Monday, December 15, 2003

Rocket from the Tombs, Emo's, December 13, 2003

This'll be obnoxious, but I have to start this review by pointing out what a shithole Emo's is. Every self-obsessed fashion-plate junkie-wannabe "I'm-punk-because-I'm-wearing-a-leather-jacket" pseudo-nihilistic prick in town packs that place to play out their own violent version of high school hierarchies with themselves recast as jocks and Heathers. To start with, as soon as I arrived, the bartender ignored me for ten minutes despite no one else being at the bar (to be fair, the guy was probably wrestling the fashion implications of whether he should pierce his dick or his tongue next), then plopped my change down in the only puddle on the bar, mere inches from my outstretched hand (no tip for you, smart guy). Then, when RFTT started, this tall guy physically pushed me back from my sweet spot mere inches from Richard Lloyd and tried to form his very own mosh pit right there. More on mosh pits in a second. I need to point out, though, that this guy, along with a few other people who also used their size to push people at the front around, were employees of the club. Yes, that's right, the people who work at Emo's pushed the people who paid to be there around and helped to set off some of the violence that they then had to control. Again: real smart, guys. Then people kept throwing beer at the band, spraying most of the audience while they were at it. More on this coming up, too. Then the club waited far too long to start the asshole removal process. Some of the assholes who had to be removed were buddy-buddy with the bouncers, by the way. The girl who broke a bottle at my feet and kicked my legs with her steel-toed Doc Martins ("Daddy, I'm a punk now, can I buy some $150 boots?") had been hugging and hugged by almost all of the bouncers and club employees thoughout the evening. Most of all, those fashion-obsessed fuckheads couldn't tell that the punkest guy in the club - the punkest guy who'd ever been in that club - was the 400+ lb guy onstage wearing a belt & suspenders under a pink sport coat, looking to all the world like a retired Polish steelworker.

OK, music instead of ranting. I missed the first band. Second band was the strangely popular Riverboat Gamblers, who have an excellent stageshow but unfortunately can't quite hide that while they look like the New York Dolls, they sound like a third-rate hardcore band from 1985 who haven't changed the 9 volts in their Boss distortion pedals for the last year. Seriously, I thought at first that my earplugs were the problem - surely the two guitars on stage were doing something other than making a hissy sound - but removing the earplugs confirmed that the hissy sound was the point. No hook, no choruses, and the catchiest part of any song was a shouted "Hey Hey Hey Hey!" The front guy was incredibly energetic, though, leaping into poles, hanging upside-down from the ceiling, throwing himself into the audience. If these guys locked themselves in a room with the Dolls' first two albums for two weeks, they might learn how to structure a song, which would make them formidable.

After they quit, my friends and I moved up to the front for RFTT with the rest of the old people and record collectors. We positioned ourselves one person back from the Vox AC-30 amp, which was obviously the Richard Lloyd side of the stage. Uh, for anyone NOT in the know, Richard Lloyd is one of the two brilliant guitarists from the seminal punk/guitar-god band Television. Lloyd's role in the reformed Rocket From the Tombs is to fill in for the deceased Peter Laughner, which is somewhat appropriate, given that Laughner briefly filled in for Lloyd in the mid 70s when Lloyd quit Television for a month or two. The rest of the reformed Rocket from the Tombs consists of David Thomas (the aforementioned steelworker-looking weirdo who formed the world-shattering Pere Ubu with Laughner upon RFTT�s split), Cheetah Chrome (who formed the Dead Boys with drummer Johnny Blitz after RFTT), Craig Bell (who also played Mirrors, another Cleveland protopunk band), and Steve Mehlman (currently of Pere Ubu) filling in for RFTT�s original drummer Johnny Blitz (whereabouts unknown).

RFTT opened with "Frustration," which is now mostly an instrumental (Thomas occasionally shouts "frustration," but all the lyrics of the 70s version are gone). Thomas was in heavy glaring mode, to say the least. I've never seen someone electrify an audience and demand attention with only a baleful glare before, but goddamn was it intense. The band then launched in "So Cold," but was interrupted by some asshole throwing a glassful of beer onto David Thomas. The band stopped, and Thomas, obviously pissed, left the stage. Richard Lloyd stepped up to the mike and threatened to quit playing if it happened again. Thomas came back out, and the band started "What Love Is," only to be interrupted by another glassful of beer thrown at Cheetah. This time, security waded in and pulled a leather-jacketed, moussed-hair "punk" out. Lloyd said something along the lines of "OK, we got the asshole, so let's keep playing." Cheetah Chrome started singing "Ain't It Fun." Then some guy back in the middle of the crowd threw several cupfuls of beer at the band, soaking Thomas, Lloyd, and everyone in the front, including me and my wife. Lloyd shouted, "Fuck you! We're gone!" and the band left the stage completely. Several guys around the beer-throwing dickhead ("Hey! He has a Mohawk! How transgressive!") apparently beat the shit out of the guy before security moved in and removed him.

We stood there, wet and cold (Did I mention that this was outside? Yeah, it was about 40 degrees), chanting for the band for about ten minutes. Finally, they came back on, and David Thomas said, "We're turning back the clocks fifteen minutes on the count of five." The man counted down, and the band launched into "Frustration" again, faster and with the intensity of a band with a fixed setlist and only an hour before the sound ordinance would close the club down.

They played their whole set, start to finish, exactly the same as it appears on the Rocket Redux tour-only CD. The set:

* Frustration
* So Cold
* What Love Is
* Ain't It Fun (Cheetah on vocals)
* Muckraker (Craig Bell on vocals)
* 30 Seconds Over Tokyo (good lord was this amazing)
* Sonic Reducer (Cheetah on vocals, Lloyd broke a string and finished the song on Cheetah's backup Gibson SG)
* I Wanna Be Your Dog (while Lloyd changed his string - David, Cheetah, and Craig each taking a verse, and David grabbing Cheetah's guitar for a verseful of skronk)
* Never Gonna Kill Myself Again
* Amphetamine (Cheetah on vocals, Lloyd on solo guitar through much of it)
* Down In Flames
* Final Solution (holy shit! I mean HOLY SHIT!)

* A Richard Lloyd song, I don't know what it's called
* Life Stinks

Lloyd was on fire all night. He's the careful guitarist in Television, playing very precise, technically-accomplished leads, orderly yin to Tom Verlaine's anything-goes yang style. In RFTT, he's a goddamn chaos generator, channeling Laughner's H-bomb free-jazz noise style. Wow. Double wow. Mehlman, too, was absolutely amazing, playing lightning-fast busy drums all night. I've never seen a drummer come close to keeping up that level of concentration and speed over the course of an hour, and I saw Metallica on the ...And Justice For All tour.

My wife was elbowed by an older guy who pushed in front and started pogoing during "Life Stinks." After the show, she called him on pushing women around, and he apologized. I was buying a CD and shaking David Thomas's hand when he wandered up to Thomas and told him that he'd sent Thomas a letter in 1976 and that he now plays in Brave Combo, have you heard of them, David?

A quick note on mosh pits: fuck you, you selfish dumbasses. It's all well and good until some ex-Marine prick starts punching longhaired guys and groping girls (as happened that night - it took five guys to carry him out of the crowd) or until you start pushing aging fans over (there was a 50ish woman behind my wife who was being pushed around the entire show - I finally moved over to prevent the mosh pit from knocking her down (which is what I think lead to Doc Martin girl kicking me)). Ian MacKaye ain't right about much, but he's absolutely right about mosh pits being nothing but inconsiderate jerks expressing themselves through violence.

So, I did get to shake David Thomas's hand and bought the tour-only CD, which features classic songs by the current lineup and was produced by Richard Lloyd. The best parts of the show were watching these punk icons express their pleasure at being onstage together. Thomas hugged Cheetah about fifteen times and shared lots of whispered comment and laughs with Lloyd. Bell didn't know the turnaround in "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and made jokes at his own expense while fumbling around for the notes of the best-known punk anthem ever.

Anyway, the verdict is RFTT: stunningly good show and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these guys onstage together. Emo's: punk-wannabe suckfest.


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