Back in the nineties, I was an angsty, awkward teenager trying to find myself.
I never really glommed on to one specific genre of music, but found myself playing whatever fit my mood or ever-changing style.
Somewhere between ’95 and ’96 I had discovered a couple bands that introduced me to a way of life I had never seen. Both were from a chaotic scene in Southern California. Their sound and way of life were equally chaotic and anti-establishment; they were L.A. natives NOFX and Berkeley shit-disturbers Rancid. For a somewhat rebellious pre-adult, they were exactly what I was looking for. Fuck the man, and turn that shit up to ten.
These two bands became mainstays in my music rotation.
Sneaking some beers and listening to Rancid’s 1995 album …And Out Come the Wolves or NOFX’a 1994 album Punk in Drublic became something I looked forward to. I wasn’t hardcore by any means, but I appreciated the way the music helped me to release my frustrations and cope with growing up.
I mostly kept my love of SoCal punk to myself. The social circles I was a part of weren’t really into these loud songs with fast beats. The music became very personal to me, it was a private escape.
Back in 2011 I was lucky enough to catch Rancid opening for Blink-182 in Vancouver, but over my years of concerting I had yet to catch a glimpse of the evasive NOFX.
Last night I was able to cross that item from my bucket list when Fat Mike, El Hefe, Eric Melvin, and Erik Sandin hit Vancouver during their First Ditch Effort tour.
As the clouds dripped onto the streets of Vancouver, the temperature inside the Commodore Ballroom was climbing.
I hit the venue just as Louisiana hardcore punk outfit, PEARS, was taking the stage.
Though I have a personal attachment to my SoCal-music exploring teen days, I never really ventured further into the realm of punk. So when get to see a group as talented as PEARS, just wreck a stage with their explosive delivery, I am left in awe.
Zach Quinn on vocals became completely possessed by the music. He stomped around that stage, contorting his body like some demonic creature. The delivery wasn’t so much about what he was singing, but how he was singing it. Every word was forced from his lips with intensity, and constant bits of spittle rained down with his words. His face was an ever-varying shade of red.
I didn’t know the words to the songs, but I knew they made my blood boil and caused my head to involuntarily start to bang up and down. Their sound was contagious. With those pounding drums and thick bass lines, I couldn’t help but love them.
Their set was halted for a few minutes due to a busted amp. It took the wind out of their sails momentarily, but as soon as they could fire things back up, they turned it right back on again.
Great band, I hope to see again very soon. They really connected with the crowd.
Standing in front of the stage, I could see a swarm of people standing just to the side of the stage. It was dark but I could make out one figure quite clearly. It was Canadian punk rock vocalist Ken Chinn of SNFU, a.k.a Chi Pig, just hanging with friends, ready to watch the NOFX magic like the rest of us.
The house lights dimmed and Ken Chinn walked before the crowd. He didn’t say anything, but he walked from one side of the stage to the other, then sort of bowed, and then retreated from our view.
NOFX stormed out, and Chi Pig walked out with them. Fat Mike and Ken both had drinks in hand, they tapped them together and then each took a big swig.
Mike walked up to the microphone, taking a moment to point out how SNFU was one of the bands that inspired NOFX. It was a pretty cool moment.
As the band stood there, about the start the set, the audience slipped into chaos.
No music was being played, but crowd surfers were already streaming across the hands of the frantic mob.
There was no calm before the storm because there was no calm at all.
The band opened up with a split song, starting with 60% from 2006’s Wolves in Wolves’ Clothing and rolling on into Dinosaurs Will Die from 2000’s Pump Up the Valuum. The softer lead in was a nice way to get ready for the band, but once the fast-paced assault of the Dino song hit, the mosh pit began.
At that exact moment, I looked at the audience and then back at the band and a smile crept across my face.
It was a very surreal moment to finally see this band that I have loved for 20 years bringing down the house.
Each band member added their own flavor to the performance.
Eric Melvin bounded around the stage, swinging his guitar like it was weightless, and leaped into the air dozens of times throughout the night. He would put most musicians half his age to shame on that stage.
El Hefe was sneaky. He would creep around stage right, finding prime positions and then lean into his guitar and burn up the fretboard. He felt like a calm cool, just completely wrapped up in the moment and the music.
Smelly, a.k.a. Erik Sandin, was a monster on those drums. His arms beat down on those skins like they owed him money and he was going to beat every last cent out of them. While his face was always expressing the intensity with which he worked, he seemed to have this evil smirk that let you know he was in his happy place while doing it.
Fat Mike is the bringer of good times and the center point of the whole performance. He strutted around with his two-tone mohawk, leather kilt, and rugged stomping boots leading the fans in a giant sing-along for every song. Much like Smelly, he seemed to carry this eerie smile that told you that he was up to no good and loving every minute of it.
As the set rolled on I lost myself in the event. It was more than a music performance, it was like a group meeting for NOFX addicts.
Most of the night the power of the audiences vocals seemed to drown out the vocals emanating from the speakers.
Streams of crowd surfers poured over the audience. The would end their ride by falling into the mosh pit, and then they would run back to the floor and ride the wave all over again.
This onslaught of energy made the air in the venue muggy. I was just standing there watching, but I could feel the beads of sweat rolling from my brow.
I wasn’t sure what I expected before I walked into that show, but I can tell you they exceeded any expectations I had.
For a band whose members are almost all in their fifties, they presented a show that was playful and energetic and just goddamn fun.
I hope NOFX keeps touring, after last night I want to see them again.
Thank you to both bands for an amazing night out.
NOFX set list
60%/Dinosaurs Will Die
I’m Telling Tim
Murder in C/Quart In Session
6 Years on Dope
Man I Killed
Idiots Are Taking Over
I Don’t Like Me Anymore
Eat The Meek
The Separation of Church and Skate
I Believe in Goddess
I’m So Sorry Tony
Bottles to the Ground