Not Just the Ticket — #36, Toy Dolls/Fear, March 13, 1992

Toy Dolls, Hollywood Palladium

Then-current albums: You got me.

Opening act: 7 Seconds

Back of ticket ad: KROQ, once more. And again.

Friday the 13th, and yet I don’t recall anything bad or unlucky happening on the day. Oh superstitions, I tell ya.

Meantime, this show. This was a curious one.

It wasn’t the first punk nostalgia show I’d been to or anything, by any means — the Dickies shows, the Damned show and so forth. But this show was a bit unique for me in that I really didn’t know anything at all about any of the bands involved except by name, if that. I’m not even sure what prompted me to go beyond the fact that it was relatively cheap and all.

I suspect it had something to do with my friend Steve M., who I definitely remember going with along with various friends of his. Steve always had more of a general grasp and knowledge of punk than I did, which I ascribe at least in part to his Orange County upbringing. That so many punk bands (then and now) came from the area was part of it, of course, but there’s also the fact of just growing up in said county to start with. I didn’t, I just live here now due to the random accident of history that gave me not only a spot at grad school at UC Irvine but a four-year fellowship. (I would have found out about that around this time, and I remember my dad telling me it was probably a good idea not to look that gift horse in the mouth; eighteen years later, here I still am, slightly to my surprise, but hey.)

The point is, I arrived here as an independent if still pretty young adult later that year. If I had grown up here during those years beforehand…I’d probably have wanted to bail pretty quickly, and used alternate means of escape in the meantime. Like music, thus Steve, and so forth. Of course Steve was like me in that he liked a lot of different things so it wasn’t the only focus point; still, he knew enough about the bands in question that he must have said something about how it’d be fun, and I think my friends Jason B. and Dave S. might have wanted to come along as well, not sure. Whoever got together for this show, off we went to the Palladium, once again. VERY familiar with it now at this stage of the game.

The actions of punk nostalgia (any nostalgia) is to oversimplify, of course. It’s one reason why it’s so frustratingly boring, the rough edges smoothed out and ignored. For some years now I’ve been delving into the various alternate histories of ‘punk’ and the time immediately afterward thanks to the Net being such an astonishing medium for getting so much else out there that was also part of the time, in different countries, different contexts. Just this weekend — I was up in SF visiting my sis and some friends — I snagged another in the Messthetics series plus the new Minimal Wave Tapes compilation, both of which addressed things that simply didn’t fit in the accepted history I had haphazardly learned by the time of this show. The me of 1992 didn’t really make any distinction in my head between Toy Dolls and Fear and 7 Seconds except that they were all supposed to be punk stalwarts of a sort, that Toy Dolls were English and the other two bands American, that said American bands were supposed to be hardcore, whatever that meant exactly, and that there was a strong probability there would be big beefy shirtless dudes going around in the pit with that look and hand gesture that made them seem like the marshalls of their own individual idiot parades. Such was the case, of course (see also L7’s “Everglade,” which probably ran through my head every time I saw someone like that in this year).

So that’s all I knew and all I really figured to know. I hadn’t seen The Decline of Western Civilization, I didn’t know about “Nellie the Elephant,” I just knew we were off to a show and that things would happen as they did. I still like these shows of random or no expectation; I remember a lot of milling around with Steve and his friends in the crowd, trying (and failing) to hit it off with at least one of his female friends, the usual stuff for somebody just turned twenty-one and with plenty of the bees of confusion in my head (and plenty more years of it to come). Dim, dim memories of the crowd being very much a mixed bag but mostly my age or younger — for all that it was nostalgia, it was of the sort that always seems to draw a certain age in age, a ‘first time’ thing as much as my various earlier experiences were on a number of fronts.

7 Seconds might not have been the actual first band on the bill, I seem to remember there being one other band, but that might be my brain on the fritz. Kevin Seconds and company put on the kind of show I expected, I guess, in that I don’t remember anything about it either way besides their “99 Luftballoons” cover, and since that’s one of the greatest songs ever I was fine with it, though I assume they trashed some of the lyrics along the way. Honestly I don’t think I’ve yet heard anything they ever did in studio so it’s a little hard for me to talk more about their show. Pretty sure I was standing near the back of the main floor with Steve and a few others, probably indulging in our favorite habit of snide comments about anything or anyone who deserved them. Not much changes there, really.

The Toy Dolls were another story entirely — in fact I’d have to put that down as one of my favorite shows ever by someone who I never bothered following up with at all. Sounds dismissive, it’s not meant to be — partially it’s that daunting discography, partially it’s the fact that I know I heard a tape or two over the next year or so and thought it was okay enough but it just wasn’t the show. That was, and remains, one of the most fun, crazy shows I’ve ever seen, and for that reason alone I’m so glad I went.

It helped that nearly everyone there (except probably me) knew them and knew their stuff. I didn’t know anything about them beyond the name and a vague reputation, I just recall the drummer bashing away, whoever it was on bass strutting on behind his shades (pretty sure he was wearing shades) and then Olga, the main guy, walking on with a giddy, great smile on his face — and he was definitely wearing shades — playing his guitar and looking like he was the happiest dude not only in the room but on the planet. You got a good sense that he was doing exactly what he loved doing and in a setting that had thousands of people cheering him on. Couldn’t knock that at all!

Pretty much every song was a singalong, the audience full in there. I was standing near the front, to the side, not quite looking at the band in profile but not far off from that, a bit like my usual perch at the front of the Palace but on the other side of the stage. There was a pit but not a mean one, it was all goofy adrenaline and mad pogoing. Couldn’t tell you a song they played but who cared, it was all warmth, cheekily phrased more than once in the lyrics I’m sure.

And there’s one moment that always struck me as the perfect example of dealing with a stage screwup. Somewhere during a song Olga’s guitar completely dropped out, a cable had come loose or something similar. While a roadie went to look at it, Olga kept playing away as if nothing had happened, his smile still broad as hell — and then he leaned up to the mike and said, without a trace of rancor or annoyance in his voice, “KEEP GOING!,” referring not so much to the band, who were doing just that, but the audience, who had slowed up a bit in their dancing. So the crowd poured it on, the cable was soon fixed and it was business as usual. I really like that memory, and that’s a reason why I’ll always tip my hat to them, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing.

That left Fear and there’s not much to say there. Lee Ving and company had a good song or two there — a couple of classmates of mine two years beforehand had been especially enamored of “Living in the City” — but again, not really knowing anything about him or Fear or the whole Belushi thing or whatever I can’t say I possessed a sense of the occasion, if indeed this show was an occasion. The pit was at its most aggressive (and most beefy) and I watched it from the same spot I watched the 7 Seconds show, ie well away from any potential damage to my person. I have a feeling loud and rude words were plentiful.

And after that, again, you got me. Went home and studied for finals, I guess. Curious show, as I said.