Joe is asking for you.” Sturgeon, who had his guitar bent over his knee was strumming furiously! “I want to get this just right!” he said. Joe, ever a guy that can roll with the punches, then kicked out an audible before Sturgeon made it to the stage, and all four played a spectacular version of “Dollar Signs in Her Eyes.” Joe Jack then finished his set with a few more classics, including “The Badger Song.” The may be punk rock champions as great as Joe Jack, but surely, there are none greater.
After that set, we auctioned off the painting to one lucky winner, Joe Jack pulling the winning ticket for good luck, while crazy & the Brains began to set up.
Finally, CatB ripped into their own mini-set, focusing on their more well known songs. “Candied Yamz” got a smashing rendition. “Let Me Go” was brought back to rough up the joint. “Say My Name” got the place jumping.
CatB are one of the most unique bands out there. Somehow, they are able to merged the raw power of the first wave of punk rock with a certain art-rock whimsy, via the xylophone as played by Jeff Rubin. Frontman Chris Urban has one of the most unique personalities and punk and he put that to good use with his askew view of th world. At the Soiree, their unique flavor caught some people off guard who were immediate enchanted by this bold, striking sound. Yes, it was loud music, and perhaps even violent sounding to a degree, but it was a raw power that invited people to join the party, rather than blast them out. This band is stellar.
And then, in a flash, Stza took the stage and the Stza + Crazy & the Brains band blasted into the Choking Victim classic, “500 channels.” To my surprise, the song was super fast and super heavy, retaining a crust rumble but also an almost hardcore attack. Sturgeon for his part was on fire. He still has that bewitching snarl in his voice, yet he’s able to sustain a certain firepower in his delivery that was able to rise above the enrgy and noise in the mania of the room. I can’t speak for him, but from my perspective, he seemed pumped.
As much as a madhouse as the show was before, bedlam became pandemonium. A pit broke out, people rushed to the change, and it was chaos. In fact, it was so explosive that people were literally being pushed onto the stage and were rolling into the mic stands and players.
Taking a page from the Funkmaster Flex crowd control manual (as heard on KRS-One’s third solo album), I grabbed a mic and howled, “I need everyone to take two steps BACK! Take two steps BACK!” The crowd was caught off guard and seemed kind of scared… for a moment.
Immediately after that outburst, Stza replied, “And then take two steps forward! And then two to the side! Do the hokey pokey…” Ever the swashbuckler, Sturgeon had slashed my authority to ribbons in about four seconds.
The setlist was absolutely fantastic. “Infested” was given an extended, deep greggae midsection as supplemented by CatB’s Brett’s heavy bass and drummer Jon Lango’s reggae beat. “Gay Rude Boys Unite” found guitarist Ernest Young amping up the crust-attack into a snarling, buzzing coil. CatB’s vocalist Christoph Jesus supplemented with backing vocals and an additional guitar for extra punch while Jeff Rubin’s xylophone gave all the songs a counter-dimension to the guitar heaviness.
I’ve seen Sturgeon perform in various bands about 15 or so times. This was without question, one of the best times that I’ve seen him. He alternated between guitar and just handling vocals, and he seemed amped, delivering these classics with that edged snap that only he can deliver. It’s always amazing to me that so many of these songs have such a negative message, yet this master songsmith warps them into a positive, group experience that invigorates the crowd instead of beating them down. No easy feat.
“Soon We’ll Be Dead” was absolutely amazing, with Stza trading his usual barked attack for Shane MacGowan balladry and he was a convincing, and as insightful, with the song as when it was first released over a decade ago. Truly, it was a moving and sobering moment, injected into the general zaniness and rampage of the rest of the night.
Near the end of the set, the gang rolled out all the mega-punches. First, they brought Joe Jack back on stage for an explosive rendition of “Punk Rock Girl” with Stza and Joe trading off vocals while balloons were dropped onto the audience. Wow.
Then, “Crack Rock Steady” rocked the place with a fresh and thunderous cadence. Finally, for the grand finale, Stza and crew launched into an unhinged rendition of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” which found Stza, Christoph, and the rest of the gang just totally flipping up, zapping across the stage, falling into and out of the audience, and just totally tearing the place up until everything exploding in a cacophonic supernova. That’s how you end a night.
In 2018, the battle in punk rock is often old versus new. Do we salute the past or champion the current so we don’t get washed away in nostalgia? It was extremely gratifying for me to have veterans salute their classic works while showing that their newest suff is equally potent all while having the new crew do their thing and making their own, unique mark… and then when they interacted with each other to make something new? C’est magnifique! For me, this entity that we call “punk” is at its most fully formed, most powerful, and most fun when those two poles merge into something timeless, and in this case, once-in-a-lifetime.
We have to give extra, extra, extra special thanks to Stza and Crazy and the Brains for all their very hard work to make our wacky shindig happen, to Joe Jack, Dan, and Woods for being down to help us out and give us the same attention that they would give to a 40,000 seat arena, and to Pushin it 2 the limit for being the ultimate punk rock troopers and the most dangerous band in Philly.
Also, extra special thanks to the fantastic people that helped out and gave us stuff to include in our KILLER goodie bag, Pirate’s Press, Fat Wreck Chords, Cinema Cinema, The Tossers, Coin Toss Records, and Baby Robot Media.
Also, thanks to everyone who came and helped us have such a great time. See you next year for Punknews’ 20th anniversary…