Then current album: In All’s case, Percolater.
Opening act: Chemical People
Back of ticket ad: KLSX again? Do you never stop?
And welcome back to Not Just the Ticket — both my lengthy vacation and the last week and a half recovering from it (along with the July 4th holiday) were a nice little drift away from the cycle just to enjoy a bit of a mid-year break. Time to get back into the swing of things though with…
…one of the most unlikely shows I ever remember attending.
Not entirely unlikely, though, and not because I was hating the bands involved or didn’t care. But in a weird way this show makes me think of a mindset, a scene, something that I never fully got or felt myself being a part of at any point from then to now. Not too surprising in retrospect anyway, but it’s interesting to sense how the weight of expectations can play out.
If I had grown up in LA, or OC, or Long Beach or any number of other points between, it’s likely that more of homegrown punk would have been very important to me, perhaps even crucial. I’m not really positive that would have happened — I had no interest in and no knowledge of anything remotely like it when I was in San Diego for my high school years, and it’s entirely likely I would have similarly skipped past things up in LA and thereabouts. By the time I was figuring out in the late eighties that there was a label called SST that had released a lot of notable albums by notable bands, the legend was already established — Black Flag was long gone, Sonic Youth had moved to Geffen, Husker Du had recently broken up and I couldn’t tell you who fIREHOSE were, much less the Minutemen. I learned more as I went and all but it already felt like something retrospective.
One of the similarly ‘they’re great!…oh, they’re gone’ acts for me was the Descendents, who had formed, recorded, broken up, reunited, recorded, broken up again, or more accurately had slightly transmogrified into All. SST had gone to the trouble of essentially creating a label for them, Cruz, and this show was a bit of a label showcase seeing as all three acts were on the roster. I’m pretty sure I’ve done All Music Guide reviews of all three bands now that I think of it, but I almost don’t want to go back and look at those since that’s almost a false memory now, something that is so further removed from the time I even did those reviews that it’s all a blur.
So what prompted going to the show I’m not sure — I had to have at least vaguely enjoyed one of the bands enough to want to go, or maybe it was the price or the sense that they were all ‘great live’ from various sources. I might have gone with Steve M. and crew, as Steve was very much a Descendents fan (possibly an All one as well), and again, I think that had a lot to do with his time and place, a sarcastic character growing up in Orange County that appreciated the abbreviated snottiness and sometimes suddenly heartfelt emotions that spilled out from both bands.
This was a Palace show that I didn’t bother getting up close for — not a unique experience but this one feels even more disconnected in the mind for me. It’s as if I was just wanting to ‘see a show’ in the same way that people talk about going to ‘see a movie’ or something similar, the idea that there is something out there and something will suggest itself. It’s something that feels natural to others, maybe, but not to myself — just simply the way I look at the world. I don’t and never have regularly gone to the movies once a week, for example, and even at the height of my showgoing times like this situation I never just went to a show for the sheer sake of going to one, however much this show feels like that in retrospect. (A quick double check of the dates on the ticket, for instance, shows I would have bought this a month in advance.)
I do remember that the crowd was, to my mind, surprisingly young — and of course keep in mind I’m only 21 at this stage in my life, so you can call it the narcissism of small differences. At the same time, it made perfect sense — so many of All’s songs, whether current or inherited from the earlier band incarnation, were as noted about adolescent snottiness, often very specifically, and there was a perfect way in which they were a bit of a bridge band between, say, laughing your head off at Weird Al and then wondering what else was out there. So the fact that so many people at the show seemed like they were in the younger grades of high school wasn’t as surprising in retrospect, and perhaps similarly that it was a pretty gender balanced crowd as well. It might have been my first real encounter with a subculture of teen punkdom that I really don’t remember from my own school time, the closest thing would have been the goth crew.
Chemical People would have kicked things off and since they would have lacked the various posing porn stars that appeared on their formal release covers I can’t say there was much else memorable to note beyond the fact that they were there. Like much of the show, though, there’s retrospective…not amusement, maybe, but bemusement at how much of what was going on would yet become more formally codified in the mainstream not too far in the future, given Blink-182 and Jenna Jameson’s own cover appearance. It also shows further that the supposed differences between punk and metal at the time, as hair metal as such in LA was starting to grind away down into nothing, really were even more of a narcissism of small differences than the one previously noted. They came, they played, they left.
As did Big Drill Car. It’s a blank spot with both bands, I couldn’t tell you anything about what they looked like, what they did, it’s the vaguest smear in my head, beyond thinking that while they had fans, the majority of people there simply weren’t caring. I could be totally wrong, but there’s that sense of an impression left, something that tells you that you’re in the middle of something bigger, that just wasn’t present here at all.
All was definitely different, and a lot more sticks in the brain — [EDIT: though I'd confused the lead singers! I initially thought Dave Smalley was singing for them at this point but my friend Jason L. said it was Scott Reynolds doing the trick; he was a hell of a great showman, one of the few shirtless guys I've ever seen on stage who didn't seem to be embarrassing himself by going that route]. Stephen Egerton’s bald head and hilarious face-pulling, Karl Alvarez holding down the bass and of course Bill Stevenson’s brawl it out drumming, all of it wasn’t merely crash-and-bash — they actually looked like they were having fun up there, and the crowd really, really got into it. It was the moment where what had been a bit of a flat drag suddenly pepped up and locked in.
I remember two other key moments — their cover of Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue,” given an appropriately manic run-through, and Stevenson stepping out from behind the drums at the encore to mention that his dad was in the audience and to dedicate the then recent song “Egg Timer” to him. It was all very heartfelt and sweet even, that same sense of vulnerability that occasionally cracked through in the songs doing so here in real life.
Yet time also brought something else to the fore. A couple of Descendents songs had always bothered me due verging from snottiness into downright insults against gay men, women, the all too familiar targets of a privileged male thinking themselves under attack. Given that middle/high school is a time of frustrated annoyance and general stupidity, I had let that slip by if a bit uncomfortably — it seemed to match the mindset, if you like — but a couple of years ago I read Jon Ginoli’s Deflowered, his excellent, wonderful autobiography on life before and in Pansy Division. It’s a great read, one of the best books of its kind, and the stories in it are to be treasured (his takedown of Bon Jovi at a radio festival circa 1994 is why I will never give said group the benefit of retrospective rehabilitation — seriously, to hell with those clowns).
At one point in the book, Ginoli talks about playing either with All or the Descendents, probably the latter after their return, and talking with the band members about those lyrics. Turns out that Stevenson is or at least still then was an extremely bitter homophobe, not above launching rants on stage in response to such questions. That side wasn’t shown at the show I was at, but it now colors the memories, like I was skating over something that I shouldn’t've been so easy on. Inasmuch as it is further proof that humans are complicated at best, fair enough — but some things really do cross a line and stay there.
I can’t regret a show that I did enjoy in the end. Yet the memories are that much more uneasy now.