Halfway into Agnostic Front’s blistering set, it began to rain. Off-white gobs of something, with the consistency of gravy, dropped from the sky in quarter sized blots. For about one second I wondered what it was . . . until my olfactory glands gave me the answer: rotten milk. Rotten milk. What the fuck?! Fighting off the urge to vomit, I quickly ran to the bathroom and shared a sink with five crusty skinheads as we tried to wash off our clothes, wash off the stink. Am I too old, too jaded, too normal for thinking that this type of stuff is uncalled for in any setting? Am I not p.r. (punk rock) anymore?
They come from different worlds, different pasts, and play different styles. Agnostic Front, godfathers—hell, at this point granddaddies—of New York hardcore and TSOL, patriarchs of the Orange County punk sound couldn’t be any more different. Agnostic Front, started in the early 1980s by guitarist Vinnie Stigma and vocalist Roger Miret, are from the rough urban streets of NYC, tell their stories in two minute diatribes and bear their piss and vinegar on their flesh in tattooed glory. TSOL, now back with their original lineup of Jack Grisham, Ron Emory and Mike Roche (minus drummer Todd Barnes who sadly passed away in 1999 due to a drug-related aneurysm) are from the suburban hell of Orange County, tell their stories of angst and lily white boredom in a more melodic fashion and were once know for coming onstage donning white face makeup.
Yes, this was just one incident in an otherwise great evening. Agnostic Front and TSOL smoked their way through an evening of beautiful old school punk, hardcore and oi. Petaluma’s dinky, but legendary, and beloved Phoenix Theater was nearly sold out and full of energy. Hell, even the Phoenix’s notoriously bad PA sounded great with full force blitzkrieg rawk. But, though the milk thing was a solitary incident of any proportion, it was more like the straw that broke the camel’s back.
TSOL came on first (actually third, but I missed the first two bands drinking beer across the street at Volpi’s, where I got to listen to the joys of accordion music; but that’s another review) and immediately got to work, dazzling the crowd with their melodic onslaught. For a bunch of guys in their late 30s/early 40s they showed that age has had no effect on their stamina as they jumped from song to song in rapid-fire succession, stopping only once in the entire show to let the crowd know that the annoying chants of “Play ‘Code Blue!’” needed to stop as they would play it last. Yes, that famous song about a desire to have intercourse with corpses, would indeed be played. For many years it actually seemed like TSOL themselves (in whatever lineup happened to record) had succeeded in fucking the dead, that is, fucking the dead corpse of their name playing a lame brand of hairspray rock. I first saw this invigorated lineup two years back when they played in San Francisco with The Business. I had half-expected, from hearing their last 15 years of output, that suburbia had won, had finally warped them, bought them, sold them, made them happier, shinier, well-adjusted. But, alas, that night, and this night again they proved that there’s more than enough fight left in them to reclaim glory.
I don’t know what it is about today’s punk scene that annoys me so much. Lest you get me wrong, I have no “I miss the way things were” nostalgia about the scene, as if there existed some mythical time when punk was more pure, more whatever. Rather, I see a disturbing trend in which, every time I go to a show, many people lack the ability to distinguish “being a punk” from “being a punk ass.” Seeing as this was The Unity Tour, I was a little disappointed. Where is the unity? United as what? I got into the show for free compliments of this rag; I would have been even more upset had I shelled out twelve hard earned bones only to get rained on by someone’s idea of a funny practical joke. I’m tired of the fashion show, the uninvited slam dancer who comes from out of nowhere specifically to run into me while I’m peacefully having a good time; the fights, the cigarette burns on my clothes from some asshole waving his smoke around (not to mention the fact that an anarchist smoking a cigarette is a brutal hypocrite). Between bands, I felt disjointed and went over to Volpi’s to have a few more beers rather than compare tattoos and stories of angst.
Agnostic Front were up next, walking onstage—with the exception of Vinnie who was hobbling—as is custom to the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. And damn they flat-out rocked as Vinnie shot lightning and Roger brought the thunder while the rhythm section rained supreme. A mix of old and new, as musical molotov cocktails were lit and tossed, classics from their catalog all the way up through their most recent Dead Yuppies. Vinnie’s still the goofiest tough guy in the world and Roger’s famous intensity seemed stronger than evee, more than a few years out of the joint. I first saw the rebirth of Agnostic Front as a force, conveniently enough in Phoenix, AZ a few years back, where they rose like a fireball out of the ashes and reclaimed their territory after years of a revolving door of band members, Roger’s stint in jail and personal tragedies. There might be contenders to the throne, but for my money Agnostic Front is the best hardcore bang for the buck. Closing out the show with Cock Sparrer’s oi classic “Take Them All” was the musical highlight of a quick, efficient and mesmerizing set.
Maybe I’m too old to fit in with punk crowds. I guess my interpretation of Unity is a bit different than the guy or gal who tossed that putrid carton. Then again, maybe I’m overjudging; maybe I’m just looking for reasons to be dissatisfied. Perhaps we can all, especially that aforementioned jerkoff, learn some wisdom from Agnostic Front and TSOL. Both bands seem beyond all the bullshit, the antics, the cries for attention, the need to prove one’s authentic “punkness”. As they move into middle-age they’re content to get onstage, rock, say what they have to say and move on. No histrionics. No posturing. No bullshit. And, as Roger put across so effectively, in the song of the same title, “No Fear”. Catch the Unity Tour when it hits your town, but be sure to bring your umbrella.