T.S.O.L/The Scandals - Live in Detroit (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

T.S.O.L / The Scandals

Live in Detroit (2016)

live show

When Mrs. Trauma asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I told her the only thing on my list was to go see a couple of old man punk shows. I’ve gotten to the age where I value experiences far more than things. Plus, a lot of the guys in my favorite bands are starting to get old. Some of them are already dead. I’m just not that confident that I’ll get many more chances to see some of the classic 80’s punk and hardcore bands. Believe it or not, some of these guys didn’t take very good care of themselves. (Shocking, I know.) The first show I had in mind was True Sounds of Liberty in Detroit on the opening night of their mostly East coast tour.

Mrs. Trauma has been to many shows over the years (probably a lot more than your buddy with the Discharge backpatch), but she’s mostly retired now. Someone has to stay home and take care of the adult stuff, so my 15 year old daughter Alex joined me for the three hour drive to Small’s on Friday May 20th. (Two days after the previously mentioned B-day.) Small’s is actually in Hamtramck, an independent city completed surrounded by Detroit. It was once a mostly Polish enclave, but now also has a large Arab population. Catholic churches and mosques and bars and Middle Eastern restaurants all coexist relatively peacefully. There’s plenty of on street parking, and it’s far less menacing than most Detroit neighborhoods.

Because we weren't sure how long it would take to get there, we actually showed up a little early and caught both of the local bands. Full Monty started things off, and incorporated elements of ska and classic rock into their upbeat punk. The young trio’s singer had a pretty wide vocal range, and even sang a little falsetto. The Black List was a quartet of older guys (probably almost my age) who combined blue collar rock and roll with straight ahead punk. Maybe like Bob Seger meets The Stooges. Both bands played solid half hour sets, but most of the older crowd hung out by the bar and didn’t even bother listening.

I’d heard good things about The Scandals, but hadn’t had much of a chance to check them out. The New Jersey quartet played 30 minutes of inspired, gritty, earnest, working class punk. They reminded me of a harder, more punk version of The Gaslight Anthem. (Is it even possible for a band from Jersey to avoid sounding at least a little like The Boss?) They were Alex Trauma’s favorite band of the night. She bought a T-shirt and I grabbed a CD. (Alex is trying to beef up her band shirt collection. She wants to be like her dad and have far more black T’s than anyone could ever use.) The Scandals are friendly, hard touring guys, and I suspect they have a bright future ahead of them.

I’d seen TSOL a couple of times over the years. Most recently I watched them play a ripping set at Riot Fest Chicago in 2014. While punk festivals have allowed me to see a ton of great bands, they really just make me want to see those same groups in a more intimate setting. Small’s certainly fits the bill. The stage is in a small room in the back that really lets you get up close and personal with the bands. TSOL started out with “World War lll” and proceeded to play an hour or so of mostly their greatest hits. I didn’t take any notes (I was just trying to enjoy myself), but off the top of my head I can remember “The Sound of Laughter”, “Terrible People”, “Superficial Love”, “Dance With Me”, “Man and Machine”, “The Triangle”, “In My Head”, “Sodomy” and “Abolish Government/Silent Majority”. They also snuck in a couple of new songs from their soon to be released LP The Trigger Complex.

One of the cool things about TSOL is that ¾ of the classic line-up is still in tact. Jack Grishom looked at home stomping around the stage like a caged animal. He was dapper in his size 50 something custom black suit with skulls and crossbones embroidered on the lapels. He can spit out lyrics and tell off color stories with the best of them. “A kid came up to me after a show the other day and told me that I slept with his grandma” and “My current wife wasn’t even born the first time we played Detroit” were a couple of my favorites. He’s a charismatic frontman and a gregarious guy in general. (I was thrilled when he personalized a copy of his memoir An American Demon for me.) Guitarist Ron Emory and bassist Mike Roche are both starting to look a little long in the tooth, but they still sound awesome. I’m not sure who the drummer was, but he really made me appreciate how important the rhythms are to the overall sound. Ultimately, it was a pretty great performance.

The older punk bands don’t seem to draw as well as they used to. Maybe a couple hundred on a good night. There were a few second (third?) generation ‘fans’ there, but most of them looked like they were being held at gunpoint. Of all the kids with X’s on their hands, my Alex seemed to be having the best time. Alex and I have gone to quite a few shows over the last couple of years, but this was the first time I brought her into a true dive bar. It was fun to watch her take it all in. She likes to stand up front, and was caught off guard when the geriatric mosh pit broke out. The viciousness of the pit was largely dependent on the age of the song being played. The stuff from the first two EP’s and Dance With Me inspired the most violence. When someone shouted a request for “Code Blue”, Grishom said they always play that one last so that everyone leaves with a good feeling. That’s exactly how they ended the night. It’s not easy to talk to your teen about necrophilia. Luckily, TSOL is still here to help us get the conversation started.