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.