Rancid w/ The Adolescents & Wardogs – [Live]

Wednesday, 08 October 2008

I'm not really punk enough for punk shows. I mean, I've listened to punk rock in various forms since the '80s, but I just can't get my affinities right. So often do I get caught up in the fast, simple, raging music, the politics that remind me of my own being sung with passion and ferocity, and the camaraderie and companionship for those of us who roll a little off the edge of normal that I neglect to pay attention to which bands have "sold out" or "fucking suck now." I lose track of whose music I'm supposed to stop liking because of their desire to pay their rent or seek wider distribution of their work. My definition of the genre has a lot of bands in it that I'm sure would make the crusty kids on Haight Street cringe and spit. These days, though, I get the feeling that none of us are really punk enough, and that's pretty much ok. I'd much rather enjoy some good bands and a good crowd without worrying if the fashion, the ethics, and the politics are exactly where they're supposed to be, and that seemed to be the sentiment among the rest of the crowd at the Warfield.

As Wardogs took the stage and began their short set, I took note of the diversity of the crowd—typical spray painted leather jacket punks mixed with precision-coiffed rockabilly queens, striped-shirt preppy guys, 17 year old kids and a handful of old hippies. Wardogs themselves looked a little like what would have happened if the people who've been trying all these years to package punk rock and sell it to the mainstream had done a little more research first. They ran through a good set of songs that fell a little on the pop-punk side, and included a cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven." Not the most original idea, but well-executed nonetheless.

The second band was The Adolescents, whose name for the first time struck me as somewhat ironic, given that lead singer Tony Cadena is (as he pointed out) older than the parents of most of the kids in the crowd. It was amazing to see such an awesome band of my youth, with most of their original members (I'm guessing that the guy playing lead guitar on a lot of the songs wasn't born yet when this band formed) throwing down some good classic skate-punk. They were tight and fast, and they treated the crowd to slew of favorites like "Amoeba" and "California Sun." Mid-way through the set, a huge pit opened up near the stage, and it was all I could do to remain at my post with my notebook and not go dance with kids half my age who would quite possibly put me in the hospital.

A short time after the Adolescents finished up, the video screen at the back of the stage lit up with Target commercial style images of Rancid logos and head shots. They were a bit strange, but were soon replaced by Tim Armstrong's high-contrast black and white videos he's been so fond of lately. The band took the stage and eased in to "Radio," and I didn't make it further than the first chorus before being compelled to rip the ear plugs out of my ears. By the end of the second song, "Roots, Radicals," my throat was hoarse from screaming along, and bodies were flying in several directions in front of the stage.

It's been a long time since I've seen Rancid play live, and I wasn't around the Bay Area when Operation Ivy was together, but I was surprised to find them as energetic and enjoyable as I did. The songs, over ten years old in most cases, sounded fresh and reminded me that punk can be melodic and even poignant, without being emo and lame.

Lars Frederiksen (guitar), was bright and hyper, sporting a San Jose Earthquakes jersey and missing the pink mohawk I'm used to seeing on him. He comes across as a guy who is genuinely excited and appreciative of his career and his fans. Lars stopped often to praise his band mates and the crowd, and he played the songs with the enthusiasm of a teenager in his first band.

One of the best Lars moments of the show came about ten songs in, when he prefaced Operation Ivy staple "Knowledge" by stating, "This is the punkest fucking song I've ever had the privilege of playing." Lars is not Jesse Michaels (I was secretly hoping he'd show up to do an Op Ivy song, as I'd heard he did last time Rancid played San Francisco), but it was clear he took the spirit of the song to heart and while Lars' character was easily injected in to this East Bay Punk classic, I wouldn't go as far as to say he made it his own. He treated the song with respect and the fans, of course, devoured it.

Tim Armstrong seemed, at times, distracted and spacey. Not easily distinguishable from the darkest of gutter punks asking for change outside the venue, in his tattered trench coat and black watch cap, Tim occasionally settled in to a lost stare, sometimes forgetting words or missing cues. His gravelly voice is that of someone who hasn't stopped playing hard and fast since he started, and even at the point of exhaustion, he never runs out of energy. Tim played what looked like a mangled Gretsch, slung low around his knees, punching at it and screaming out choruses while fists from the crowd urged him on. At times it seemed like the response from the audience was the only thing keeping him standing.

Bassist Matt Freeman, who also played in Operation Ivy, continues to amaze me with his technical prowess. His bass lines drive hard and are complicated and mind-fucking. Without being showy, Matt ripped through a couple of great solos, most notably during "Maxwell Murder," with Tim and Lars exited the stage allowing him to enjoy the spotlight, while drummer Branden Steineckert kept the furious pace.

The thirty song set consisted mostly of tracks from the first three albums, which I consider to be the band's best work. It was great to see the crowd blow up as Matt played the opening bass riff to Bay Area anthem "Journey to the End of the East Bay." The crowd sang along to the chorus as members of Wardogs dove from the stage and grainy black and white footage of San Francisco played on the video screen. The moment was a celebration of Rancid, East Bay Punk, The Bay Area, live music, and rock and roll all at one time. Few bands can inspire that, and I don't think Rancid even realized that they did.

Other highlights of the night included Lars playing "The Wars End" solo, and Matt's rendition of "Tenderloin," an apparent homage to San Francisco's depressing pit of hard drugs and prostitution. Early hit "Salvation" was played, as well as "I Wanna Riot." After a lull of sing-along "Hoover Street," the pit exploded to "St. Mary." "Ruby Soho," a favorite of many Rancid fans closed the set, with the band pausing near the end for a somewhat cheesy introduction of all the band members and plug of their forthcoming album. After a short time, the band returned to the stage for a single encore of ska-influenced "Time Bomb."

These days Rancid is a "love them or hate them" type of band. Some people see what they've turned in to and consider them lost, or diluted. I see them as a reminder of the many different aspects of punk rock, and as a band that has turned out some amazing music over the years, without answering to anyone but themselves.

Rancid –
The Adolescents –
Wardogs –

Rancid – “Fall Back Down” – [mp3]
The Adolescents – “California Son” – [mp3]


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