I didn’t get much done before work yesterday. I slept late and spent the afternoon putzing around in my ugly silver gym shorts and the same black tank top I had on the night before, wearing my Cedar Point flip flops down to the Sonic to fill up on Tater Tots that I hoped would soak up the alcohol still eddying around in my digestive track. I slept through an entire disc of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on DVD. This was a time for recovery, a time for cobbling the bits of my ego back together and trying to refocus the blurry, furious memories of the incredible punk show I had been to the night before with British punk legends Peter and the Test Tube Babies.
Typically, we arrived at the show late. Shows in Denver tend to end around midnight, and start at something like six in the afternoon. Maybe that’s an exaggeration; I can’t be sure. I’ve never been to any bar here early enough to catch the beginning of a show. The opening acts were 99 Bottles, The Potato Pirates, and The Bad Engrish, all bands I had been hearing a lot about since we got to town but hadn’t yet had the chance to see. I was looking forward to seeing the local bands as much as I was to seeing Peter and the Test Tube Babies. Well, almost as much. Ok, not even close, but I still really wanted to catch their sets.
We got to the bar a little after 9, just in time to snap one righteous picture of 99 Bottles, Colorado Springs’ most ferocious Oi band, before they ended their set. “One more song,” I screamed, “We just got here,” but to no avail.
We stepped toward the stage, into the thick, stinking heat still hanging in the room from too many bodies sweating, too many lungs converting oxygen to greenhouse gas. The punks and the creeps and the skins were all dissipating, retreating to find thinner air, beer and cigarettes. “It’s hotter than a god damn in here,” I said, my apparent catch-phrase for the night. I would have several occasions to repeat it before the show was finished.
As we made our way through the tangle of bodies and the swell of ambient noise from a hundred shouted conversations, Shandi found herself in the disadvantageous position of being perched atop a pair of high heels. They made her legs look even longer than normal in her new red pencil skirt, but she was unaccustomed to balancing on what amounted to pegs under her feet. I would spend the rest of the night doing the work of an offensive lineman, blocking my long-legged quarterback from the furious onslaught of blitzing moshers, boot-clad human cannonballs hurtling out of the pit with nothing but drums and the fury of guitar fuzz filling their brains. “From now on,” she told me, “I’m wearing my Doc Martens’ to these things. I don’t care.”
The Potato Pirates started their set with the wheezy strains of bagpipe chords giving way to the galloping thunder of hardcore punk. These guys took the scatter gun approach to playing vaguely-oi-ish music: rather than specializing in hardcore punk, ska-punk or celtic rock, the Pirates shifted gears between all three. All the major skinhead food groups, as it were. They played in all three genres fairly well, though I tended to prefer the more ska sounding songs, probably because I never got over 1997. The celtic stuff was the least well developed, the bagpipes functioning more as a prop than adding to the overall music. The last half of a song that I heard the PPs play when they opened for The Slackers back in February had, for some reason, left me expecting a much more pop-punk oriented band than what I saw at Moe’s that night. I had it in my head that they had sort of a nineties So-Cal sound, but the Bagpipe wielding band I saw on Wednesday night was much more bad ass.
The low point in the Potato Pirates’ otherwise rockin’ set came toward the end, when one of their songs devolved into a crowd of guys chanting “Suck my dick” into the microphone. There is nothing on earth outside of a Rush Limbaugh broadcast that sounds more like the sonic interpretation of an angry, two-inch boner.
The Bad Engrish is Denver’s inescapable punk rock band. Since we moved here I have been seing their logo everywhere, on posters, stickers, on patches sewn onto denim. In their logo, the A in “Bad” is an anarchy sign, but I didn’t notice any overt political messages in their music. Truth is, I’m having a hard time remembering any specifics from their set, apart from raising my fist to sing along with a chorus of “Punk and Proud,” and trying to maneuver around a four-foot –wide photographer up front to get pictures of the crowd surfers. The highest compliment I can give the Engrish –and this is likely meaningless to anyone outside of Columbus circa 2001- is to say that at times they reminded me of Little Orphan Anarchy, only without the air of drunken, chaotic sloppiness that was the hallmark of those old Bernies shows from back in the day. No, the Bad Engrish were consummate professionals, their street-punk style honed to tightly executed perfection. One could imagine them playing a Hellcat Records showcase or the Volcom stage at Warped Tour. Coming out from behind her camera after taking a few shots of the band, Shandi leaned (more accurately stooped; she’s much taller than me in heels) into my ear and asked if I thought the guitar player would be pissed if she described him as “a cross between Sherman Alexie and Joe Strummer.” I didn’t figure he would, though I don’t know that he actually looked like Sherman Alexie as much as he just had his hair braided like the dude from Smoke Signals.
The singer, sporting a foot-tall scarlet Mohawk and a Cock Sparrer belt buckle, was a clear Anglophile. Once, between songs, he told the crowd, “If you’re sitting next to someone with a British fucking accent, buy him a fucking drink.” After the energetic set from The Bad Engrish, we were ready for the Brits themselves to take the stage.
Shandi and I tucked into a spot by the monitors at stage right that we would occupy for the rest of the show. We felt the breeze thrusting from the speakers as the bass did a sound check. The show was an absolute frenzied mêlée. I kept my elbows out, trying to hold back the crowd from toppling the six feet of tattooed Roman sculpture that was my beautiful blond wife. I had taken a vow, I reasoned, to protect her in all mosh pits, and fulfilling that duty was more important than trashing around with the rest of the shitheads. There was only so much that I could do, though. We both came away from the show with our knees bruised from the bumping against the stage and our ears ringing for the next two days.
Peter and the Test Tube Babies, who look like such sweet kids in all the pictures of them from the eighties, were by now old limey perverts with punk rock t-shirts straining to cover their beer guts. In contrast to artists like Mike Ness, who have learned hard lessons from a life of loud music and substance abuse, Peter & the TTB had the affect of a group of friends who had been hitting the bottle hard and playing punk rock for over thirty years and had enjoyed every minute of it. At center stage, Peter (who, according to his webpage, is an ESL teacher when he’s not preforming his duties as a punk legend) spent much of the show mock-wanking his microphone and flirting with the girls in the front row. Between songs, the band joked with each other in an indecipherable Cockney patter. I couldn’t make out a word, but I did get the idea that they were fond of some of the local microbrews.
The Denver show was one of only five stops that the Test Tube Babies were making in the non-California U.S. People had come from all over to this otherwise insignificant barbecue restaurant on South Broadway for their best chance to see P & the TTB play live. One guy handed me a stack of vinyl stickers for his band, “a traditional oi band,” he told me, “from Des Moines.” According to Google, that’s seven-hundred-miles one way, and most of it is through Nebraska.
The big payoff came at the encore, when the Test Tube Babies returned to the stage and played the classic, slow version of “Elvis is Dead” to a grateful swarm of screaming young guppies. Later, downing shots of tequila and Jagermeister in defiance of all good judgment with some of the local rudies, we reflected on our situation. The Great Recession (damn Reaganomics!) has been hard on us, fraught with the layoffs and unemployment that our corporate overlords have chosen to inflict on the entire American working class in order to increase their own profitability. Now, we found ourselves a thousand miles from home facing the greatest economic instability we had ever encountered, without even a group of friends to commiserate with. “This was great, though,” Shandi said, “this was just the show that I needed.”