18 June 2006


The above word may or may not mean "overview of the fest," or "outlook on the fest," or something close enough. I'm too lazy and preoccupied with watching Korea v. France to look it up, and anyway, since I just made the word up a minute ago, it may not be in the dictionary yet. Australia v. Brazil was a disappointment on two counts: I dearly want Brazil knocked out of the tournament before they get to the final rounds for the same reasons I dance and sing whenever Man United or Arsenal are humiliated by lowly opposition, and because I'm sick of looking at them, hearing about them, and most of all, sick of their fans.

At the same time (go ahead, call me Mr. Negative) I'm almost as passionately hoping to see Argentina, Germany and Italy eliminated, though I guess I'll have to scratch Italy off that list, since they have to beat the Czech Republic for the USA to have a chance to go through. Speaking of which, the US were positively heroic in struggling to a 1-1 draw with Italy yesterday, and could easily have won it were it not for some bad luck and bad officiating. The Americans were every bit as good as they were bad against the Czechs (and, curiously, the Czechs were every bit as bad against Ghana as the Yanks were against them). I hadn't intended to watch the whole USA-Italy match, figuring it to be a foregone conclusion, but it turned out to be so riveting that I was an hour late for the first bands of Saturday's fest-type activities.

That meant, sadly, that I didn't get to see Tokyo Superfans (who really impressed me up in New York a couple weeks ago), the Hot Cops, and the Tattletales. As it turned out, they weren't the only bands I would miss during the long afternoon's journey into the wee hours of the night. If I'm counting correctly, 19 bands played, and I saw some or all of maybe 12 or 13. Having got into a couple long conversations, first with B-Face and then with an inebriated man who wanted to ask me or tell me - it was hard to tell which - how to run a record label, I managed to miss the entire Unlovables set, and was roundly chastised for it by half a dozen of their rabid fans who seemed to be unanimously claiming that it was their best show ever. Kevin Aper supposedly jumped off the ceiling or some similarly high place at the height of the excitement.

(Speaking of excitement, the Koreans just equalized against France, and moments later, Zidane, after elbowing a hapless Korean to the ground, put Thierry Henry in on a one-on-one with the Korean goalkeeper. Who saved. Wow.)

Back to the fest, after noting that the Korea-France match ended in a draw, and with the real possibility that France will be eliminated at the group stage (in addition to the above-noted teams, I'm also rooting against France on general principles): I just realized that I've eaten exactly one small sandwich in the last two days, so busy and preoccupied have I been with trying to see everything and everybody, and to tell the truth, I've barely noticed the absence of food in my life. I could go out and eat now - though it would entail a bit of a walk from this sparsely populated neighborhood - but I feel my higher duty is to file this report for the benefit of the seven or eight of you out there who are absolutely fascinated by this stuff (this would probably match the number of you interested in World Cup football, but hey, write what you know, they always say).

In order to accomodate the 19 (more or less) bands who played Saturday, the fest took place at two clubs, about two minutes walk around the corner from each other. Each band had a rigidly enforced 30-minute set time and there was a 10-minute interval to allow people to move back and forth between the clubs. On paper, no problem, right? Eight minutes to spare between each band. But in the real world of DIY punk rock shows, a recipe for disaster, or at least a fiasco, many pessimists predicted.

Not so, however. It went off almost - no, not almost, it went off FLAWLESSLY. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. I've been to corporate rock shows in giant arenas that didn't run as smoothly. Most of the credit for that goes to Pat Termite, who ran things with an iron fist and a level of efficiency and organization that was simply mind-boggling. But the bands deserve some recognition, too, for leaving attitudes and egoes out of it and cooperating with the organizers to an extent I've rarely seen. Anyone with experience as a stage manager, especially at punk rock shows, will tell you that trying to get bands on and off stage on schedule is like herding cats into a bathtub, but Pat did it without breaking a sweat, and even managed to neatly fit a 30-minute set with his own band, the Beatnik Termites, into the mix.

Somehow the Sidebar managed to secure a special license allowing festgoers to hang out on the sidewalk and in the parking lot drinking themselves silly. With temperatures in the high 80s (low 30s for you non-Americans) and a not particularly well-ventilated bar, this was a real blessing. I can't see this happening in most American cities, but apparently this is a part of Baltimore that nobody, including the city government, cares too much about it. Apparently there's a very dicey street only a couple blocks away lined with strip clubs and a variety of unsavory characters which is also the only place where you can get something to eat after 7 or 8 pm. I mean something to eat of the food variety, of course, and many festgoers had urban-type adventures on their way to and from the Block. One of the local denizens was overheard saying, "Damn, I never seen so many white people around here."

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I never made it down there, so can't report on the quality of the food, strip clubs, or demographic commentary. And yet, even sticking close to the clubs, I still managed to miss, in addition to the Unlovables, a young band from Columbus, Ohio called Delay, who nearly everyone swore were one of the highlights, and went nearly as crazy on stage as the indefatigable Leftovers, who managed to play a show of their own somewhere up in New Jersey and still get back to the fest in time to see the Mopes. About whom I'll have more to say in a minute, but first a nod has to go to the Copyrights, who matched, possibly even surpassed the Steinways in terms of eliciting an ecstatic crowd reaction. Personally, I still prefer the Steinways, but that might be because I know them and they have a certain homegrown appeal to me. But the Copyrights set was similar to the Steinways in the sense that here was a band who've been laboring in obscurity for a while and now are starting to break through to a larger audience and generate real excitement. To be fair (and accurate), the Copyrights are further along in that process, but I remember seeing them playing for about 20 people in Jersey City a couple years ago and thinking, "I appreciate what you're trying to do, guys, but you'll have to try a lot harder." That was definitely not the case last night: the crowd went absolutely mental, punching the air and doing gang vocals on pretty much every song. I watched from the back, whereas I was right up front for the Steinways, so I had a very different perspective, but I know I was standing there with my mouth hanging out at the sheer intensity of the spectacle. It reminded me more than anything of the exuberance and exhilaration of Gilman Street circa 1987.

Many were predicting that the Ergs set would be the highlight of the fest, but they were handicapped by equipment troubles right at the beginning and cutting short their actual playing time. They were still sensational, of course, but maybe not the sensation this time. Credit for that would have to go to the Mopes, hands down.

It was strange to think that when I first met Dan Vapid, B-Face and John Jughead, they were barely more than kids, and here they were the elder statesman of pop-punk (since they're still a good 20 years younger than I am, I wonder what that makes me). Although I had a hand in putting out the Mopes record (not much of a hand, though, as it came out after I'd left Lookout), I'd never seen them, and wasn't even that familiar with their songs. But nearly everybody else in the crowd seemed to know them by heart, and I just don't have the words to describe what it was like when the Mopes took the stage for only the second time in ten years (the first being the night before in Chicago).

I had intended to watch from the back, because I thought the dancing up front might get a little hectic. It did, and I was right in the thick of it. I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else, though it did occasionally occur to me that there must be something slightly ludicrous about a man fast approaching 60 swirling around in the pit. I didn't even have my walker with me, either! Apparently there is now a poll on the Pop Punk Message Bored aimed at determining "who ruled the pit the most" and at last glance I was leading. Feel free to go there and vote for me.

I don't know, what else can I say: I honestly thought I'd never again see a punk rock show - no, not just a punk rock show, but a whole event, get-together, convocation, whatever - that made me feel so excited and happy just to be alive. I don't think I'm alone in feeling that way; after the music finally stopped - the Mopes had to do an encore by repeating two songs because they'd already played everything they knew - people hung about on the street until 3 in the morning not wanting the buzz to end, and then finally set off for more partying elsewhere, which I, returning to sensible older gentleman mode, eschewed in favor of my comfortable bed. I haven't checked with anyone yet, but I'm willing to bet that the after-festivities went on well past the dawn.

Okay, I think I've done my duty here. I'm sure I'll have more to say about the weekend's events in the next couple days, but for now I've set down the basics, and it's time to venture out into the sultry streets of Baltimore in search of breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Oh, and did I mention there's another show tonight?

No comments: