It was several months ago when I lost my mind at one of the best show line-ups I ever saw: MTX, The Queers, and Screeching Weasel. I was instantly looking up tour dates and texting friends. Unsurprisingly, there were no dates that even ventured close to Pittsburgh, but there was an NYC date and hell, I will never turn down a reason to go to New York.
Webster Hall in New York is a strange place, a huge venue, that hosts up to four events each night can have lines around the block for a punk show, a 90s dance party, a hip hop show, and an intimate acoustic set. All this set in a beautiful old theater. The Weasel show was in the grand ballroom, which is still as elegant and fancy as it was in the early 1900s. As much as I love the pit, I arrived too late to get close enough to actually see the stage, so I opted to go upstairs. I found a spot in the balcony, center stage, right behind the sound guy, and barely had time to settle in.
The first notes of the Mr. T Experience set started at exactly 7pm. Dr. Frank was in black jeans, a sport coat over a t-shirt, and black and white chucks – just as he always has been. They kicked off their set with Last Time I Listened to You and I was instantly 15 again. They powered through some of my favorites, She’s Coming Over Tonight, Hell of Dumb, and Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba. The crowd sang along, but really lost control when they launched into …And I Will Be With You, which I supposed was their biggest commercial hit. That had a video didn’t it? (It sure did). They also played a new song, that he ties in with his King Dork book series, which was super catchy and awesome (a new MTX record would be pretty sweet if he is writing songs that sound like that). Dr. Frank filled the time between songs with self deprecating, “I’m working on my stage presence” banter and introduced at least three songs with the MTX tag, “This song is about a girl”. I have seen MTX a few times, from a large-ish club when they were opening up for Reel Big FIsh, to an awesome local venue that would maybe hold 200 people, and every performance has been infectious. I have to admit, that during their set I was itchy to get down into the pit. I was pretty bummed that their set was only 30 minutes (I was really hoping that each band would play for 45 minutes to an hour, they are all totally well known enough to put on that type of show).
The Queers were up next. I must admit that I was never super into The Queers, though I don’t really know why – they are fast, aggressive pop punk – which is my thing. They powered through their set, there was no banter, there was no introductions, it was a half hour of in your face music. I totally forgot about Like a Parasite, until they played the opening chords, then I remembered the best mix tape that a boy ever made me. They played Punk Rock Girls, which is kind of like their signature song for me (and I thought it would have gotten a bit more of a reaction on the Dr. Frank line than it did). In great punk tradition, they closed with a cover, a Ramones cover at that. The crowd screamed along to Sheen Is a Punk Rocker, only blocks away from where the iconic cover shot was taken.
I was honestly kind of surprised that Weasel was the headliner, not because of quality or popularity, but it just seemed that Ben Weasel had done a pretty good job of pissing off even the hard core Screeching Weasel fans. I, though, am not one of them. Ben Weasel has always been the anti-rock star, the anti-scenester, the anti-punk. He has spoken his mind, challenged authority, challenged punk, put his foot in his mouth while telling everyone to fuck off. This is part of his allure, his music and his persona are snotty and abrasive. Isn’t that part of the reason that Screeching Weasel is so appealing? Maybe I am in the dark, considering his whole band, including Vapid quit after the SXSW incident, but it was just not something to make me hate his music. Do I think that we would be great friends? Probably not, but My Right is a fucking anthem and nothing can change that.
At the Webster Hall show, I things got started off slow. The audience was totally thrown off by an super colorful sparkly jeweled jacket that we were pretty sure was a joke, but the longer he left it on, the more we began to doubt our speculation. (Even when he finally addressed in it the encore, I am still not sure of his motivation.) Anyway, the audience took a bit of time to warm up and so did Ben. They started the set withStrangle You, which is full of energy, yet there wasn’t a connection yet. They powered through some greats, including Dingbat, (which instantly brought back some 15 year old memories of inside jokes that I forgot about) and the audience really began to get into the show. About a third of the way into their set, Ben caught us off guard, he hadn’t really spoken much yet, but then he combatively asked if we wanted to hear some songs from Baby Fat (the rock opera that he is releasing – Act 1 is out now). He started out, from nowhere, complaining that sometimes audiences doesn’t want to hear new material, and if that is the case, he can cut the set 5 songs short and we can leave early. It was as if he was daring us to say “no” and evoke a “Ben Weasel moment”. In turn we all got defensive, like, “we never said that we didn’t want to hear new stuff” or “We were never even asked. Stop making assumptions, Ben Weasel.” He ended up playing the songs fromBaby Fat Act 1 as an overview of the musical. Though his introduction was awkward, placing the songs in a mini-set like he did, was the best way to present them since they are clearly a different thing than any other Screeching Weasel album. I have to admit, I have not listened to Act 1 yet, but from this sampling, I may check it out soon, though 27 tracks is a bit intimidating. They were definitely a balanced hybrid of musical and Screeching Weasel.
The last third of the set was a powerhouse. Ben introduced Totally with, “If I was Dr. Frank, I would say this song was about a girl” (which was also on that best mix tape). They thrashed through, Ashtray, The First Day of Summer, their cover of I Can See Clearly Now, Joanie Loves Johnny. The hands down, best two songs of the night, for both me and the rest of the crowd were, Hey Suburbia and My Right. I mean, we are all there because we are Weasel fans and those songs are the epitome of Weasel, which, truly is the epitome of teenage energy and unrest. Those song were fucking anthems to us and will be to any punk rock teenager who comes across them as they are growing up. The lyrics, attitude, energy, and delivery are exactly what we are all feeling at that time in our lives (and even sometimes as an adult).
Love it or hate it, they did the obligatory encore, a mishmash of songs highlighted by Joe Queer coming out on stage and singing Cindy’s on Methadone with the band. Ben got chattier, fed by the audience’s positive responses. He tells us of a tweet that called him problematic, concluding with, “I hope I’m problematic”. Ben has had more career ups and downs than most big time rock stars, but he has come out on top – Webster Hall was packed with fans singing along to every word, trashing in the pit. Unfortunately for him, he is problematic, he says what his on his mind, even when it isn’t popular (even to the punk community) and he will never have a filter, he didn’t mellow out with old age, or become PC when that is what the punk community thought was responsible. At least now, he seems to gained the wisdom that he is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, so, fuck off.
With every song I remembered just why I love their music so much, why I am a punk kid even in my 30s, these songs still rile me up all these years later. I could sit here and say I wish they played…and give you a list of 20 songs, but that is just because there are so many fucking awesome Screeching Weasel songs. The set was a good selection from their career played loud, fast, and without apology.
The entire show took me back to a great part of my childhood, those carefree years with best friends and boyfriends, the years when you just worked so you had gas money, the years of making mix tapes for everyone. (In high school I there was always at least one Weasel and one MTX song on every mix tape I made.) And the best part about this show and it taking me back down memory lane, every one of these bands fucking still rocks. They are just as great as they were back then. I guess we punks just age well, maybe we are just too stubborn to give in.