Thursday night served as the hotbed of an inebriated hodgepodge of music genres, internationally renowned musicians and a rare rock scene convergence as punk cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes crashed the House of Blues with garage rock quartet together PANGEA and veteran guitarist Kid Congo Powers and his latest band The Pink Monkey Birds.
Immediately notable of this show was how all three bands come from technically different “scenes” of punk and rock in general, with each act respectively drawing distinct demographics of music scenesters that rarely if ever cross scenes and/or paths. Legendary rocker Brian Tristan, aka Kid Congo Powers, couldn’t have been more of an apt opener and quasi-ambassador by default to kick off the night and bridge the evening’s rock scenes together. The smorgasbord of diverse bands he has played in since the ’70s offered the crowd an instant familiarity that kept at bay any initial trepidation over what to expect. Powers lived up to the eccentricity of his stage nomenclature, stepping out in a suit and tie garnished with a Karakul hat (popular in Central/South Asia) that also had the look of a Moroccan fez. His odd mannerisms, quirky manner of speaking and pencil-thin mustache came off like a character from a John Waters film (and it’s no wonder they’re friends).
For a musician with such a fabled repertoire of band experience, he and his backing band humbly ran the gamut of their discography released almost exclusively by well-known and heavy hitting garage and psych label In The Red Recordings. The Pink Monkey Birds were received warmly by the crowd, and Powers’ Mexican-American heritage that seeps into the titles and themes of some of his songs refreshingly added elements of Latin culture to the breadth of musical genres the audience already came expecting to hear by the end of the night.
Los Angeles garage band together PANGEA played second, and their set was full circle for me on a personal level. Scene politics within music tends to only interest a small percentage of diehard music lovers. By unconditionally following bands and record labels, you quickly realize that the principles of cause and effect are evident within any music scene, and it’s easy to connect dots. Tonight I knew I would witness a phenomenon not since the band’s first ever scantily attended San Diego show, and that is a sold out show made up of punk fans either mostly or completely unaware of TP’s existence until now. The scene that the Gimmes and label home Fat Wreck Chords come from is the most mainstream layer of underground punk. And though this scene was my gateway drug into punk, at some point I found the more lo-fi sounds, weirder lyrical content and greater DGAF attitude of the garage scene.
Years later, the advent of label Burger Records injected new blood into a born again garage scene that inadvertently catapulted one of their first signees and flagship bands Pangea into overnight superstardom. Being that the band is from LA, had their last album released on a Warner Bros Records subsidiary label, have amassed a monstrous social media following and have toured the globe several times, how can this tour consist of sold out shows full of punks that have never heard the band before? Simply put, that’s the cause and effect of the more traditional punk scene lacking the curiosity to venture outside the comfortable confines of their immediate scene.
This tour with the Gimmes and opportunity to play nightly to new groups of people is akin to fellow Burger alumni The Garden signing with Epitaph Records and broadening their fanbase to include this same punk scene. William Keegan and cohorts stepped out, and you could tell they knew this wasn’t their usual crowd of raving fans that go apeshit at their own sold out headlining shows. together PANGEA played a proportionate slice of their musical catalog, starting with “Looked In Two” off their latest EP and continuing to play songs off of all of their releases with the exception of their first full-length, Jelly Jam.
The gem of their set was “Plasma (Out Of Your Mind)“, a song off an overlooked 7-inch that hearkened back to the band’s earlier more experimental sound and penchant for off-putting songwriting. together PANGEA were amazing as usual, and the audience politely showed their enthusiasm after every song. For a San Diego crowd that had to be reminded of the scope of punk rock, this set was a successful introduction.
Finally it was time for everyone’s favorite punk-conversion machine. The roots of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes trace back to frontman Fat Mike of the band NOFX, who started the influential Fat Wreck Chords to put out a release by his band but soon after began signing acts that would eventually become his closest friends. And thus Me First and the Gimme Gimmes was born. Comprised of a who’s who supergroup of players from other hugely successful bands in the punk scene, the Gimmes are one of the worst/best cover bands in the world. ‘Worst’ because their stage persona is that of a glorified wedding band replete with drunken hijinks and overtly cheesy and tawdry matching outfits. But ‘best’ because in reality the group features some of the best and longest-running punk musicians, and the audience gets the last laugh because they’re in on the joke.
Led by vocalist and ukeleleist Spike Slawson, the Gimmes came out in matching blue silk dress shirts and gold ties and wasted no time getting into their songs. The band may have started as a joke, but over 20 years later and the band has musically rearranged some of the greatest songs from American pop culture into speedy rock anthems. They cover a range of genres from RnB to Country and literally everything in between. Songs early in their set included John Denver’s “Leaving On A Jet Plane” and “Science Fiction/Double Feature” taken from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. After every song Spike gave humorously ironic stage banter characteristic of Fat bands, with the recurring theme being nonsensical talk about opioids served with a deadpan delivery.
Towards the end of their set, Spike brought out his ukelele, which meant the band was about to play their rendition of R. Kelly’s “I Believe” that is arguably their most popular rendition. After the demanded encore, the Gimmes played a few more songs that erupted into more crowdsurfing, including “I Will Survive” by Diana Ross and “Mandy” by Barry Manilow.
Two actions I was witness to during the Gimmes’ set that perfectly summed up the night’s theme of odd yet harmonious genre-melding were: 1) A beefcake bro flashing the ‘sign of the horns’ during a Dolly Parton song, and 2) the gamey circle pit of sweat-drenched men moshing to the lyrics of “Over The Rainbow”. The latter is something you can definitely only experience at a Gimmes show.