Less Than Jake/Suicide Machines/One Man Army/Pollen
In what passes for old-school in a genre dominated by youth, the Suicide Machines and Less Than Jake impressed local scenesters by making reference to the lamentably defunct mid-’90s Kansas City club The Daily Grind, at which they’d both played. Less Than Jake even unveiled a song about the venue, “Kansas Rock City,” which will be included on its upcoming Fat Wreck Chords release, Borders and Boundaries. Such references to the Grind were especially appropriate on this night, which more than any other in recent memory captured the vibrant feel of that all-ages mecca. A near-capacity crowd packed the Grind’s worthy successor, El Torreon, to skank until drenched with sweat to the sounds of these two almost-famous punk/ska titans.
When last spotted at the Daily Grind in an opening slot for the Vandals, the Suicide Machines spread an infectious cloud of energy, with singer Jason Navarro leaping off drums and speakers and leading his band in a series of catchy Operation Ivy-style concoctions. Since then, the group has released a brutal hardcore album (Battle Hymns) and this year’s breezy self-titled follow-up, setting the stage for a truly eclectic set list. However, although the Machines switched gears easily from perky ska ditties, such as “New Girl,” to pummeling circle-pit fodder, such as “D.D.T.,” they virtually ignored their latest offering, selecting only the punchy “Permanent Holiday” to represent that 14-song release. It might have been nice to hear “Sometimes I Don’t Mind,” the endearing tribute to bassist Royce Nunley’s dog that broke onto some modern-radio playlists this spring, but the Suicide Machines are a crowd-pleasing band, and they wisely noted that this audience might grow restless if presented with less than breakneck speed. Energetic and tight as always, this Detroit-based quartet proved that although it’s now willing to slow things down on record, it’s unlikely the Machines will ever be anything less than explosive in a live setting. Also, it’s worth noting that this group, which is known for its socially conscious lyrics, showed real compassion for one swirling-pit victim who took a blow to the noggin, sending another fan out into the lobby to make sure she was all right. (She was.)
During Less Than Jake’s last visit to the Grind, one young lad danced in the buff onstage to win a free CD. No such nudity ensued on this evening, but the concert was no less entertaining. Like the Machines, Less Than Jake didn’t spread its set list evenly over all its releases, but then, this sextet has 76 to its credit, including six completed studio albums. The group remained amicable and complimentary to the crowd throughout the night, even after one confused fan stormed the stage, flipped the group the bird, knocked a microphone stand into bassist/vocalist Roger’s teeth, and broke trombone player Pete’s instrument.
While it does dabble in genuine third-wave ska, Less Than Jake’s sound could be more accurately describes as punk with horns — quick-paced, melodic tunes accented by brassy bursts. “Jen Doesn’t Like Me Anymore,” “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts,” and “My Very Own Flag,” catchy gems from the band’s solid 1995 effort, Pezcore, drew the biggest reaction from the unusually young crowd, but tracks from its Capitol releases, Hello Rockview and Losing Streak, were eagerly devoured as well, as were the unreleased numbers (one of which was a refreshing slowed-down number that was preceded by a call for lighters in the air) and various compilation contributions. Always thoroughly professional and resourceful showmen, Less Than Jake employed a smoke machine, a large banner, ominous opening music, and a confetti-shooting cannon to add to the big-event feel.
Suffering some in comparison to the heavyweights, but nonetheless competent, were openers One Man Army and Pollen. The former was a trio that played boisterous ’77-style punk and looked the part, with tattoos and spiky black hair serving as the dress code. This San Francisco-based outfit delivered some enticing pogo romps, but the crowd, conserving its energy in the sweltering heat, didn’t move much, despite protests from the band. Inspiring even less response from the audience was Pollen, which couldn’t even get an answer to the standard “You doin’ alright out there?” inquiries. Nonetheless, this quintet soldiered on and delivered a decent yet unspectacular assortment of Descendents-style pop punk.