Pioneers of Punk San Francisco Bay Area 1976-1979 – [Live]

Thursday, 31 July 2008

At exactly 8pm, the Fillmore dims its house lights. Apparently, the pioneers of punk like to start things on time.

Target Video begins its tribute film, an appropriate way to kick off the evening. Grainy, vintage, black and white concert footage of The Nuns, Noh Mercy, Iggy Pop and Dead Kennedys flashes across the screen. Crude and intense, the video is like moshing down memory lane for the older audience members. For the youngsters (i.e., anyone born during/after the 1980s), Target Video has basically created a “History of Punk” crash course, a dirty and raw celebration of the West Coast punk scene in the 1970s and the musical revolutionaries behind it. With the elite founders of punk preparing to the take the stage, anticipation is thick in the air. This promises to be a great show.

9pm. The hour-long film ends, and with no real introduction, Negative Trend takes the stage. Formed in 1979, the band has since broken up, with all members moving on to notable success in their own right, but they have reformed for this show. Lead singer Paul Casteel welcomes the crowd, asking if they are “ready to see some pioneers.” Surprisingly, the reaction is lukewarm. The crowd gives a halfhearted cheer, but seem more interested in yelling “get a haircut, hippie!” in reference to the singer's long, tangled locks, which dangle midway down his back.

Unaffected by the crowd’s lack of enthusiasm, Negative Trend powerfully charges through a 30-minute set, including notable hits, “Mercenaries” and “How Ya Feelin’?” Their energy is infectious, and eventually the crowd warms up, sending the band off the stage with an eruption of howling and applause.

This is when Neil Hamburger comes on. For those unfamiliar with Hamburger, he is a stand-up comedian character played by Gregg Turkington. A cult legend, Hamburger has perfected the so-bad-it’s-good routine to a true art form. In between each performance, he paces the stage erratically, loudly clearing his throat while spewing crass one-liners about Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson. The older audience members laugh (they get the joke), while the young punks “boo” (they don’t get the joke), and everyone else seems mildly confused.

10pm. The Mutants take the stage. Since their first show at the San Francisco Poetry Festival in 1977, The Mutants have been famous for their live performances. Using elaborate props, projections and wild comedic antics, they deliver a barrage of sights and sounds that exceeds all expectations. Including the seven band members, there are eleven people on stage the entire time. Among them, a guy in a sequence dress and blonde wig go-go dances on the side of the stage while two identically dressed teenage girls energetically bounce around in the background. Lead vocalists Frtiz Fox (aka Freedy Mutant), Sallier Webster (aka Sally Mutant) and Sue White all give excellent performances, belting out their delicious art-punk hits, “Sofa Song,” “Furniture” and “Odd Man Out.” Before tearing into “New Dark Ages,” Sue White takes a hold of the microphone, explaining, “This used to be a Reagan song. Now it’s a Bush song.” The entire set is frenzied and surreal. There is a rumor this will be Sally Mutant’s last show, and one can’t imagine a better farewell performance.

11:15pm. The Avengers plug in their instruments. Wearing a black t-shirt, with the letters “FU” marked in white tape across her entire back, lead singer Penelope Houston prowls the stage with the intensity of a tiger. She moans, snarls and screams. She is really commanding and really beautiful, and her voice seems to have only gotten more powerful over time. In their blistering 45-minute set, The Avengers perform “Corpus Christi,” “Desperation” and an incredible cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” After finishing “Teenage Rebel,” Houston wipes the sweat off her forehead and acknowledges the irony. “I wrote that song when I was 19. Now that I’m 50, I’ve learned that it’s all up here,” she explains, bringing two fingers to the side of her head. The audience thoroughly agrees, cheering wildly for the band while dancing in the pit. They close with “The American in Me,” in which Houston unleashes a primal, “WAKE THE FUCK UP!” before marching off stage. The set can only be described as “electric.”

12am. Flipper is about to take the stage, but the crowd looks tired and has dwindled by one-third, presumably because people had to go home and pay their babysitters. Note to next year’s Pioneers of Punk: when your average audience member is 45, better to start the show on the earlier side.

12:15am. Flipper takes the stage. Formed in 1979, Flipper was one of the most influential punk bands from San Francisco. Now, with a string of lineup changes, breakups and reformations in their past, the group on stage embodies the living, breathing personification of what it means to be punk for so many years. Lead singer Bruce Loose slowly paces near the front, clutching a beer bottle in one hand and the microphone in the other, looking very much a veteran punk. Bass player Krist Novoselic waves to the crowd, thanking everyone for coming. “It’s so nice to see you all!” he says a few times.

As they begin ripping through renditions of “Be Good,” “Sacrifice” and “Ha Ha Ha,” the crowd sways with the music. Loose is a dominant and dynamic front man, his rough, raspy growl shaking the walls through the power of the amplifiers. But no matter how good a performer, there’s only so much he can do to rile up the crowd. “We’re having fun. Not sure about you,” he says with his back to the audience. And the truth is, the crowd doesn’t seem to be having much fun. They are enjoying the show, but the urgency and anger that is so essential to punk shows seems to be gone. Then again, maybe it’s just past their bedtime.

Regardless, Flipper performs an unforgettable set. At 1am they end with a spirited encore of “Sex Bomb,” joined on stage by Sally Mutant and Penelope Houston, who wildly sing the chorus along with Loose. The song is raucous, messy, passionate and perfectly punk, a sweet moment for those who’ve stayed until the end.


Comments are closed.