Missing from the comments below is a review of Box Elders, who were playing before the Shanks at O'Leaver's. I didn't get there early enough to hear their entire set; I was outside in the O'Leaver's "beer garden" when they were on stage and didn't even recognize them -- they sounded like a different band, tighter, more put together then the raucous garage band from a few months ago. I guess touring has had its impact on these guys, or maybe it's just Jeremiah's new haircut.
Column 193: Out of Control
Punk in the 21st Century
Is it time for another emergence of punk rock?
After all, punk has been dead since the '80s, right? I mean, think about why punk rock existed in the first place. It was a rebellion against the mainstream. It was social economics and booze. Which makes these solemn, teetering-on-the-edge of financial disaster End Days perfect for another fist-rising experiment in anger therapy. There is no better time than today for punk rock to bleed through the culture and take as many drunk, drugged and penniless prisoners as possible. But it can't sound like the old stuff. It can't feel like nostalgia or tribute or costume-y deification of days gone by, because no one will believe it. The problem with performing punk is that if done without a sense of honest hostility, it becomes novelty; it turns away from angst and becomes fashion, an entirely different type of desperation than what The Dead Kennedys and Black Flag and originators like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols had in mind.
I like punk as grand anarchistic theater, as an outlet for those who have nothing to lose. Which is why I liked the Shanks so much. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
This weekend I saw a few flavors of the current state of punk in our fair city. Friday night featured two bands at Saddle Creek Bar -- The Upsets and Officially Terminated. Fronted by the amazing Jade Rocker, who embodies the hubris of early-day Joan Jett and latter-day Wendy O Williams, The Upsets blow-torched a set of heavy stuff that wasn't so much punk as guttural garage rock, capping their set with a Black Flag cover.
Between sets, folks stood outside and talked about days gone by, including Omaha hall shows of the '80s and '90s that could draw a hundred or so angry, idealistic kids. No chance of that these days, right? I even wondered out loud why no one moshed anymore.
"Because it's kind of gay," said one guy wearing a backwards baseball cap. Viewed from the sidelines, there is something sort of gay about a group of young guys, half of them shirtless, purposely slamming into each other, knocking each other down, and pulling themselves back up with sweaty grips to push-shove-rub against each other some more. Rough love. A shared tribal experience that bordered on the homoerotic, even though there was nothing sexual about it. At least there never seemed to be at the very few '90s punk shows that I attended. I never got into the pit. I was way too old for that sort of thing, and I could never get to that level of exuberance or drunkenness to let myself become part of the fray.
Moshing today -- 20 or 25 years after its invention -- seems cliché and derivative. Today's youth appears way too cultured and cool for that sort of thing, and I guess too cool for punk in general.
But just as I thought that, a small mosh pit -- maybe 10 people -- formed in front of where Officially Terminated was exploding. It was slow-motion mosh, a kinder, gentler version that looked like a friendly shoving match by fans who couldn't help themselves, driven by the band's ear-bleeding ferocity.
Featuring guitarist Sam Morris -- a vision in teased blond hair and make-up a la Poison -- and tiny frenetic frontman Eric Hansen, who looked like he weighed 75 pounds soaking wet, Officially Terminated uncorked a set that bordered on hardcore, with songs like "Martini Time" and a twisted cover of Dr. Hook's "The Cover of the Rolling Stone." It was fun. Too fun to be punk, though a million miles removed from pop-punk garbage like Blink 182.
To find what I was looking for, I had to go to O'Leaver's Saturday night for the last waltz of Omaha's The Shanks, one of the most lewd, crude, out-of-control bands in recent memory. When The Shanks were on stage, you instinctively kept your head on a swivel alert for flying bottles or fists, never quite certain if what you were watching was rock 'n' roll or performance art (or both). The Shanks were guttural. They were angry -- with each other, with themselves, with the crowd. Or so it seemed. Maybe it was only an act. We'll never know. But one thing's for certain, they did an admirable job trying to hoist the long tradition of punk rock on their t-shirt-clad shoulders.
And they did not disappoint Saturday night. The band erupted in a drunken visceral assault, complete with insults for everyone in the room. Frontman Smutt Rodd Todd looked like a pit-bull, bracing against a choker chain only inches from your face, while drummer Jeff Damage teetered on the verge of attacking either the crowd or fellow band members. By the end of the set, Jeff was balancing on one of O'Leaver's cheap tables, shirt off, covered in sweat, eventually falling into the drum kit. It was ugly and beautiful, an expression of hopelessness by four guys who could give a shit what you thought. I don't know if it was punk or not, but it felt right. And now The Shanks are gone forever. Or at least until this weekend, when three of the four members re-emerge at The Saddle Creek Bar as The Dinks.
Maybe it's too early for punk's return. Sure, we're in the midst of economic crisis, but other than the media telling us about it, have we really felt its effects? Not yet, not here. And who knows if we ever will, especially with a change of administration just around the corner. If punk was truly destined to re-emerge in an angry new form, it would have happened at the end of the Bush era, but even then, rock was too fat and happy to find anything worth complaining about.