Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Feminism, nostalgia, punk rock.. and beer

Part I

by Jamie Frey

I am a man who hates festivals. I hate the sun, I hate crowds, I don’t like to be rushed. I find the whole process extremely exhausting. Last year, I was called to Riot Fest to see the reunion of my favorite band of all time, The Replacements and was impressed at how tolerable the actual festival was. Then I marveled at how acutely they had identified the music consumer group I was a part of, as if they were booking bands specifically for my friends and I, and then also for similar group to watch bands happily a few feet away on a different stage. The concept's nucleus is punk rock, but extends to various genres, and ends up in weird combinations such as Wu-Tang Clan and Dashboard Confessional playing at the same time. This is a playground for misfits ranging from tattooed mohawked teenagers, to the many beer-swilling cool dads that hold onto their punk rock hearts.

For me, each night was capped off by a performance of an album that was extremely important to this writer in his formative years: Jane’s Addiction Nothing’s Shocking, Descendents Milo Goes To College an epitome of ecstatic naivete in the pop-rock
genre, the 20 year anniversary of Weezer’s self titled 1994 debut, known to bespectacled acolytes as “The Blue Album.” In the age of detachment and irony, this was a celebration of music that cares about something, be it politics or partying, heartbroken emo or metal about the holocaust. The “Riot” in the name may inspire thoughts of juvenile angst, or skepticism about how the festival runners would appreciate an actual riot. Either way it’s a time warp back to either your teenage years, whenever they may have been or a less cynical time in music, like the early 90’s, when it wasn’t unfashionable to make music that aspires to create a literal riot.

This year’s bill was so stacked that many acts were sacrificed because they were put on too early in the festival for a bunch of people who drank the night before and cannot tolerate 8 or 9 hours of festival. These included Television, my favorite band on the whole bill; The Buzzcocks (who went on before them at 2:15 pm;) Stiff Little Fingers, Billy Bragg and Kurt Vile and a bunch of other bands I would have watched but was physically unable. Occasionally, a difficult judgement call had to be made, like Gogol Bordello over Mastodon, or Cheap Trick over Social Distortion, that separates you from your friends. This was an insane festival, each night packed with around 55,000 people, and to make things worse, rainy weather on the first night turned most of the grounds in the mud, making the weekend a ridiculous Woodstock ‘94-esque endeavor.

Pussy Riot Panel

We arrived Friday afternoon to find Neil Fallon’s quartet of 90’s alternative stoner blues metal shredders known as Clutch, doing their weird thing to an appreciative crowd of beardos. Sometimes you gotta move, and we did, onto a panel discussion featuring Henry Rollins as moderator, with Nadia Tolokonnikova (who might be the most attractive woman in the world to this writer) and Masha Alekhina, the two women who, performing with the protest punk troupe Pussy Riot, were jailed in Russia for “hooliganery motivated by religious hatred” by Vladmir Putin. Also on the panel were Michael Petryshyn, the founder of Riot Fest, feminist journalist Marcelle Karp, Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin and Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath. The panel was a little slow due to Pussy Riot’s use of a translator (though they occasionally stepped into their english to display a sharp tounged statement) and the moderator’s long winded nature. The women discussed some of their feminist influences as well as punks that inspired them like Angelic Upstarts and Sham 69. Henry empathized with the girls describing the aggressive climate they experienced in the early 80’s, resulting in police violence at Black Flag shows. “Riot” Mike, the fest’s founder, emphasized that there had always been a connection between punk and political action to him, and it was always in mind with the booking and execution all in all. Like many moments during the weekend, the speakers onstage were begging the crowd to care about something, to not be cynical.

Moving from the urgent to the juvenile, we found NoFX, the so-cal princes of pop-punk, who were midway through their beloved album. Fat Mike, despite owning a high end restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn, still donned his mohawk and punk attire. Though they’ve had some moments in their career both sublime and cringe-worthy, I couldn’t help but scream along to “Don’t Call Me White.” On the opposite stage was a band who’s approach to punk was entirely different, the NYC immigrant punks Gogol Bordello. These guys played NYC a lot when they were small and impressed me as one of the most hot shit live bands I had ever seen. Frontman Eugene Hutz has always been primed for arena crowd, with his dynamic, over the top, crowd surfing stage presence, and here he was, driving thousands into a frenzy with classics like “Immigrant Punk” and “Wanderlust King.” Gogol are a perfect example of a modern band that unironically incorprates leftist politics, with Clash-esque sloganeering, without losing a beat of their Gypsy punk rhythm.

I found myself watching a band that I truly hate, The Offspring, because it was too muddy to go anywhere and I went to get a spot for Jane’s Addiction. I liked them for maybe the one year in my life before I knew better, and generally regard Dexter Holland as one of the most unlistenable and unlikable vocalists in the history of rock music. His voice is maybe stupider than his dense lyrics. They were playing their 1994 record Smash, which makes Dookie look like Pet Sounds. I was impressed with the staying power of this inferior band, as they had a massive crowd that knew every word to every songs, but then again, I knew the words to most of ‘em. I sang the lyrics to “Ob La Di, Ob La Da” over “Why Don’t You Get A Job?”

Jane's Addiction

Jane’s Addiction, performing Nothing’s Shocking, was a pretty big deal, as their music was most sacred to my 13-15 year old self, looking beyond bands on the radio and starting my own band. I have remained a fan of the group, despite several missteps in the past few years that may have tarnished their once large legacy. This album show was a great excuse to only play their old great material, much of which is on this record. They arrived in their usual smoke and lights with Dave Navarro shirtless in a boa, Farrell wearing glittery pants. We were in for some classic Jane’s, as they kicked into “Up The Beach.” Farrell, claimed to be drunk, and very possibly on more than that, made a lot of bizarre stage banter in between absolute killers like “Ocean Size” and “Mountain Song” that brought me back to the bus to school, sitting with my discman, not concerned with indie rock cred or my own employment. Jane’s have this knack that nobody has been able to do since, they have the quizzical nature of art record, combined with riffs that are heavy metal worthy, and a few moments that are legitimately funky, with subtlety that their peers Red Hot Chili Peppers and Primus never understood. Most people take themselves too seriously to execute any of this now, but back in the late 80’s, these people were actual freaks making freaky music. They closed with the 1-2-3 punch of “Jane Says” (complete with bongos and steel drums), “Been Caught Stealing” and “Stop” while sexy dancers were hung from the ceiling for no apparent reason, but that never stopped these guys from having a weird time. Another serious drinking in Chicago would follow, as there were two more days of rock n’ roll to follow. Stay tuned.

Part 2

Saturday was the day of Riot Fest that despite all my best efforts to get out early and see The Buzzcocks and Television, we spent that time eating a Mexican breakfast (one non-musical review I have to give, is that Chicago has better Mexican food than NYC or Los Angeles) and trying to get a cab unsuccessfully (another non-musical review is that it’s way too hard to get a cab in Chicago when you’re not in a super central area.) We arrived in time for one of the most bizarre, and conversely, one of the most popular acts on the festival, the Cape Town, South Africa electro-rap group Die Antwoord. I knew about this music from my roommate, who showed me some of their music videos. Now, their music makes very little sense to my ears, but they have the quality of a great music video artist, fascinating in the same way Marilyn Manson, Busta Rhymes, Bjork or Eminem was. This performance with Lisa Frank colored scenery and backup dancers and only a DJ providing music seemed extremely thin compared to the guitar rock of the rest of the bill, especially in the daytime but the thousands of people up front losing their shit obviously disagreed. In fact, this may have been the only act on the festival, save maybe The National, remotely near the peak of their popularity.

The band I watched next was one of the acts I was most excited to see, Greg Dulli’s reformed Afghan Whigs, who recently released Do The Beast, their first record since 1998. This is a band I hadn’t heard much of until a few years ago, and I am convinced they are one of the best and most underrated American bands of all time. They have never been a hip band, and Dulli with his confessional lyrics and gut wrenchingly soulful vocals, can go to emotional extremes that would be embarrassing if they were taken up one more notch. This is the type of passion and violence at the heart of the festival, the Whigs are a brash rock n’ roll outfit that puts substance over style, they jam econo about love and pain. The live show was no exception, Dulli, looking like Roy Orbison and shredding like Neil Young at his most vicious, he led his ensemble (completed by a multi-instrumentalist who plays violin, cello and keyboard) through some tunes new and old, tearing through the incendiary “Fountain and Fairfax” and a pair of Fleetwood Mac covers. I would say that, with very little flash, and not the biggest crowd, this was the sweatiest, bloodiest, best performance of the festival.

Next was U.K. codger Paul Weller. founder of The Jam and The Style Council, backed by a Modish bunch of chaps. This unfortunately did not hold my fancy, though I’m a fan of his old records, so I took a walk to see some of Me First and The Gimme Gimmes, gleefully beating a dead horse, and returned just in time for Paul’s encore of two Jam classics “Start” and “A Town Called Malice.” At this point, droves of people were collection for the eminent performance to the Wu-Tang Clan, who were reunited (and it feels so good) despite a decade of infighting, false reunions and school yard style team picking(“I’ll take U-God, you take Inspecta Deck”) to perform material from their ubiquitous debut Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers.) All the players were present, save the late genius Ol’ Dirty Bastard. I had see them some years ago, and they were an absolute disaster, too many hangers-on onstage, egotistical members rapping over each other without focus. I was pleasantly surprised to see this group of people who likely hate each other co-operating and acting like a group again, because to quote their late bandmate “Wu-Tang is for the children.” One of the most cringeworthy moments, which happened exactly the same the other time I’d seen them, was when they instructed the crowd to raise their fists in the air, the results looking exactly like a white power. I felt a pang of relief when a black man raised his fist as well, making things a little less lame.

Moving along to get a spot for Descendents, we were treated to another legendary punk group, Cock Sparrer, the working class Britons notable for influencing punk from Oi! to hardcore and pop-punk, as well as having one of the silliest names of all time. I was familiar with their music, which is, underneath it’s rough exterior, both catchy and sweet, with hooks and harmonies that harken to the early days of The Who, The Small Faces and Herman’s Hermits, delivered by cockney toughboys with a sensitive side. I was very surprised that this cult band that never made any waves in the U.S. was playing to easily 1,000 people (remember that the less obscure Buzzcocks had played many hours earlier,) most of whom seemed to know all the words. Their “hits” include “I Got Your Number”, “England Was Mine” and the touching “We’re Coming Home” are the perfect songs for putting your arms around your mate after a long night of drinking at the pub. In another sentimental moment, singer Colin McFaull spoke a little about the band’s history, which I knew very little about: 4 of the 5 men onstage had met at 11 years old, and the band had been playing since 1972, which would make them predate both The Sex Pistols and The Ramones. Their ecstatic reception was a testament to the longevity of punk and of the power of friendship.

These tough guys got me sufficiently ferklempt for what was about the follow: a performance of 1982’s Milo Goes To College, the mega-important album by punk’s greatest nerds, Descendents. I recently was on the subway and saw a girl with this album cover tattooed on her arm and considered asking her out right on the spot. This is one of the great albums about growing up, like the early Beach Boys on 45 speed. I remembered when I was 18, my friend Ian, who was standing next to me at the show, burned me this album along with Reagan Youth and Against Me!. Playing the record on repeat, I understood what was so personal about punk rock truly for the first time. Biologist/vocalist Milo Aukerman, looking stately, walked onstage alone with a clipboard asking the crowd “Is this punk rock albums 101?” before being joined by original drummer/songwriter Bill Stevenson, bassist Tony Lombardo and current guitarist Stephen Egerton. A few seconds into “Myage” and the crowd absolutely exploded into a classic mosh pit, and I hit the floor, which was a quicksand-like mud. I was unable to get up, I was on top of someone, someone was on top of me, and for a moment thought I might be killed or maimed by this horde of punks. Luckily, a bunch of people pulled me up and I spend a few minutes trying to find a safer way to enjoy this set. This confirmed something I had known for a long time: I am not hardcore.

The show went on, and standing near the folks you could tell how many people had so much stock in this record. From the adolescent temper tantrum of “Parents” (“they don’t even know I’m a boy/they treat me like a toy/but little do they know/that someday I’ll explode”) to the heartbroken poetry of “Hope” (“so now you wait for his cock/you know it’ll turn you on”) these are the tunes that punks young and old go to in their time of need. It is comfort food for the angry and confused. By the one two punch album closer of “Bikeage” and “Jean Is Dead”, we had all been through a pretty serious emotional catharsis together. Current bassist Karl Alvarez rejoined the band for a second set of other Descendents material, a lot of which, like “I’m The One” for example, sounded a lot cooler than in their recorded version which suffers from lame Offspring/Bad Religion-esque overproduction. Aukerman, 51, who takes a break from his career as a Biochemist every few years to get the band back together, will always come across as Henry Rollins’ pencil-necked younger brother, more self effacing than angry. Bill Stevenson, who has also played with Black Flag and The Lemonheads and has produced many records, is one of the nastiest drummers of all time, and is invaluable to the bands spazzy but poppy attack. When given the choice between watching The National, Taking Back Sunday or Danzig’s Samhain, we opted to get out of the mud instead. None of the acts had any chance of topping what we had just seen, we headed out on the streets of Chicago with punk in our hearts to party on, with one more night of music left. is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

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