Fists in the Air, Amen Forever: Punk at the Pub

By Justin Allec

It’s Friday April 18 and Black Pirates Pub fills up in ten minutes for the first annual Punk at the Pub cover show. It goes from an empty bar to standing room in the time it takes to get a drink. Tonight the pub hosts three sets of modern punk’s heavyweights: SoCal 90s skate punk in the form of NOFX (The Brews) and Rancid (Wolves), coupled with the more recent anthems of Rise Against (Revolutions Per Minute).

The beauty of a cover show is that the audience knows some of the songs, the choruses, and the backup whoa-whaos. Everyone here, bands and audience, is in on the excitement, the fandom—you want to see these songs performed for the same reason they’re being played—because they’re great.

“We know, like, nine Rise Against songs.”
“How about a different one from that album?”

It’s not certain if the actual Rise Against will land in the same category as the other two originators, given the flattening of their edges, but they did have an upstart beginning that lends them a place at this punk table. It’s fitting that the band that covers them goes first because of this, but they sell each song on its own. They’re choosing to go with more of the newer stuff too, which does tend toward rock-radio anthems instead of snotty punk. The few older tunes elicit the best reactions and provide an excellent finish: en masse, the crowd backs up on “Give it All.”

“Get close, people. This is a punk rock show, ok?”

Rancid equals Rancid. Rancid tends to lean towards a ska groove, and this band is doing it right by letting the bass do much of the work. A SoCal band with a New York street junkie outlook on big city woes, Rancid songs need to be sold from the tarnished soul. Along with the bass, the band takes the gruff approach to it all, bouncing between “Let’s Go!” and “…Wolves.” People ska dance, of all things, but it’s hard not to.

“We’re the bestest NOFX tonight.”

It’s a given fact that any band covering NOFX songs will put on a better show than NOFX. While NOFX may be punk’s most visible elder statesmen, their live shows are notorious for drunkenly going off the rails. Fat Mike may be sick of playing some songs, but give another band a chance on another night in a small bar, and it’s worth paying attention. This five-piece uses a female vocalist to pull off the nasally vocals. They mostly focus on War on Errorism material, and it’s obvious they’re having fun with it. Like all the sets so far, the crowd provides sing-along with their fists in the air.

Actively trading in nostalgia is only partially what these sets are about. It’s shocking to think that the bands being covered are more than 20 years old, but a song like NOFX’ “Linoleum” provokes. It’s familiar without being trite, and still capable of motivating a crowd to move, bump, and shout. It might even be a classic. A few simple chords that split the difference between generations of approval and immediate indifference. These are symphonies, our hymns, our classic rock.