On Thanksgiving Eve, I rushed out of class and to the airport to make my 4:10 p.m. flight from Reno to Vegas. Less than two hours after the plane landed, I was at Vinyl at the Hard Rock for my first ska show in months. The entrance to the venue was congested with what I called “the fresh crop of ska kids”- young teenagers with patch-covered vests and multiple piercings. The opposing ends of the age spectrum were in attendance as well: three or four little girls sporting pink safety headphones shared the space with an adorable and dapperly dressed older couple. A quick survey of the crowd made it quite obvious that most were there for the Interrupters, as many people were wearing t-shirts supporting the band. Of course, as the headliners, the Interrupters were slated to play last, but the bands preceding them were nothing to scoff at, either.
To be honest, I didn’t even know that there were four bands playing until a friend of mine told me a few hours before the show. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t listen to at least a few of a band’s songs before seeing them live, but Guilty by Association inadvertently broke that record. When the local hardcore punk band first took the stage, I was confused, as I was expecting Be Like Max to play first. Guilty by Association definitely isn’t ska, though; props to Smash Magazine for mixing up the lineup and including a heavier, more hardcore band. Though the band is celebrating their 15th anniversary, they certainly showed that they can keep up with a crowd full of young teenagers. A small pit was started during their second song, which is impressive for the first band of the night. By the end of the set, Guilty by Association had the crowd cheering and whistling with their song “Coming Home,” which is also the name of their most recent record.
Next up was the band I was most excited for: Vegas’s own Be Like Max. As I walked into Vinyl and saw Be Like Max’s merch table, it struck me: “Holy shit, they’re playing a real venue!” Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen BLM play real venues in the past (R.I.P. the Artistic Armory), but to see them play at a place like Vinyl? They’ve played Vinyl before, but it’s not often that I get to see them play at a professional, permanent venue. The ska-punk sweethearts started off with an oldie, “Twice the Man,” and as soon as they did, a skank pit full of young fans erupted. Kids skanked super wackily and uniquely, with a refreshing “I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks, I’m having a blast!” vibe that makes it impossible to frown. I ended up in the pit myself for at least half of the set. BLM had Gian back on the sax and Javier Munoz of the Bay Area ska band Day Labor on trumpet; accompanied by Stephen on trombone, there was a full horn section. Javier was singing his heart out to every song, as were the at least thirty people either crushed up against the stage or in the pit. “Sin City Rude Kids” got an incredibly heartfelt reaction from people, especially during the lines “those moments made me who I am” and “now we feel like we belong.” I’m far too young to be this nostalgic and corny, but it was so rad seeing so many young teenagers feel the same connection to BLM that I did when I was their age. To round out the nostalgia factor, “I Can Be Rude” from their first album, Play in the Mud, marked the end of BLM’s set.
Since I decided to cover this show, I’ve been stressing about writing this review. That’s because I have a confession to make… As popular as they are, before this show, I couldn’t stand LA-based punk outfit Bad Cop/Bad Cop. I didn’t actually know many of their songs, except for “Nightmare,” which I’m not exactly a huge fan of, but I just didn’t understand the hype, chalking up their popularity to being an all-woman band in a scene full of horny single guys. After seeing them live, though, I realized that it was really just the one song that I disliked. I’m a total sucker for both punk women and live music, and it’s undeniable that Bad Cop/Bad Cop can put on an entertaining show. As a non-musician, I have a hard time telling if someone is anything besides “awful” and “good, I think,” but Bad Cop/Bad Cop’s drummer, Myra Gallarza, is ridiculously good. She impressed me so much with how clearly talented she was. I was equally, if not more, enthralled with bassist Linh Le, which is probably pretty narcissistic since we’re both Asian women with blue/green hair and a love of punk. If Linh is me in 10-15 years, though, that means I’ll still look good with blue hair, so I’ll take it.
Self-absorbed commentaries aside, I really wish I’d given this band more of a chance before the show, as it’s way more fun to sing along than to pick up on the chorus halfway through. Speaking of singing: I’ve heard people praise their harmonies before, but it’s pretty cool to be able to pick out three totally distinct voices (those of Linh and guitarists Stacey Dee and Jennie Cotterill) during each song. “Old Dogs,” “Joey Lawrence,” and “Sugarcane” were all pretty popular, each garnering lots of love from the crowd. The song that really sealed the deal for me, though, was “Cheers,” and especially the lines “This one’s to chase / The awful taste of your name from my tongue.” The rest of the crowd obviously felt the same, with quite a few drinks being lifted into the air (and some consequently spilled) during the song.
Finally, the headlining band of the night, the Interrupters, launched into “A Friend Like Me” with little delay. The sudden energy from the band and the crowd proved to be more than a short burst, as it continued throughout the rest of their set. I saw The Interrupters at Viva Ska Vegas last year, where they were awesome, but seemed kind of like “Aimee Interrupter and her back-up band.” This time around, they were way more cohesive, and the Bivona brothers (who cover guitar, bass, and drums) were spotlighted more often. The guitarist and bassist were constantly coming to the front of the stage to show off a bit. And they had good reason to be so upbeat (or as my friend who came to the show with me would say, “juiced”): it was their 100th show since releasing their sophomore album, Say It Out Loud, in June. At least, that’s what they said, but even if it’s that not true, they still had a great set.
As much as I love ska, with the exception of Reel Big Fish, I can’t stand over-the-top cheesy (is that an oxymoron?), so if pretty much anyone else was the vocalist for The Interrupters, I wouldn’t be as big of a fan as I am. Their feel-good lyrics and classic-ska upstrokes would be too much for me if Aimee’s Brody Dalle-esque voice didn’t perfectly temper them. No matter how you feel about Aimee’s voice, though, her charisma and amazing stage presence are undeniable. I saw a girl no older than 10 with her fist in the air throughout the entire set, and a good chunk of the crowd was constantly vying for for Aimee’s attention. She happily obliged with huge smiles and high-fives.
Guitarist Kevin Bivona, not to be outdone, was full of quips, a political rant, and even a mini faux-Aerosmith set. When he mentioned they would have a guest singer during “Phantom City” in place of Tim Timebomb, I joked that it would be Kevin himself- and it ended up being so. Along with “Phantom City,” The Interrupters played plenty of songs off of Say It Out Loud, with “She Got Arrested” and “On a Turntable” especially getting plenty of love. When asking for requests, the band jokingly went through multiple songs, including a cover of “Freebird,” but finally settled on “Prosecutor,” which really got the crowd going. Their self-titled first album was not to be ignored either, with the set featuring “This is the New Sound” with a super heavy ska breakdown. Some may say that ska is dead, but The Interrupters’ existence is a giant “fuck you” to those people. In this young rude kid’s opinion, at least, they really are one of the best new ska bands to come around in the last few years.
Photos by Aaron Mattern | https://www.flickr.com/photos/akmofoto/