Dave Rine is a working class punk rocker who writes reviews from the smelly part of the pit. He author and artist, he founded both We Belong Here and Partee Propaganda Comics. While he makes his way through the Rochester Scene we will be feature his reviews and work.
Saturday night in the South Wedge, the show started just as dusk began to fall. Pandaman, the all-ages, booze-free coffee shop and art gallery for post-Christian zinesters that was hosting the bands I had come to see, is situated in a storefront on Monroe, a cozy distance from Rochester’s most popular rock bar on the one side, and the city’s best skate shop on the other. In terms of physical space, it’s a shot gun shack, a single room with merch tables and a sofa on one side, and a coffee counter on the other. Bands play right on the floor in the back of the room, a space that would be much better suited for a nail salon than a concert venue.
Sometimes, it seems like a flytrap for punks. I think of how easy it would be to lure every DIY kid in town down there by telling them the trans chick from Against Me was doing spoken word, then move in with a SWAT team and curb stomp everybody who didn’t go quietly into the paddy wagon.
The first act started while I was next door, having a whiskey drink at the Bug Jar. That was where I heard a one-man band called BC Likes You, one dude on guitar accompanying his damn self with a drum and bass machine, playing a Blink 182 cover. He was running his vocals through a Nintendo, or something, which was a brilliant innovation, but one that my mind is to primitive to understand. It sounded like pop-punk for robots, and I thought, wow, the kids these days are so creative. I kind of wish one man bands would have been a thing when I was younger. Just imagine, having a punk band without a guitar player and a drummer to tell you that you can’t sing on key and your songs are too political. The bass player’s constitutionally wounded ego reels.
I tried to get back to Pandaman to at least catch some of the fedora-sporting acoustic folk-punk performer wailing away inside, but I got snagged up by some of the motley collection of miscellaneous drunks and vagabonds on Monroe Avenue. Specifically, an aspiring rapper who dressed like a huckster preacher and talked like someone who had just gotten out of jail, was in the mood to have a shockingly well-informed shouting match about the meaning of racial and economic justice, and I was happy to indulge him. Pandaman and Bug Jar sit right at the intersection of South Wedge and downtown, where the cops creep by in squadrons and flocks of girls head off to the more expensive bars, leaving clouds of perfume in their wake. It’s a great place to carouse with comrades and weirdoes.
At last, I managed to drag myself into the show while a local band called The Setbacks was starting their set. The first note that I scribbled into my notebook under their band name reads, simply, “Blink as fuck,” which is as succinct and accurate a description as I could possibly give. They joked, at one point, that their next song was NOT going to be a Blink 182 cover (sorry to keep referencing the same band, but it seems to have been a recurring theme for the evening), and then proceeded to play a song that, as my increasingly hazy memory serves, may in fact have been written by Mark Hoppus and Tom Delong.
Blink influence notwithstanding, The Setbacks were a fully actualized pop-punk band, true to the suburban So-Cal ethos in style and demeanor. The music was poppy and loud, the young rockers outfitted head-to-toe in Volcom and Billabong clothes from Pacific Sunwear. Scrawled in white paint on their drumhead was the legend, “I Heart Milfs,” a perfect encapsulation of the kind of gleeful, juvenile humor that sets pop-punk apart as a cultural form. Their set was short and tight, the songs well-structured and fun, and it might have been a great start for the night, if not for the fact that the attendance was low, and the crowd was afraid to dance. It’s hard to get the energy going with an audience so spotty and sober, so I can hardly fault the band for not doing enough choreographed jump kicks. Which they didn’t do enough of, not even close.
Next up was The Greater Victory, in town from somewhere in Podunk Pennsylvania. I talked to the singer, Chris, before they went on, and asked him what kind of music they played. He answered, “Punk,” a simple and enigmatic reply. The band started their sound check while the singer did crazy jumping jacks to get his energy up.
The Ramones, as the story is told, used to hold their rehearsals in front of a floor-to ceiling mirror. They had to get used to facing the front; their manager forbade them to ever turn their backs to the crowd. In flagrant and ill-advised violation of this precept, the Greater Victory front man spent at least the entire first song singing to his band instead of to the people watching his band. In his defense, there were probably more people in the band than there were people watching at that moment, so I guess there was a logic to it.
To call The Greater Victory punk, though perhaps not completely misleading, was certainly an oversimplification. Their music was most noticeably marked by heavy emo and hardcore influences. They had all the slowed-down verses, heavy drums, chunky guitars and soaring, now-screaming-now-crammed-through-the-nasal-sinus vocals that one associates with (I so badly wanted to avoid using this word, but see no way around it) with screamo.
Let me take some time out here to talk about the way cool dudes hold a microphone. I know you know what I’m talking about, how you clench your fist over the mike head and sing with your elbow cocked out to the side. I think of it as holding the mike, “Fred Durst style,” but I know that the meme has existed since long before Limp Bizkit, and when Fred Durst did it he was only aping cooler guys who had gone before him.
TGV’s Chris held the mike Fred Durst style sang, when he was facing the audience, with an intense stare that gave the impression of a jockier Zak De La Rocha. At one point, he touched his head to the ground mosque-style and thumped the carpet in time with the kick drum. The rest of the band were, for that night at least, content to hang back playing their instruments and did little to divert attention from their energetic singer.
Looking, as usual, for some kind of trouble to get into, I asked The Greater Victory after the set what they were getting into, reasoning that out-of-towners would be the most interested in partying and mayhem. I had a backpack full of bottle rockets, a bloodstream full of liquor, and a conviction that those two things taken together comprised what Chekov referred to as a gun in the first act. But the Pennsylvanians had pizza jobs to get back to in the morning, so they would have to spend the night in a van driving through the coal country instead of lighting explosives and getting in trouble with the Rochester PD. The rock and roll life is tough, but almost never in the ways you want it to be. At the level where it counts, the level of kids playing their hearts out for no reward, it tends to be short on anarchic thrills and long on grueling car rides and indifferent crowds. And there are about a hundred easier ways to get girls. In short, for bands like this, for local kids, underground scenes, and venues like Pandaman, there is no reason to do it if you don’t love it.
A balding, bespectacled ginger in an RX Bandits t-shirt stepped up to the microphone next, the singer for a Syracuse band called Bridge Under Fire playing that night as a solo act. He opened with a song that every person in the building knew the words to except for me. As the sing along commenced, somebody told me that it was, “new school punk; you probably wouldn’t know it.” I took a blind guess and said it was Against Me, and I was right. Yahtzee, player, first roll.
After he finished, another acoustic folk-punkster played. I know they weren’t the same guy, because the second dude had brown hair and I took pictures. Somewhere during their dual acoustic sets, I hopped across the street to Kabul Market to grab a beer and on my walked straight into a street sign and tore a gash in my forehead, so my recollection of it all is unreliable to say the least. I think the first singer played with a little more panache and stage presence, but flipping through the photos I took, the second guy was clearly better looking, so I guess it’s a wash.
The crowd, such as it was, finally got on their feet as There I Say Is Lightning took the stage. Early in their set, I saw some young women literally dancing. I tried to get a picture of this incredible phenomenon, but in the still shot it just looks like a picture of butts. So, sure, I’ll save it, but it doesn’t prove anything.
The problem with living in a city that is home to a music college is that some of the rock bands in town actually know how to play their instruments, which I find incredibly annoying. There I Say Is Lightning are musicians, and they proved it with a very show-offy instrumental jam when the lead singer broke a guitar string and had to replace it. What happened, I wondered, to just swearing at the audience and breaking things during the downtime in your set?
I really started to drop my smug attitude and enjoy There I Say Is Lightning when they played an awesome, grunge-y version of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. There was definitely a grunge element to their sound, mixed in with a little Supersuckers-style country that I appreciated. Yeah, that’s the kind of stuff guys from Ohio get into.
The worst thing about There I Say Is Lightning was definitely their band name. It’s long enough to be a poem and doesn’t make any sense. I asked the bass player, after the show, where it came from, and he explained that it was something that their singer had shouted out once while he was peaking on hallucinogenic mushrooms. I don’t mean to get up on a soapbox, but this is clearly a problem that we need to take action on as a society: rock and roll has run out of good band manes. About ten years ago, band names started to get longer and harder to remember, and now things have devolved to the point that we’re just naming our bands after random groups of words thrown together in no order.
So, all in all, maybe it wasn’t a super eventful night of music. The crowd never approached anything like a frenzy. In fact, when things were at their most energetic, the fans were still too lackadaisical to even be considered tepid. But you have to respect a venue like Pandaman, which seems to go to a lot of trouble to put shows like this one on. As a performance space, it’s objectively whack. There is no stage, and nowhere to dance. It’s reminiscent of nothing so much as playing a show in your church rec room. But we need these venues. If anything, we need more of them. Because local bands need a place to play, even when nobody’s getting drunk, and there’s a more popular band playing right next door.