Not Just the Ticket — #78, NOFX, December 10, 1993

NOFX, Crawford Hall

Then-current album: none, as Punk in Drublic wasn’t released for well over another half-year from this point.

Opening acts: The Muffs, Wax, DI and at least one other one…

Back of ticket ad: AT&T again urging me to ‘spell it out.’ I feel so loved.

Once again the joy of promo tickets to events. Sometimes you can tell by the hole punch but in this case the listed price of no dollars and no cents is all that I need to see. Not surprising given that this was a UCI show and all.

So, the closest I think I ever got to the Warped Tour aesthetic. Even though that didn’t kick off for another two years.

It’s more accurate to say, though, that this was a combination homegrown California punk thing combined with a demi-jockishness I never quite got into. I would have had little reason to, frankly – stepping back a ways, when it came to growing up in the eighties going to high school and all, among the many things I didn’t do was skateboard, surf, seek out local punk shows, get involved in intense discussions taken from Flipside or Maximum Rock and Roll, the list goes on. I don’t say this to criticize those who did, but I know a lot of people my age from around here who did most or all of these things, a kind of direct or indirect rebellion, or even just a matter of identity forming or testing out, which I never ended up pursuing. Whatever conclusions I was eventually reaching were often internal, private and unclear to myself until much later on, and this kind of relative sociability and social context wasn’t my thing.

The music wasn’t either, at least not directly – beyond a lot of truly big names, what knowledge I have of punk has always been more second-hand and on the side, where I’ve grown to know many people who were involved participants in many different ways. In ways, what I’ve done over time is learned to pick out more of the bands who used basic templates as launching points for whatever else they might want to try, and who did so in ways that rejected a straitjacket or else so hot-wired an approach that the results were simply undeniable. But with the generations and newer bands comes the realization that it remains a scene-as-such with such a disconnected, amorphous feeling to how it’s impacted music for me. When I was reading a story about how Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come is now considering a game-changer of a release, I’ve no doubt of it, but it’s not one that affected me at the time or now.

So getting towards NOFX – I can’t recall exactly when or where I heard of them the first time, it might have been at UCLA still but I’m not positive. We’re talking about a band that had originally formed in 1983 and is still going strong with three out of four original members (and the fourth joined back in 1991), so from this vantage point it’s an amazing run of history, really, a life defined by an idea that Fat Mike and Eric Melvin had in high school that they have pursued to the present. Again, it’s not my experience or lack thereof of the culture that they both inherited and then helped constantly define, through their releases, label associations, their own label and everything that’s come along since for them.

Somehow through all the swirl of things like shoegaze and techno and flickers of art metal and whatever else was in my head during those years either the logo or the patch or something started to spark off in my head but I never sought out their records nor knowingly listened to any – it was a case where I would have just thought, “Yeah, they’re this band and they’re punk and a lot of local punk types here like them and I hear they’re a bit…goofy?” The Green Day/Offspring breakthrough wasn’t until the following year, so it wasn’t like there was overwhelming attention paid to this show on any sort of mainstream level. But NOFX were clearly already legends to some, there was a reason why they were playing a spot as big as Crawford Hall, after all.

Jen V. hadn’t booked this show but she had given input and was part of the overall campus bunch overseeing such things so I probably did some sort of preview story and ended up with a complimentary ticket, so I wandered across campus at my own good speed to see the show on the night – it was probably the end of finals week for that quarter as well, thus a very good reason to just go see any kind of show, and why not one that was easy to get to, after all.

Having a lot of bands on the lineup and having none of them be truly huge meant there was a feeling of almost relaxed hysteria – it was packed but it wasn’t a crush, there was excitement but not insanity. It was what I more or less figured was a stereotypical punk show as such in whatever metric I used to calculate such things – and it wasn’t like I hadn’t seen notable bands at this point in venues of this size, thus the Fugazi/Offspring show two years prior to this. I basically showed up, either with Jen or met up with her when I was there, got a backstage pass as well, and started wandering around a bit.

DI I knew a little something about thanks to already being into the Adolescents via Christian Death, but not much more than that – “Johnny’s Got a Problem” was the only song that had stuck with me much but hey, that was one more than some. Casey Royer is as much a punk lifer as NOFX are, with a few years more under his belt to boot, and by that time he’d already been through the stop-start recycle of reunions and hiatuses and all that, so there was already the feeling of veterans at work happening. Not a criticism, more a sense that initial marks having been made, the rest would take of itself. I can’t remember much otherwise beyond the fact that I think Royer had long hair and said a few rude things. I watched from back on the open floor a bit and was all ‘Well hey.’

Wax I remember a little more directly, and given the band’s demi-fame over the moons via the video for “California” and the drummer ending up as a regular Jackass cast member, as well as their own reunion last year, I’m trying to say I remembered even more about the show. They probably performed “California” – the album it came from, 13 Unlucky Numbers, had already been recorded and would get its initial release the following year. I might have heard the first album as well, I think I had some sort of impression of their name from somewhere else. I do remember them doing “Somebody’s Going to Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight,” an early Fleetwood Mac thing that the Rezillos had covered; I’d finally heard said band the previous year so hearing these guys do that song in turn was a nice bit of continuity.

It had been a while since I’d seen the Muffs, when they’d done a slew of shows up in LA on their own or with others that I’d been at, and it was fun to see them again for sure. I couldn’t quite get a read on the crowd’s reaction to them – there were definitely fans there, but on balance it seemed more indifferent than either encouraging or hostile (which given dudes at shows at the time – well, to be fair, in general – was almost a given in turn). It also wasn’t the first time I’d sensed the kind of narcissism of small differences that really defined punk in so many ways, where all it took was a couple of years and one county’s distance to make it seem like everything had changed.

So that left NOFX, and I figured both for my comfort and relative safety – because things were definitely now getting hectic – I would watch from the side and back of the stage, taking great care to stay out of everyone’s way. (Always ALWAYS important – the more so if you only know one or two people out of thirty on said stage.) It almost felt anthropological, like I was observing an experience rather than participating in it in any way – I wasn’t watching the band as much as watching people watch the band, while the band played along at full speed.

It seemed to fit with my experience of punk at large in the end, taking notes of random details rather than being steeped in things to the full. But I liked the end results, and somehow the fact that I mostly saw Fat Mike from the back as the band ripped through a pretty good set seemed right. Even better, though, was when El Hefe – still the ‘new’ guy if a couple of years on from joining – busted out some trumpet solos towards the end. In fact I think he was the last guy on stage or something close to it, alternating between growly singing and playing away. Leave it to be the random moments like that – something that was and wasn’t ‘punk’ in the most stereotypical sense – that sticks most in the brain.

Not Just the Ticket — #65, The Sundays, June 5, 1993

Sundays, Crawford Hall

Then-current album: Blind

Opening act: Madder Rose

Back of ticket ad: “Superco — So. Ca.’s Electronics Lifestyle Superstore.” Are you now.

I just realized in looking at this ticket that I obviously didn’t have to pay for it, seeing as how there’s no price listed on it. It must have been either through my friend Jen V. or someone at the label but I honestly don’t ever remember talking to Geffen folks at that time…though no, I take it back, I remember some promo tapes. Hmm.

Anyway, this show, another review for the New University which isn’t online to my knowledge, and the alternate 1990s continuing in the era of alternative. And all that.

Shows that are local are always up my alley by default — I say this just having been at School of Seven Bells over at the Detroit Bar elsewhere in Costa Mesa last night, which ran late but which only took me a few minutes to get home in thanks to friend Brian E. And as had been mentioned in the Helmet entry as well as other related ones by now I was used to good shows happening at UCI, so this end-of-the-school year one was a real treat.

But even better, it was the Sundays. And I’m still glad to this day I caught them at least once.

The Sundays, in retrospect, are and remain one of the best bands of its time and place, something that just simply, seemingly effortlessly worked and, even more to the point, lasted. When they first made the big splash in the US thanks to Reading, Writing and Arithmetic back in 1990, along with the initial couple of singles before that, I don’t know if anyone would have thought about it that far down the road — for some, however much it was immediately loved, it seemed too obvious a fusion of styles, Smiths meets Cocteau Twins etc. But the real Rough Trade antecedent would have been Young Marble Giants, less in exact sound than in perfect self-contained focus on the engagements of the everyday. If the earlier band were even more delicate and understated on first blush the songs captured a perfect sense of the subtle, the quiet, the reflective, the internal debate. The Sundays were in contrast more immediate and soaring but even so, it wasn’t that far removed — I remember someone dismissing it at the time as ‘music for librarians’ and, well, given where I ended up and all, perhaps it was right.

But the slam contained a hidden truth in that the Sundays were about the undemonstrative, the seemingly effortless, the ‘this is what it is and this is all we need.’ Harriet Wheeler could have fully let loose but only did so in bursts, in moments, right when it worked, and her partner in music and life David Gavurin was similarly right on the money almost note for note, shimmering then punching it up, the rhythm section no less perfectly balanced. It seems almost insulting to label it ‘classic indie’ or ‘indie pop,’ it’s more a set of perfect sketches on how the day to day can soar and cascade, done via the medium of a rock band lineup that never sounded like it ever wanted to be in a bar or be engagingly sloppy.

The album still works for me to this day, it’s a go-to album that if ever I want to hear something and I just don’t know what in the heck to play, Reading Writing and Arithmetic is there and seems to grow a little richer each time. By the time I saw them, Blind had been released as the followup, and both it and their final album years later are definitely enjoyable even if they don’t dig anywhere as deep for me. Still, Blind gave them a bit more of an American profile in parts, and given that it was still a few more months away before the Cranberries rode their take on it all to American fame, catching them on this tour meant doing so at a high point, bigger than their first go round, with an audience that was completely in love with them.

Which is important to note in more detail — the early nineties are obviously not the stereotypes that history and collective memory creates and enforces, no period is ever like that. This whole series hopefully shows as much, but 1993 seems to linger in the general musical memory as a bit of an interregnum, a tiny one, between perceived phases. It seems only right that a show right in the middle of the year like this should happen as a result, it’s something that doesn’t fit the bill somehow. This wasn’t a club show, Crawford Hall was the same location where the Helmet show I’d mentioned in a recent entry had taken place, it can hold some thousands of folks — and as it turned out, the place was pretty well packed, if not sold out.

As mentioned I reviewed this for the New University and one thing I remember from that review was commenting on the weather, and how it was just perfect. It was too — not in a ‘welcome to summer’ sense, but in a June gloom way, but even more so. It wasn’t just that the marine layer of offshore clouds coming in as it does at that time of year, but a little rain as well, just enough of a minor storm I think — the memory may play tricks, but I do remember walking across campus and thinking how perfect it was that a band so suggestive (musically if not always lyrically) of relaxing at home on gray afternoons and taking stock of life would be playing on a day like that. It just felt right.

Madder Rose was the opening band — the only time I’d see them, as with the Sundays, and I’m also glad to have caught them at least the once. One of the many bands that just seemed to be happily and naturally releasing a great little album right around that time — their debut, Bring It Down, is a little more rocked up and out than the Sundays were, but the pairing of the two bands was inspired, Mary Lorson’s singing and lyrics not that of Wheeler’s either but with a similar ear and eye for life as it stands, engaging and memorable. I can still sing “Swim” to myself pretty much at the drop of a hat and they did that, of course, as well as a great cover medley of a Cars song (as distinct from their own “Car Song,” I should note) and one other song completely escaping me. In fact it’s bugging me I don’t remember which Cars song, “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” I think, but they did it in their own engaging slow burn style and damn if it didn’t work well. Given all the hoohah about bands of the time and place now — the Matador at 21 thing is going on this weekend as I type — it’d be nice to see them get some more credit, really.

And then the Sundays. It’s actually a set I don’t remember much of, which is a pity of course, and yet what I do remember really sticks. As with Madder Rose I was watching a little more from the side more than from front and center, standing nearer to the doors about a third of the way back from the stage front. It’s not that there was a moshpit at the show — and given the time I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone tried it for the hell of it — but I think I didn’t want to have to deal with the crush up front. It was a very ‘cool’ show in terms of its lighting and the performance, not in the sense of putting on airs, but more that, like their recorded work, this was being done with a minimum of fuss — no sloppiness, no drum solos or whatever, no cheery exhortations to the crowd. In fact if Wheeler had done anything like that we probably would have all wondered what planet we were on.

But it wasn’t that they were shy and retiring, or that they didn’t look like they wanted to be there. It was more that they seemed to know they were in a good spot, had captured hearts and attentions just enough while not simply recreating the album recordings either. It was all good spirited, for lack of a better word, a sense of feeling that you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else other than there. A community, if not per se communal — not a rare thing to happen at a show, maybe, but here was a good example of it in action.

The one moment I will always remember, though, comes from the song “Goodbye” — at one point in the song there’s a guitar break from Gavurin that’s one of his flashier moments, just a really sharp, beautiful little solo. I distinctly remember that we he did that part live the whole place cheered — a spontaneous burst, something that surprised me so much that I remember it now. But it felt right, it was uplifting and melancholy all at once, the band was all into it and everything seemed in sync beyond what words could say.

I like the fact that Wheeler and Gavurin decided to just take it easy, raise their children and make their way in life, really. It seems exactly them.

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