Smoke or Fire / Fake Problems / Smartbomb - live in New York (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Smoke or Fire / Fake Problems / Smartbomb

live in New York (2008)

live show

Inside the dank Tap Bar area of the Knitting Factory, what promised to be a solid and succinct show was cut even more short by traffic on the Long Island and Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Why? My friend and I missed the entirety of Bridge and Tunnel's set. It was a bit of a bumout considering how consistently fantastic and passionate the band's live performance is, but I'd seen them only a few weeks prior in Brooklyn so it was hard to moan about it much. There they'd showcased a number of songs from their upcoming full-length for No Idea, which is sure to be awesome.

Smartbomb was up first for us, bearing members of No Trigger and Shock Nagasaki. I just recently evaluated their EP as decent, and the same could be said here. Both guitarists as well as the bassist contributed vocals, though the responsibility tended to favor one person. Though even with the others chiming in, the vocals were largely similar. In any event, it was a pretty good time. The band wasn't too sloppy even as they played an unrelenting fast tempo through the set, which included almost the entirety of that EP (Chaos and Lawlessness) and what I think were a bunch of even newer songs, which didn't stylistically depart too far. It was a good warmup for the show, that without having seen Bridge and Tunnel would get better and better with every set.

Set list (7:15-7:42):

  1. Barely Legal
  2. -----
  3. Begin
  4. Throw in the Towel
  5. Avoid the Lloyd
  6. -----
  7. Chaos and Lawlessness
  8. Who's the Terrorist
  9. Under Currents
  10. -----
  11. Hands on It
  12. -----
  13. Bier
  14. Standard Issue
  15. -----
  16. Django
  17. -----
  18. 750 ML
  19. -----
  20. instrumental
This was only my third time seeing Fake Problems, so while it may not have been a most difficult feat, it was the best I've witnessed them yet. Guitarist / lead vocalist Chris Farren is getting even more into the psyche of his songs' characters, and thus puts on a vivid, theatrical stage show on his own -- though it is backed up wonderfully by the energy met by his bandmates. They kicked out the jams from both last year's full-length, How Far Our Bodies Go, and the 2006 compilation of EPs, Spurs & Spokes / Bull > Matador, as well as the opener ("Adam's Song") from their new 7", Viking Wizard Eyes, Wizard Full of Lies. The twang was in full effect and lent nothing but assistance to the jovial time. Unlike Smartbomb's frequent stop-starts, FP strung together batches of songs that kept the momentum going constantly. Not a whole lot of fans were in attendance, but there was a few mouths moving and a few feet a-tapping.

Of note were two songs I didn't recognize -- if they're actually from the band's split with Sedona (which I haven't heard) or their debut demo (the track listing of which I'm not sure), then I forgive for calling them new and over-analyzing them. The first was actually a huge departure from their sound: Farren sang much more relaxed, there were no folk or alt-country tones, and the instrumentation was more noodly and travelling, much like their friends in Look Mexico. The song, carried by a ripping solo in the bridge, built to this huge, swelling part for a big emotional finish; it was super impressive and the band totally pulled it off despite it really not sounding like them. The second song was more in line with the band's signature base, even having Farren sarcastically self-referencing himself ("I want to be the American dream"). If these were actually new songs, the band's next full-length could be really interesting and varied. Overall, an obviously really fun set.

Set list (8:00-8:38):
  1. How Far Our Bodies Go
  2. Motion of the Ocean
  3. Heat on the Feet
  4. Astronaut
  5. new?
  6. -----
  7. Adam's Song
  8. Sorry, OK, Sorry, OK, Sorry
  9. Born & Raised
  10. Cannonball
  11. -----
  12. Cold on the Soul
  13. Maestro of This Rebellious Symphony
  14. new?
  15. -----
  16. To Repel Ghosts
Smoke or Fire is always a wonderful band to catch live. Even if the squeaky-clean sonic quality of last year's This Sinking Ship might have tarnished the band's gruff pop-punk for some fans, back in the live setting things are balanced perfectly. If the place has a good mix, you're pretty much guaranteed a well-performed set from a gang that lets off the drink just enough to avoid any moments of outright sloppiness. There really is no gimmick about the band -- they simply deliver fun, emotional and totally singable punk songs that looked to be tailor-made for a crowd like tonight. Speaking of which, the slow Thursday night finally found a few more dwellers entering the dark room. When the band kicked off the opening chords of "What Separates Us All," around eight sorted bodies had crowded up to the short elevation of the stage, surrounding Joe McMahon to finger-point and shout the lyrics right back into his rough-hewn face. There they remained there for the entire 40-minute set.

That type of small camaraderie made sense given the band's usual themes of community, alienation and expression. Their occasional anti-authoritarian overtones even made sense when Knitting Factory staff became vividly agitated at the rare pile-on or stage dive that was occurring. I've been to a few dozen or so shows here and never once have I seen an audience raise the ire of their employees. My guess? Probably over the fact that Joe's monitor was fucked with during the very first song, and at risk the rest of the set.

Given highlights included "The Patty Hearst Syndrome," which had one of the biggest reactions of the night, and "Shine," for the band nailing the song's desperate and pleasingly repetitive finish.

Temporary replacement bassist Gwomper (of Avail) was predictably perfect, never missing a note. However, it would've been nice to actually hear him during closer "California's Burning," as he took Joe's job performing the last few howling lines ("HEEEE-YYYY, burn it down!"), but was barely audible.

One other minor complaint would be the total lack of pre-Fat Wreck stuff. I'm not expecting to hear stuff from When the Battery Dies, but Worker's Union is still in print, and only a couple years ago "50 Cent Hearts" was a staple of the set list. That was my primary request here ("Sunday Pints" second), but as this was the second straight time I've seen the band avoid playing anything Jericho / Jericho RVA-era, I suppose they've finally been pushed out of the set list for good. Kind of a bummer, but at least they've written a lot of good songs since.

Set list (8:58-9:38):
  1. What Separates Us All
  2. -----
  3. Delawhere
  4. Melatonin
  5. Point Break
  6. -----
  7. The Patty Hearst Syndrome
  8. Fire Escapes
  9. Cops and Drugs
  10. -----
  11. Shine
  12. Filter
  13. -----
  14. Culture as Given
  15. Irish Handcuffs
  16. -----
  17. Cryin' Shame
  18. -----
  19. I'll Be Gone
  20. Little Bohemia
  21. -----
  22. California's Burning
Another really good punk show at the Knit front to back. These are a rarity, but when they come as solid as they did here and run with such brevity, you almost feel bad registering any sort of real complaint.