Saturday, November 8, 2008

Smoke or Fire/Fake Problems live at Siren Records

[Here's some old shite - two concert reviews for City Paper.]

Love means never having to say you’re sorry for dragging your significant other to a punk rock show on Valentine’s Day.

Smoke or Fire and Fake Problems, with support from The Menzingers, The Steinways and Stay Sharp, played Siren Records in Doylestown, Pa. Thu., Feb. 14 for a crowd of dudes and dudettes in love and/or lust. Despite some hiccups here and there, the show was a zesty concoction of varying degrees of punk.

Stay Sharp opened the show with a quick set of Kid Dynamite-influenced punk/hardcore, serving up quick jams without too much preachiness. The Menzingers followed with a strong set of punk jams somewhere between Against Me! and Anti-Flag, with slight reggae and post-punk touches sprinkled on every so often. These guys love gang vocals, with co-vocalists (and guitarists) Tom May and Greg Barnett shouting just about every line together. Menzingers know how to write anthems too, just like their idols The Clash, whom they covered that night with a rendition of “Straight to Hell.” Here is a band to watch in 2008.

A band to avoid in 2008 is pop punk act The Steinways. While the act’s watered down Ramones/Queers style wasn’t necessarily bad — it was even cute and catchy at times – it became tiresome after the group refused to leave the stage several songs after its set was supposed to end. Other people have to play, assholes, and the audience didn’t pay just to see you.

In a way, though, it doesn’t matter how long The Steinways overplayed, thanks to Fake Problems. Easily the most energetic and entertaining band of the night, Fake Problems tore through tunes like “Adam’s Song,” “Crest on the Chest” and set opener “Maestro of This Rebellion” with abandon, instruments flying everywhere and smiles broad and ready. But for all the chaos on stage, the tunes were nearly note perfect, a solid balance between showmanship and virtuosity. While a blown amp awkwardly ended the band’s set early by a song, Fake Problems’ CCR-sped-up-a-few-RPMs style was a life-affirming moment.

Not that headliners Smoke or Fire were a poor finale. The band’s straightforward punk rock was all grit and throaty yells. Although the group couldn’t physically match Fake Problems’s energy, it certainly got by on the strength of frontman Joe McMahon’s songwriting. Smoke or Fire’s all too-brief set (thanks Steinways!) focused mostly on last year’s This Sinking Ship, but the band slipped in some older material in the form of “Point Break” and set ender “California’s Burning.” Also worth noting was touring bassist Gwomper, of Avail fame, who brought some lightheartedness to the set.

The crowd was a good one, never getting so violent as to spoil anyone’s fun, up until “California’s Burning,” when Siren reverberated with fans’ voices. The connection between McMahon and the crowd was evident on just about every chorus, and it’s a testament to his band’s skills that they bond on such a level. Overall, it was a good Valentine’s Day for the anti-corporate, three-chord-loving set.

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