Flatfoot 56 - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Flatfoot 56

Live in Grand Rapids (2018)

live show

Flatfoot 56 has a long history with Grand Rapids. The Windy City based band has made the three hour drive to play in Furniture City many times. They used to gig regularly at beloved, but long gone venues like Jukes and Skeletones. Their love for the city is certainly mutual. That’s probably why their show on Saturday September 1st at the Pyramid Scheme felt so much like a gathering of old friends. It was also a true all ages show. There were babies, small children and people in their 60s mingling with the normal 20, 30 and 40 year old beer swilling masses.

Flatfoot 56 brought plenty of old and new friends along for support too. The Scants are one of the more popular up and coming punk bands in GR, and they opened the show. This relatively young trio plays driving, straight up punk. This was probably the first time I’d heard them play with a decent sound system, and they ripped. I liked them before, and came away even more impressed. They mostly play to a younger audience, but the music is old school enough to appeal to us decrepit punks too. I heard they’re working on a full length, and I look forward to hearing it.

Next up was Murder Party. At least a couple guys from that band have deep connections to Flatfoot 56, and have played with them quite a few times. MP have held a special place in my heart for quite a few years. When I first crawled out of the haze that was raising young children, the horror punk trio was one of the first local bands I got into. They’re not very active anymore, since their bass player Chubby moved a few hours north. Chubby (he’s actually pretty tall and thin) wasn’t going to be able to make this show, so he was replaced by on bass by Don from local favorites Bet On Rats and 78 Revolutions Per-Minute. Someone I don’t know named Nicole stepped in to cover Chubby’s significant backing vocal parts.

The band that had always been a trio had become a quartet, and were doing a fine job of playing Murder Party’s ‘greatest hits’. About halfway through their half hour plus set, I saw Chubby at the back bar. Eventually he made his way up front, and finally onto the stage. He chipped in background vocals on what was supposed to be the set closing crowd favorite, “I’ll Kill, I Swear”. Now the three had become five! Eventually Don handed over the bass, and they played two more songs in their traditional three man formation. The whole thing had a fun, celebratory feel.

I was not previously aware of the other opener, Heartside Hooligans. The half male/half female GR based four piece fought through technical difficulties to deliver a crowd pleasing 30 minute set. With hooligans in their name, I was expecting a street punk band. They were actually closer to The Gaslight Anthem with male/female vocals and faster drums. Speaking of drums, HH’s sounded really lousy. Maybe they were going for something different. Maybe they need to upgrade their equipment. It wasn’t a huge deal, but I noticed. They covered The Menzingers and MXPX, and those are good reference points for their sound too. They had a bunch of loyal fans up front, singing along with every word.

The decent sized crowd surged forward when Flatfoot 56 hit the stage. They opened with their tribute to Detroit Tigers great and all around SOB, “Ty Cobb”. It was one of three songs from last year’s excellent Odd Boat. (The other two were “Penny” and “Stutter”.) For those of you who don’t know, Flatfoot 56 is a celt punk band from the Southside of Chicago. They were originally formed by three sons of a minister in 2000, and two of the brothers remain to this day. The easiest musical reference point is probably Dropkick Murphys, back when DKM was still good.

Frontman/vocalist/guitarist Tobin Bawinkel is an imposing figure. He’s 6’10” and has a big booming voice to match. His shorter, but still fairly tall brother Kyle plays bass and chips in backing vocals. The typical punk guitar/bass/drums setup is augmented by bagpipe or mandelin. “I Believe It”, “Cain” and “Take Hold Again” were all among my favorites. They did a good job of visiting every corner of their nearly two decade career. (They also did a good job of providing the soundtrack to a rare punk rock date night with Mrs. Trauma.)

They closed with the standard/hymn “I’ll Fly Away”. (It’s not very often you see people mosh to a hymn.) That song kind of sums up Flatfoot 56’s appeal. They’ve got a gritty punk rock heart, but they’ve also got a bright, optimistic soul. I love some bleak, dystopian punk as much as the next guy, but for me, this is a necessary distraction in a world of nearly constant negativity. Their passion and earnestness are undeniable, but they manage to never come across as preachy. Even if you don’t share their particular beliefs, their music has the power to lift you up.