4th August 2019
Review By: Beandog
Considering Flipper‘s brand of belligerent punk has earned the band worldwide acclaim over 40 years – how they are credited by many as being the prime mover of sludge, influencing a generation of bands while receiving heavy endorsements from such punk rock icons as Kurt Cobain and Henry Rollins – it’s a surprise to discover there are plenty of tickets for tonight’s show still available at the box office.
It’s also a bit of a shock to walk through the main doors at the Garage and see the hall looking rather sparsely populated. People are milling around and chatting underneath the music as it plays out over the sound-system, but it is a very different scenario from the rowdy and reverent crowd I expected to see. Especially when Flipper have upped the “legend” quota by adding former Minutemen and fIREHOSE bassist Mike Watt to their line up, as well as inviting Las Vegas super-loon and ex Scratch Acid/Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow to play ringmaster. The level of potential chaos seems limitless, but for now, the room feels a lot calmer and quieter than I expected.
There IS a steady flow of new arrivals and the place is beginning to fill up as I wander towards the bar to buy a couple of beers… but the dance floor is still mostly empty as Texan “freak rockers” We Are The Asteroid take the stage.
This is a shame, because the three piece sound impressive from the first moments of their set. Calling attention to the stage with a looped, robotic intro, the band tear into a half hour of psych’ influenced noise rock, delivered with all the confidence of a band with several years of experience under their belts.
Featuring former Ed Hall guitarist Gary Chester (who dazzles with some particularly wild playing), alongside an occasional Butthole Surfer Nathan Calhoun and the powerhouse noise drummer Frank Garymartin. The band perform an effortless and entertaining set in which Calhoun punctuates the low end by frequently headbutting his bandmate from a short run up.
The three musicians seem driven by the psychedelic noise. They bellow out shared vocals and seem undeterred by the large voids in the room. I, for one, am sold on their crazy riffola. There is something in the rolling, strident sound that reminds me of NoMeansNo, and I resolve to check out WATA’s recorded output as soon as they finish their set. With the sound of crowd applause still filling the room, I head over to the merch stand to browse their wares.
This also gives me enough time to refill my beer glass, so it is with a full pint that I take up a spot near the front of the crowd. By now, the venue has filled up to a respectable level and everything feels a lot more appropriate for a band with such legendary status. If there are any doubts about the esteem in which Flipper are held – they are blown away by the cheer that greets their arrival on stage.
Steve DePace is all smiles as he takes his place behind the drum kit. To his left, Mike Watt looks calm and confident while Ted Falconi appears mellow as he straps on his guitar. It’s an image that seems at odds with the dissonant and nihilistic music we are preparing ourselves for. It is reassuring to note how David Yow arrives with mischief in his eyes.
A famously unpredictable performer, Yow has gone on record as saying, “I like it when things get out of hand – it’s a lot more fun that way.”
He cracks open the first of a steady flow of alcoholic refreshment and introduces the band. There is something about the way he acknowledges Flipper as being “WE” that demonstrates his commitment going deeper than this being just a guest appearance; and when the descending riff of The Light, The Sound takes hold, Yow is straight off the stage and into the crowd, barking out the verses while simultaneously starting the mosh pit.
“Isn’t life a blast,” he sings in the opening verses of Ha Ha Ha. His words mocking the mundane predictability of human behaviour while simultaneously eroding any sense of convention by plowing into the crowd, pushing and darting through the people, pushing, shoving and at one point disappearing through an open door and off into the gentleman’s toilets. I can only guess what people must’ve thought, having a wild-eyed David Yow interrupting them mid-flow.
The band holds everything down around this, maintaining a delivery that is ragged but metronomic. (I Saw You) Shine and Way Of The World pulse with a steady rhythm, the crowd joining in with the latter’s repeating mantra. Yow throws the microphone into the audience, much to the despair of the sound man, who gives a visible roll of the eyes and looks like he’s had better days at work.
From the rear of the stage, Mike Watt looks amused by it all, laughing at the antics unfolding in front of him. There is an undeniable warmth among the musicians, who huddle and chat between songs, sharing brief moments that seem to result in a chuckle between pals.
However, this being Flipper, they can turn towards darkness on a sixpence. David Yow throws himself into the task of being as unappealing as possible. Maintaining a steady ejaculation of phlegm, he flails, sweats and imbibes, forgetting his words and eventually taking some time out to share poorly judged jokes about paedophilia.
Somehow this feels all feels appropriate. Flipper are a band who have always held a mirror up to the bleakness of the world in the starkest possible way. This evening – and indeed across the band’s career – violence and misery are given a spotlight and exposed as an inevitability. A song like Shed No Tears gives an account of how utterly despicable people can be and encourages reflection.
Life is short and often shit, but also, as the frontman sings on the bands song, Life – it’s “the only thing worth living for.”
This paradox is ultimately demonstrated in Yow’s climactic gesture. He removes his trousers to stand, sweating and exposed. Naked from the waist down; appearing simultaneously vulnerable and empowered. There is something quite alarming about a sixty year old man exposing himself to an audience, but if taken as a middle finger thrust firmly towards convention, then you have to (both literally and figuratively) admire the man’s balls.
Yow disappears rapidly after a rendition of Sex Bomb brings the set to a raucous close. The three remaining musicians are left to bid the crowd farewell, which they do with a sincere thanks. The crowd reciprocate the gesture with a passionate cheer before the lights are turned on and we are left to file out into the night; each one of us having just witnessed a veteran masterclass in punk rock. None of it faked. None of it forced.
- The Light, The Sound
- Ha Ha Ha
- (I Saw You) Shine
- Way Of The World
- Love Canal
- Shed No Tears
- Get Away
- Sex Bomb