The other night I went out to see Naked Raygun with a few friends. I would have missed it because I forgot to get a ticket but luckily Timmy Brooks from SF's finest over-30s pub rock act the Young Offenders phoned me up cos he had an extra. The doors were set to open at 7, with Chicago's Shot Baker and legendary 90s Frisco street-punx the Swingin' Utters set to open. No mention of Johnny Peebucks in any of the advertising literature unfortunately. At any rate, we got to the Elbo Room in the fashionable Mission District at about half eight, thinking the gig would be well under way, to be met by a queue that reached almost to the end of the block. Long story short, in the end NR didn't take the stage until about quarter to twelve. On a Tuesday night? I know at least one person who had to leave before they even played and two more left during the set. Doors at 7, three bands, you're expecting to be tucked up in your scratcher and sawing logs by half eleven. Instead I was dragging my carcass up the stairs about 1:30 am and trying not to wake the missus. Did I mention I was up at 7 for work the next day? Christ, I'm not going to maintain my youthful good looks for long at this rate.
Anyway, performance-wise, Naked Raygun were a mixed bag, but I enjoyed their set immensely. As I understand it, singer Jeff Pezzati apparently has some kind of chronic illness and he certainly seemed to be in pain at times, or at least very uncomfortable, and his voice was kind of weak. I got the impression that he was trying really hard to perform in less-than-ideal circumstances, and I was rooting for him the whole set. Naked Raygun were one of my favorite bands at one time, but I never got to see them live - they toured the UK, but never made it to Scotland. For a long time, it was pretty common for American bands to come over and tour England, while completely ignoring Scotland and Ireland. They might make it to one or the other, but rarely both. The excuse was often distance, which I used to think was fair enough. However, now I live in the US and I know that bands routinely drive ten hours to get to a gig. Typically, the longest drive a band might have to make in the UK is about four hours. Worst-case scenario would be driving from London to Glasgow, about six hours. I think the real reason is that the English tour promoters didn't think their bands would make much money in Scotland. Still, we were always grateful for the bands that did come, despite the lack of huge guarantees.
Back to the Naked Raygun show. It was a surprisingly social affair, which made for a nice change. I'm picky about the gigs I go to these days and usually if I go, I decide on the night and shoot out the door. Turn up by myself, maybe chat to a few folk, leave right after the band plays. This time, I actually planned to go with people in advance. At the gig, we met up with more people, including out-of-town visitors and MRR coordinators-du-jour. In between sets we nipped out to a quieter pub down the street for a swifty and I attempted to enlist a new columnist to our roster. Hopefully it will pan out. He or she will have probably forgotten all about it by the next morning.
Swingin' Utters played and all their old fans had come out of the woodwork (with the exception of one Mr. Bruce Roehrs, conspicuous by his absence). Every coiffed Fonzie with a swallow on his neck (tails as long as you like) for miles around had got suited up and cruised down to Valencia for the occasion. After they finished, there was a skunx exodus. Post- shift change the crowd looked very different: Naked Raygun's fans were mostly clean-cut late 30s software engineers. Some tech dudes with ponytails came on stage, set up their gear, and tuned up, so we all moved towards the front, thinking it was about to start. Half an hour later (seriously) the band actually came on. They didn't display much energy on stage (I don't think they ever really did) and the sound wasn't the greatest, but from the first 'whoa-oh' the crowd were singing along and the room was buzzing. They played a lot of their hits but the highlight for me was the encore of 'Rat Patrol', even though I had to help break up a bit of a handbag fight during it. As mentioned earlier, the show went on a bit late for a school night but I'm glad I went and I'm glad I stayed for the whole thing.
Naked Raygun were known to play Stiff Little Fingers' 'Alternative Ulster' as part of their live set. They didn't play it the other night, but as coincidence would have it, young Brooksy (mentioned above) happened to furnish me with a much-anticipated DVD copy of the Irish TV documentary 'Shellshock Rock', which features SLF performing said tune. I'd been hearing about this doc for years, but had never managed to lay my hands on a copy. I finally got to see it and it's been worth the wait. Not as polished as I would have expected from something that was actually on TV, it's actually pretty random. There's footage of some of Ulster's finest acts, including Rudi, The Outcasts, Protex, and of course The Undertones, as well as interviews with some interesting Belfast characters. They touch on the unique situation of how punk rock in Northern Ireland managed to bridge the sectarian divide, which definitely seems to have added a different edge to the proceedings there. It obviously meant a lot to these kids to have a place to go where the only thing that mattered was their shared music taste, not where you were from or how you pronounced the letter 'H'. I don't think this film is readily available for sale but I'm sure if you do a bit of digging on t'internet you can track it down. If you're a fan of melodic Northern Irish powerpop/punk rock it's a must see.
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