1977 Tribute with Zach Quinn - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

1977 Tribute with Zach Quinn

Live in Grand Rapids (2017)

live show

Let’s face it, most touring punk bands play the same show night after night. The set I hear in Grand Rapids is similar to the one you heard in Cleveland, Milwaukee or Indianapolis the night before. Likewise, local punk shows are mostly different combinations of the same bunch of bands playing the same bunch of songs. Once in awhile, we actually get to see something unusual. Maybe even something that will only happen once. That was the case at the Pyramid Scheme in downtown GR on Friday June 9th.

The event in question was billed as a 1977 Tribute show. It promised (mostly) local musicians playing three albums from 1977 in their entirety. It was a fundraiser for Spoke Folks, a local bicycling group. The albums to be performed were two punk classics, and well, one that’s sold over 20 million copies in the US alone. I was really looking forward to hearing Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols and Television’s Marquee Moon, and was trying to keep an open mind about Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.

Never Mind the Bollocks was my first proper punk album. I originally got it on cassette in 1987. Growing up in rural Wisconsin, there was not much available to aspiring young punks. I was mostly limited to what was available from Columbia House or RCA (later BMG) record clubs. I’ve actually bought that album at least three times on different formats. Unfortunately, I never got to see the Sex Pistols live. The closest I came was when they played Detroit in 1997, but the only person I could find to go with me was a friend’s mom and I was getting a bit of a Mrs. Robinson vibe. But I digress…

The most intriguing thing about this show was who was performing Never Mind the Bollocks. Zach Quinn, the singer for PEARS, flew in from New Orleans just to play this one off show. Zachy Rotten’s supporting cast in the ‘Sexy Pistols’ was GR punk/hardcore band The Bloody LIps. Kole and Taylor (formerly of The Lippies) switched instruments for the evening, so the bass was played by Kole Vicious. Taylor and Josh got to be the other two Pistols who didn’t have great punk names. This wasn’t really a punk show, and drew a different, more normal crowd. I only recognized a handful of people. There was no circle pit and minimal body odor. Craft beer was more popular than PBR. Only a handful of us even seemed to know who Zach was.

I couldn’t help but notice that Zach was scrolling through his phone as they were about to start. I thought maybe he was trying to show some kind of cool punk indifference, but it turned out he was boning up on the lyrics. Holidays in the Sun” started things off on a strong note. Zach’s vocals were a good cross between his normal raspy howl, and Johnny Rotten’s nasally sneer. He also showed a more controlled aggression. In other words, he didn’t go full on PEARS and crawl around shirtless like a chimpanzee. He never took off his sunglasses, but did end the show flat on his back on the floor in front of the stage. Fortunately, The BL’s got the tempo right. Too many bands try to speed the Pistols up too much and lose the Chuck Berry inspired swagger that really defines their music.

Early on they announced that they only practiced twice, in order to provide an authentic Sex Pistols experience. They were also drinking copious amounts of beer. Sometimes it was chaos and other times it wasn’t. Most songs went off without a hitch, but a couple came crashing to a halt. I was close to the stage, so I could see the sideways glances between band members when someone screwed up. Honestly, their set was more about the attitude than some kind of precision. I enjoyed it immensely, and I think Zach and the guys did too. I probably remembered as many of the words as Zach as I sang along, but hardly anyone else in the audience seemed to know the songs. Not even “God Save the Queen” or “Anarchy in the UK”. I love Never Mind the Bollocks, but it’s not sacred. This was a fun set, even if they never got to the last two songs. (“New York” hasn’t aged that well, but I would have liked to hear “EMI”.) No, I didn’t feel cheated.

‘Television-esqe’ took a much different approach. They must have worked on their set for months. It took three guitars, bass, drums and the occasional keyboard, but they expertly played Marquee Moon from front to back. I watched in amazement as they flawlessly combined three independent guitar parts and an independent bass line. I had seen Television a few years prior, but being up close for this actually gave me a greater appreciation for what they do. The lead singer/lead guitarist even nailed Tom Verlaine’s vocal inflections. Between songs they gave background info about the band and the record. (Television was the first rock band to play CBGB’s. Early Television member Richard Hell’s fashion inspired Malcolm McLaren who managed the Sex Pistols. What kind of guitars they played etc…) The crowd seemed to acknowledge and appreciate the excellent musicianship.

Never Mind the Bollocks and Marquee Moon were definitely at different ends of the punk spectrum in 1977. Sex Pistols were steeped in nihilism, while Television was really more inspired by the NY art rock scene. Both ‘Sexy Pistols’ and ‘Television-esqe’ managed to capture the essence of what their more famous counterparts were doing 40 years ago. They were both enjoyable in their own way and combined to make a for a thoroughly entertaining show. As for the eleven piece Fleetwood Mac tribute band, I bailed before they started. Why ruin a perfectly good evening by ending it with the type of soft rock that punk was railing against?