Tuesday September 10th, 2002 at El Torreon in Kansas City, MO
The Vibrators, The Shotgun Idols, & The Skags
Every show can't be a good one. Inbreeding is bad. Some bands have been around 26 years, while other ones have been around for 26 days. Some people are in bands with people much younger than them. Some bands play much longer than they should. Sometimes your friends are in bad bands.
A little after 8pm The Skags took the stage and tried to attract the attention of the various pockets of punks who were loitering outside, drinking around the corner, sleeping on the couches, playing video games, making out with their grrlfriends or just terminally uninterested in opening bands. The biggest challenge seemed to be getting the attention of the soundman whom evidently lost track of time [in a bong]. For nearly ten minutes we all stood around in the dark looking dim. I think I'm going to ask him for those ten minutes back.
Although The Skags have been around for nearly a year, their story is already sordid. Ten months and nearly ten members ago Rudy Wolf began The Skags as an outlet for his disenfranchised punk rebellion. Although members have come and gone, his song writing has been utterly bankable. A month ago Rudy was sitting around El Torreon lamenting the fact he, again, had no band. Both Alison Saunders (guitar for Sister Mary) and Woodsy' (then 2nd guitar in Sister Mary) heard the familiar cry and answered his call.
In less than a month, both Saunders and Woodsy' picked up new instruments (bass and drums respectively) and, in what is certainly true punk fashion, the band decided they were ready to play out. Not just any show though, a gig opening up for The Vibrators the band that wrote "Baby Baby" and "Troops of Tomorrow" two of the songs from the holy canon of my punk rock youth. This truly says "No Idols."
While this recipe may mean disaster for most, The Skags pulled it off with few blemishes and in the process became my favourite KC punk band. East Coast, West Coast, UK, it all applies equally. The mix of both raw attack and sensible pop presented with an affected cockney sneer is undeniably catchy and certainly the right band to open up for the pop-in-punks-clothing of The Vibrators.
While The Skags were a pleasant surprise, The Shotgun Idols were a horrible mistake. Sadly I watched this supergroup of local icons (Tim of Main Street Saints, Amy Ferrand formerly of Sister Mary, John Cagle of Go Generation and currently of Sister Mary, & Abe Haddad) destroy music as we know it for nearly an hour. Firmly planted in some rock & roll tradition gone wrong, it was if the band took sixties garage rock, impregnated it with Satan's seed, and then locked it up in the basement. Several generations of inbreeding later, the result has emerged as The Shotguns Idols a sleazy, juvenile, slugfest of power chords that has taken loose and sloppy to a whole new level.
To quote The Purple One, dig if you will the picture: A large tattooed man in hip sunglasses, wearing a karate uniform belted by a black studded leather belt, introducing a song about not wanting to go to the bathroom anywhere but home. The song title: "Turtlehead". Can anything more be said?
With such a bitter taste in my mouth (and all-the-while dreading the inevitable conversation with Abe Haddad and my other friends in the band), I thought about ducking out. However the hope of hearing "London Girls" was enough to keep me around. The last time The Vibrators came to town I had to leave early, so I was determined to stick around at least that long this time. I wasn't sure I'd want to make it any further, but when the Ian Carnochan ("Knox") played the clean opening chords of the band's set, it brought back fondest memories and I quickly changed my mind.
The Vibrators hail from the original British punk wave. Formed in 1976 by drummer Eddie (last name unknown), the band were there along side of The Sex Pistols, The Damned and every other band that has since banked on their infamy. Why not The Vibrators? I'm can't be sure as I wasn't there, but I might guess that The Vibrators just weren' t mean enough, or fast enough, or cartoonish enough to capture the media's attention. Instead they captured the pens of music critics, chart positions, and the essence of pop music.
Having wrapped up their 25th anniversary tour, the band is out today promoting new material. Although the biggest cheers came for the bona fide hits of then, the now wasn't bad either. Throughout their career the band has shown an understanding of how to create pop that has teeth. The band never varies far from the formulas we're all used to (including the well-played guitar solos), but taking their cue from the Ramones, the band has stripped most everything else away.
The three-piece (with bassist Robbie Tart joining the above two nearly five years ago) rocked the audience with mid-paced punk rock full of hooks, power, and heart. Sadly, the years have had their toll on the band and they can't muster the intensity of the young punk bands, nor match their energy. Knox is haggard with thin billowy hair clinging dearly to a bald crown. In fact, if it were thicker and red he might be a ringer for Ronald McDonald. As he stood posed in front of the microphone stand in his new bondage pants, I wondered if the band may be in danger of becoming the cartoons they missed out on during the summer of hate.
As a result I found myself closing my eyes and imaging I was listening to the band's first two records on the hi-fi. With eyes squinted shut, the band sounded wonderful and the show was delightful. Unfortunately when I opened them, and I looked around at the crowd of forty or fifty young postcard punks, I wondered when the band might make enough to retire. Maybe tomorrow I'll buy those first two albums again. Do you think the money goes to the band?