Live: Face to Face/Strung Out/Blitzkid/The Darlings

WAREHOUSE LIVE — 6/02/11: The more I think about this recent batch of reviews I’m writing for SCR, the more it seems like they are the serialized version of my memoirs entitled How I Incrementally Noticed That I Was Definitely Getting Older.

It feels like those types of themes keep popping up more often as I bang these out — for the most part, I seem to be experiencing these shows through the lens of “mid 30s-ness.” Not to say that I’m ready for the glue factory just yet…but let’s be honest: if your body were a car, this is about the time it would stop smelling “new” and start developing windshield cracks and strange sounds while idling. As such, this excerpted chapter would probably be titled, “Shaking Off The Post-Show Soreness — Dude, You’re Not 21 Anymore.”

See, there I go again. A whole intro paragraph just about my lame, tired ass, with nary a mention of bands or show. Weak.

At any rate, I’m fairly certain that the last full-on “punk rock” show I went to was NOFX/No Use For A Name a while back. In this case, I don’t think age has anything to do with the increasingly sporadic “smashing of my head on the punk rock” — I’m pretty sure that I just don’t really dig anything within the context of what is considered “punk” these days. It doesn’t speak to me the way bands like NOFX/NUFAN/Bad Religion/Black Flag/Bad Brains did “back in the day,” so I tend to sort of gravitate away from that scene.

Face to Face have always been, along with Bad Religion/Brains, kind of the “elder statesmen” of punk, to my ears — it just seems like the stuff they sing about is more real, more “straight from the hip,” with less of the rebellious snottiness of teenagers and more of the weathered middle finger of a guy who’s “seen some shit.” None of this is to detract from more upbeat and fun stuff like NOFX…it’s just that sometimes I prefer one flavor of punk catharsis over another.

Having said that, it’s probably no surprise that as I got older, Face to Face remained one of the few punk groups that I would still listen to on a regular basis. The songs still spoke to me, some of them in new ways. Before I realized it, a band that I was a more-or-less casual fan of as a teen/20-something became one of my favorite bands as a 30-something. Generally speaking, I think that usually only happens with Rush or Pink Floyd. Needless to say, once Face to Face reunited a couple years ago and started touring again, I couldn’t freaking wait to catch them live.

Unfortunately, my adult duties (read: job) conspired to keep me from getting to the show until after The Darlings had already finished their set. I was kinda bummed by that, since I’d checked out a few tunes via their Myspace page and really dug what I heard. If you’re a fan of Social Distortion or Face to Face (obviously), definitely give these guys a listen.

Blitzkid took the stage soon after I entered the venue. I was fairly familiar with the West Virginian band, mainly due to their place in the Misfits horror-punk extended family — bassist/singer Argyle Goolsby is even also in Doyle’s new band Gorgeous Frankenstein. As such, I’d “heard” a lot about Blitzkid, but never really heard or seen them perform.

Fortunately, they kicked quite a bit of ass, even in front of the decidedly anemic crowd (it was still fairly early). Blitzkid fuses horror punk, ’50s rock, and hardcore elements, which may sound a bit familiar, but they’re more than just another Misfits clone. I noticed a lot more emphasis on metal elements (even more so than Graves-era Misfits), so that immediately differentiated them to my ears.

In addition, Goolsby and guitarist T.B. Monstrosity share lead vocal duties, the former being more “hardcore screamy” and the latter more “boo-wop croony.” It makes for a pretty damn good sound overall, and the band definitely puts on a hell of a show. I believe Goolsby mentioned that this was Blitzkid’s first time in Houston (though they’ve been a band for several years), so I, for one, hope they swing back through at some point. I’ll definitely know the songs a whole lot better next time around.

I remember first hearing Strung Out on the Fat Music for Fat People compilation that they were giving out for free at the very first Warped Tour. I liked most of the stuff on that comp, but I remember really digging Strung Out’s “In Harm’s Way.” Then somehow a cassette copy of Another Day In Paradise fell into my possession — at a time where I had to sort of take a technological step backward and only had a (gasp) tape player to listen to while riding the bus to work and back. Another Day was one of maybe seven tapes I still owned, so it got a lot of play in those pre- and post-table-waiting hours. They were definitely one of the first “skate-punk” bands I listened to on a regular basis.

When Strung Out started playing on the stage at this show, I was immediately transported back — back to killing time walking through the still-shuttered halls of the Galleria before opening, fist-pumping and screaming along to the music when I couldn’t help but do otherwise, and getting very weird looks from the mall-walkers as a result.

Onstage, in 2011, the band pretty much came out swinging, with an energy that was at least on par (if not fully eclipsing) their energy back in the ’90s. It didn’t take long for the crowd to get whipped into a frenzy, and it was then I noticed: “hey, most of these sweaty mofos screaming along with Jason Cruz are my age.” Which was pretty damn cool — usually when I go check out a punk show, even a “legacy” band like NOFX, I’m one of the oldest dudes in the room. Not this time.

These were my people, fellow travelers on the “Public Transportation with Punk on Cassette Tape” journey. Not to turn this into some kind of existential ageist manifesto (too late), but yeah, it was kinda awesome. Even more awesome: when Strung Out played “In Harm’s Way,” they shoehorned a few bars of Pantera’s “Walk” right in the middle of it. Fuck. Yes. Overall, it was a pretty tight and fun set by one of the West Coast’s long-standing punk stalwarts. Here’s to 20 more years of that stuff.

I was kind of worried about the turnout while Blitzkid was playing, but during Strung Out and in the leadup to Face to Face coming out, the Warehouse filled up pretty well. I’m glad, because one thing that really pisses me off is when fourth-generation copies of Band X From Back In The Day sell out shows left and right, when the much better Band X plays to near empty venues. Face to Face is most definitely a band that has marked the hell out of our current musical landscape, so I’m happy to see that even after being away for a few years, they still draw a crowd.

It didn’t take very long for Face to Face to erase any lingering fears the crowd may have had about the whole “reunion” thing (even though they’ve been reactivated since 2008, I believe this was their first headlining show back in Houston). The band, featuring essentially the Ignorance is Bliss lineup of Trever Keith, Chad Yaro, and Scott Shiflett (with Danny Thompson replacing Pete Parada on the drums), immediately ripped into a set that featured a few of the tracks off of the just-released Laugh Now, Laugh Later but was by and large a definite “greatest hits” setlist. Trever Keith even basically said as much early on in the show, something to the effect of, “We’re gonna play a couple new songs, but it’s been a while, and we know what you guys want.”

Keith wasn’t kidding. Face to Face blasted through a setlist that basically called back to the tracklisting of their posthumous greatest hits release Shoot The Moon, peppering in new tracks like “Should Anything Go Wrong,” “Bombs Away,” and “It’s Not All About You” along the way. This was probably the first show in a while where I knew all of the words to all of the songs and was rocking all of the time.

As was most of the crowd — and it quickly became apparent that the band truly appreciated the energy and support after being away for so long. During the “classic” Trever Keith between-song banter, you could see that the guy was having fun (even though he kept joking about being a tired old man — sounds kinda familiar), and I don’t think the smile ever left bassist Shiflett’s face. Speaking of Shiflett, man, what an underrated bassist this guy is. Watching his energy and technique…let’s just say that if Nate Mendel ever quits that band that Scott’s brother is in, I think I know who’s getting the call.

Even technical difficulties didn’t sway the band any: early on during the set, guitarist Chad Yaro’s rig began shorting out and going silent, but it all got figured out rather quickly, and I’m guessing most would be none the wiser if Keith hadn’t taken the opportunity to good-naturedly rib Yaro about his “piece of shit” equipment. I’m glad that whatever happened to make Yaro quit the band back in 2001 is now water under the bridge, as I really love the energy and sonic punch that the four-piece iteration of Face to Face brings to the stage.

And sure enough, before I knew it, I was climbing up on sweaty piles of other Face to Face fans to pump my fist and scream along to the classics: “Blind,” “A-OK,” “I Won’t Lie Down,” “Disconnected,” “Struggle,” “Velocity”…they even played their cover of the Descendents’ “Bikeage” as part of the encore. It was one of those shows where, before I knew it, I was in the middle of this sweaty, screaming, roiling mass thinking, “how did I get here?”, before getting caught up in the next chorus and just letting go, becoming part of the rock awesomeness.

Doesn’t happen for me that often anymore, and I’m sure it has a lot to do with relating to the place Keith is coming from when he writes these lyrics. As such, Face to Face is one of the few bands that can take me to that particular place, and they do it so effortlessly — by just coming out and playing the shit out of some really, really good tunes, tunes that happen to speak right to the heart of me (and a lot of others, obviously), with no “rock bullshit” or histrionics. Hell, I think even the lightshow was the most basic of setups for their set — it may not have ever even changed color from tungsten white.

Thing is, Face to Face don’t need no fucking lightshow. It would just take focus away from the simple badassery of their sometimes intensely personal but always intensely powerful songs. More bands would do well to learn from their example.

So, yeah…I paid for all those punk-rock shenanigans the next day with a sore back and a voice that was all but gone, but it was totally fucking worth it, no question. Already looking forward to the next time — I’ve been pogo-ing in place for 20 minutes every morning, as well as committing to an alternating “fist pump in the air” regimen that distributes the strain more equally over my lats. Suck it, age. I’ve got more Face to Face shows to see. END

(Photos: Trever Keith, Face to Face; Blitzkid; Strung Out; Face to Face. All photos by Kenny Haner.)

Live review by . Live review posted Monday, June 27th, 2011. Filed under Features, Live Reviews.

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