Certain details in this post may be exaggerated. Others are made up entirely. -Dave.
We made it to Moe’s Original Barbecue and Bowling in time to see Disguise the Spy play their last two songs. The door guy at the bar, a laid-back mountain hippie type with a sandy beard, asked what band we had come to see. The A-Oks, we told him, but what did we know? We had only been lured out that afternoon by a tumblr post, posted by a girl with “skanks” in her screen name. Shouldn’t she know a good ska band? The people on the Facebook event page for the show who couldn’t make it all said that they wished they could be there. They seemed sincere. Anyway, that was all we had to go on. We were in a strange town, torn from our homes and planted in the shallow soil of this dusty city on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. The people here are, on average, two letter grades better looking than people in Ohio. It’s a lonely, alienating experience, stumbling around in the bright sunlight, gasping for breath in the thin air while stunningly beautiful people in North Face jackets avert their gaze in palpable discomfort. Truth is, we came to the local ska show out of desperation.
The stage at Moe’s is in an open area at the end of a long lunch counter. You could probably cram a hundred punks in there before the cloud of body odor and beer breath reached critical mass and became a threat to public health.
Disguise the Spy looked something like a gang on stage, with a shaved-head dude screaming into the mike. We heard them play two songs. The first seemed to party on the screamo side of hardcore while their final number was a pretty catchy Fat Wreck Chords style punk tune. As a result, I don’t have a clear idea of what Disguise the Spy sounds like. For all I know, they could be a pretty badass Oi band.
The next group, Arach Attack, seemed to think they were having a bad show, but I had fun anyway. They distinguished themselves by playing the first Nerf Herder cover that I’ve ever heard and with the fact that the guitar player/singer spent the set sipping from a bottle of Robotussin and an aluminum can of PBR. They played the kind of beer-fueled punk rock that you can throw away the best years of your life dancing to in a dirty basement bar, soaking your jean jacket in the baseball game smell of cheap beer, pumping your fist and singing along with the Misfits covers. If you get lucky.
The Namesakes took the stage next, looking fit, nerdy and ready to rock in Buddy Holly glasses. They tore into a set of what turned out to be pretty good emo that got the crowd moving and caused several young women in the audience to swoon. And why not? These guys looked like Weezer and they were playing verifiable emotional heartthrob rock. The boyfriends and male acquaintances of the effected young ladies took note of what was happening and proceeded to sublimate their jealous rage by battering each other bloody in the mosh pit. What ensued was some of the most poignant, heart-rending violence it has ever been my dubious fate to witness. Mohwaked gladiators, tattered Sublime t-shirts hanging in ribbons from their pulsing baby fat, tears streaming down their faces as fist packed against flesh, all unfolding to music that would have been at home in the soundtrack to a teen comedy from 2002. An American Pie sequel, it seemed, had gotten brutally real, inciting a massacre of self-loathing. A grim emo spectacle, indeed.
After the Namesakes, Shandi and I stepped out the back door into a closed off alley behind the bar to have a smoke and see who we ran into. In what may be a foreshadowing of unimaginable changes waiting for us at the end of the Mayan calendar, the first people we encountered were a skinhead and a hippie sharing a ride. They had to leave early, racing the clock back home to Colorado Springs. “The Springs” is said to be an unsafe place after midnight. Could it be because press gangs from Focus on the Family troll the streets of Colorado Springs at night with blackjacks, clubbing the vulnerable and forcing them to run a blood diamond pyramid scheme for Rick Santorum’s super-PAC? Well, I would certainly hate to start that rumor.
After talking to a bar employee, who politely told us that he had just finished smoking a blunt in the cooler, thanks, we saw the bass player from The A-Oks. When I told him we’d be blogging the show, he said, “The A-Oks, we’re party-core,” and headed in to the building.
I don’t think the circle pit of skanking kids stopped for longer than a minute or two during the A-Oks set. They tore by in an endless cyclonic blur, pins and patches, liberty spikes and elbows, comet punks flying out of orbit and crashing into the crowd. They skanked faster than I could skank, skanked hard enough to void the factory warranty on your Doctor Martens. And this went on for an hour.
The A-Oks played 90’s style ska-core, the kind of music that would generally be playing in the background when I was seventeen, picking myself up off the pavement after failing, once again, to kickflip. They played it brilliantly. With the entire band dancing around the stage and the saxophone player doing a goofy pantomime along with the lyrics, they supplied the energy to keep the mêlée of kids in the pit oscillating at such deadly speeds. A whole flock who stayed glued to the stage seemed to know all the words. It was all the effervescent fun that a ska-core show is meant to be, and none of the posturing, none of the weird guilt.
I thought back to the spring of 1999, when I saw Five Iron Frenzy play in a Baptist church in Lancaster, Ohio. Back then I was a Christian teenager, lost and alone, trying to decode a message from an angry god in the giddy transcendence that I felt while jostling with the sweat soaked crowd at what was then the best rock show of my life. Now, here I was, thirteen years later, watching what could be a Twilight Zone version of the same band a thousand miles away. My wife was with me, and maybe we were lost, trapped in a strange city without jobs or friends, but we certainly weren’t alone. We had each other to share those noisy, breathless moments of transcendence, when the music hits and you don’t feel like an outcast anymore, or even a stranger in town, when we are who we want to be, and we are right where we belong.