A long long time ago, I was a student in Mrs. Machado’s kindergarten class. I played with blocks, learned my letters and came down with head lice on three separate occasions. It was during this time that three men (Fat Mike, Smelly and Eric Melvin) were forming a crappy little punk rock band. 25 years later, I no longer have head lice, or play with blocks. I may have learned the letters N-O-F-X in Kindergarten, but Thursday night in rain soaked Hollywood; I was blessed with a history lesson in the form of the legendary California punk rockers visiting the past while living in the present.
We walked into The Music Box @ Fonda right before another band of 25+ years hit the stage. Youth Brigade is one of those names I have seen on patches pinned to the faded leather jackets of gutter punks from Gilman to The Cobalt Café. However, I had not had a chance to hear the band or their music before Thursday night. We were treated to a 45 minute set that sent the near capacity crowd into a furious circle pit. The bands front man poked fun at the crowd, explained that all their success comes from beer and mentioned that they would have a movie out sometime this summer. Most importantly, in between their tight, crushing hardcore punk riffs they revealed one thing that stuck out: How shocked they were that some 25 years after forming, they were still playing at all. I really dug these guys, and will have to check back into their catalog. I know the last song had to do with California falling into the ocean. While that is physically impossible (learn your plate tectonics people) the idea is often rather soothing, especially when stuck in traffic.
For thirty minutes with a large curtain covering the stage, punk rockers (and a few posers, such as myself) wandered around looking for trouble. It could have been waiting in terribly long booze lines, hiding joints from overweight ogres who work as security or repeatedly kicking your boyfriend in the shins. The crowd was very excited, as NOFX would be playing with two former guitar players. So when the curtain finally opened, the fans gave in to their frenzied anticipation, excited to see just who would be on the stage. Immediately, front man and spiritual guru, Fat Mike, admitted to the crowd how awkward it was to have the bands original junkie guitarist Dave Casillas back on stage. Fat Mike made a Mexican joke or two before launching into an action-packed show. They played 3-4 songs total before Dave smashed his guitar; Fat Mike scolded him and booted his ass off the stage.
Up next on axe duties was Steve Kidwiler. His long hair may be gone, his home may be facing foreclosure, but that didn’t stop him from trying his best to play along with the insults Fat Mike snuck in whenever he could. Personally, the highlight of Steve’s time on stage was not Fat Mike making fun of his post NOFX Lutheran beliefs, but the very sloppy version of one of my favorite songs by the band – “Together on the Sand”. Fat Mike made Steve play it by himself, and within seconds Steve gave up on the lyrics letting the crowd take over. “Green Corn” another Kidwiler era NOFX song was smoking as well.
After giving Steve the heave ho, Mike/Eric & Smelly brought out the bands “musical talent” El Hefe. As Fat Mike pounded more Vodka, El Hefe grabbed his horn and led the band thru an extra bouncy version of “Kill All the White Men”. With El Hefe going off, the biggest shock of the evening to me was the amount of people smoking dope. I don’t think I have experience a hotbox like that since I saw String Cheese Incident (don’t laugh it was free) back in 2000.
The band played a good mix of songs for their expansive back catalog. No NOFX show is complete without unrelenting stage banter. It did not matter if Fat Mike was getting a drink, a roadie was fixing a guitar or just because they can – the words between songs flowed like the vodka in Fat Mike’s plastic cup. Fat Mike even had the chance to perform a half assed bastardized Bad Religion song before launching into one of their own.
Some of the highlights of the set was a re-worked version of “Franco Un-American”, as well as true to form versions of “Louise” and “Murder the Government”. The band allowed to crowd to choose how many songs they played from their admitted worse record “Heavy Petting Zoo” and made sure to name drop how many punk rock celebs were in the house.
After announcing the band would be back in five minutes, only Fat Mike, Smelly & Melvin returned as a three piece. Actually, that’s a lie. El Hefe came out and Fat Mike kicked him off the stage as well. They played two songs. “Six Pack Girls” got the crowd going crazy, with fat circle pits that reminded me of the late 1990’s. The next song was really bad, and I am fine saying that, because Fat Mike said that. When done, El Here returned to the stage to wrap up the set. The closing number, “Seeing Double at the Triple Rock” sent many to the exits , given that it was well past midnight on a school night, myself included.
As I hit the wet walk of fame known as Hollywood Blvd, being attacked by eager bootleg T-shirt sellers and street team members passing out flyers to upcoming shows I realized something: despite the fact that the venue had fans aging in range from not old enough to buy booze to those eligible for mail from AARP, punk is in a good place. Gone from the airwaves and mainstream TV, punk has gone back underground. While I have never claimed to be a punk, I have always identified and been very flirtatious with the scene. Punk today seems way more important, way more happening then it did 10 years ago. I am sure like all things, it will have its return, but for now, I am happy to see it being kept alive by the ones who love it the most.