If you were to ask me what separates punk rock music from other genres, my answer would be twofold:
Velocity and proximity.
At a punk show, a real punk show, the lines between performer and audience, as well as members of said audience, blurs into near obscurity. I’ve always believed that the only place human divisions (class, gender, race, sexuality, age, philosophy and politics, etc.) are virtually nonexistent, is in a mosh pit. There, no one is anyone, and anyone is part of everyone. As the band plays, camaraderie envelopes a crowd, a deluge after being hit by a sonic tidal wave. At that point, all you can do is swim.
It was a little after 7:00 pm when I arrived at Ram’s Head Live. Despite being a lifelong Maryland native with a longtime connection to its unique music scene, I’d never set foot in the venue before. Per the large sign the entrance, right near the metal detectors, moshing was absolutely not permitted. At all. Period.
After that, anyone who’s been to a show knows the drill: After entering the neon cave, everyone spills into uncollected puddles amidst the din of unintelligible chatter. Then, signaled by the already dim lights darkening, the audience pools into a single, mercurial being, as though by magnets or magic, in homage of each opening act.
Orlando natives, The Attack, started things off with just the right amount of old-school punk angst. Blending the best of classic hardcore with a very modern spin, the band simultaneously proved themselves to be a band to look out for in contemporary punk, while also providing the necessary charge needed to wake the audience up for what was to come.
Yet it was reggae dance-punkers, The Bunny Gang, who truly set the tone for the rest of the night. Merging elements of vintage island vibes with modern dance hall elements and pure punk rock aggression, these boys from the great and smoky state of Colorado managed to do what most opening acts can’t: hype an audience with the same ease as a headliner. Seriously, I’ve never seen a keyboard player get a crowd moving quite like theirs did. Watch out for this act, they’re going to take ska into its next wave.
Next came Pepper. Formed sometime in 1997 amidst the booming ska-core movement which included Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, and of course LTJ themselves. These Hawaii natives instead chose the smoother blend of Marley-esque ska and alternative rock, much like their forefathers Sublime. The result was something both mellow and rowdy all at once. At one point the audience might bob and wave as though entranced by some narcotic beat; the next, they would form a circle pit as the tempo shifted and the bass and guitar-wielding dual front men stomped from one end of the stage to the other.
And yes, I said circle pit. Remember that sign which eschewed moshing? Well let’s just say it’s a hard rule to enforce when nearly the entire audience is breaking it. Even the band itself poked fun at a lone helpless bouncer watching the happy human cyclone run its course. That’s the power of punk rock, and we all felt it that night. It’s sheer unbridled freedom in the face of all adversity.
Finally, it was LTJ’s turn to take the stage. And take it they did, exploding into their classic anthem “All My Best Friends are Metalheads” virtually as flawless as the version recorded on 1998’s Hello Rockview.
They continued with a barrage of feel-good tunes ranging from “History of a Boring Town,” to my personal favorite pop-punk ballad “Rest of My Life,” to “Look What Happened,” and more. Again, the cyclone of skanking and slam dancing bodies continued in a hypnotic swirl of chaos and joy, like a living Jackson Pollack painting. Needless to say, professionalism be damned, I too was a part of the masterpiece as confetti burst from the ceiling and their latest mascot, The Evolution Kid, tossed shirts and hats at us.
There is something oddly Neverlandian about LTJ that places them a head above their peers. Though the band joked about being on Ellen DeGeneres’ list of Best Bands over 30 and ribbed the audience on being too old to stay up so late, everything about the performance felt like a celebration of never growing old. And it showed. The audience was a mixed bag of young bucks and old mules, yet we all felt the electricity in our blood, that nostalgic rush of devil may care exuberance all too often suppressed beneath the real world’s daily grind. And though the band members have a few extra creases in their faces (except for bassist/vocalist Roger Lima, who is evidently cursed to be 25 forever), none of their energy has come anywhere close to fading…and in fact has only enhanced with time and experience!
Even after LTJ played their encore and stepped away, inviting anyone who wished to join them at a local bar across the street, that aforementioned feeling of exuberance remained. As the lights came back on, a recording of The Chicken Dance played low over the loudspeakers, signaling it was time to vacate. Myself and a group of likeminded fans instead continued dancing in a circle amidst the confetti and spilled beer until the crappy song ended. Afterward, as I exited into the dark Baltimore night, my body ached. But it was a good kind of ache. I felt alive, like I had been a part of something big and rowdy and beautiful. The song in my heart played louder than the ringing in my ears:
I’m a dude
He’s a dude
She’s a dude
We’re all dudes, hey!
Less Than Jake and Pepper are still on tour. Check out their official site for dates and ticket prices.
Purchase their latest and greatest release Sound the Alarm available NOW at Best Buy, Amazon, and other music retailers, or at the band’s online shop.
Check out the video for their new single “Bomb Drop” here: