Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Amity Affliction in Philadelphia

I trudge through a mixture of snow and rain towards First Unitarian Church. Entering the basement, I notice a teacher chasing an escaped preschooler from down the hall amongst confused looking musicians trying to load in their equipment. “When we got here there was a wrestling meet finishing up, now it’s a kid on the loose. Is this place always so weird or am I part of an April Fools Day joke?” mutters a nearby merch guy. Unnatural weather aside, it’s just the wonder of playing a show at Philly’s favourite all-ages, no barrier venue. An hour before doors open, there’s already a line of over one hundred young fans snaking around the block. A sign reading “Tonight’s show is totally sold out…Sorry folks. Totes Magotes!” sends away even more disheartened teens. I ask the first girl in line if she knows anything about The Amity Affliction. “Ooh, that’s a horror movie, right?”

While it’s clear few audience members have heard of The Amity Affliction before tonight, the crowd quickly began to jump around during ‘I Hate Hartley’ and sing along with the chorus of 'Youngbloods.’ A cheer went up when lead vocalist Joel Birch declared his love of the US and more importantly, the Phillies. Throughout the unfortunately short twenty minute set, keyboardist Trad Nathan vaulted off his Nord Wave synth, Joel matched his growls with bass player Ahren Stringer’s clean vocals, drummer Ryan Burt smashed cymbals, and Clint Splattering (also of The Getaway Plan) swung his guitar around nearly hitting me in the face several times. Joel dedicated ‘Stairway to Hell’ to the church with a sly grin and by 'Anchors,' the audience was converted. “I can’t believe that was the first opening band! They just set the bar crazy high for everyone else!” squealed a girl behind me.

Outside by their van, Trad happily eats a well deserved post-set vegan cheesesteak. “I’ve wanted to try one of these since I saw it on ‘Man v. Food,” he says in between bites. We discuss a number of Philadelphia area music greats such as Ink & Dagger, Thursday, Balance & Composure, and of course, Will Smith. “Philly’s a really cool town. Especially coming from a place like Baltimore last night!” he laughs. We both glance at Ahren, who is wearing a Baltimore Orioles hat. “Hey, I just like cheering on the underdogs!” Ahren defends. I inquire whether anyone on their travels so far has treated them differently because of their nationality. “These dudes came up to me a few nights ago asking if I had a pet dingo and if Australia is a third world country!...There’s obviously a lot of uneducated fucks in this world,” stated Trad. Ahren disagrees, “Everyone seems to treat me like I’m American, we aren’t much different anyway… Although, we see a squirrel and lose our shit, while you guys shoot them with BB guns!” “My main problem,” explains Clint, “is that people hear I have an accent, see my red hair, and automatically assume I’m Irish.”

Several minutes later, as if on cue, resident homeless man Jimmy walks up to Clint and asks him if he’s Irish. Once corrected, Jimmy rambles on about the Outback and koalas. Trad watches amused, “this guy is a full on legend!” Jimmy has been around for at least the ten years I’ve attended shows at FU Church, always talking to everyone from fans in line to the biggest names in rock music. “You should interview this guy instead!” jokes Helmet, a friend of the band serving as photographer/crew/merch on tour. I shift the topic back to the current tour and what it’s like being an opener again when you draw a crowd of thousands at home. “It works both ways,” says Ahren, “[headliners Of Mice & Men] are giving us big crowds to play to and we’re doing the same for them in Australia. You get what you give!...We’re pretty stoked with the responses we’ve gotten so far.” Joel has now been roped into Jimmy’s monologue as well, exchanging uncomfortable glances with Clint. “So the mama kangaroo punches ya in the face, then the baby pops out and throws ya an uppercut!” Jimmy wheezes. Jimmy leaves for a minute, then returns with a coffin shaped cigarette case, handing the gift to Clint. As he shuffles away, I’m struck by the irony of such an object.

“We will be [working on a new album], after the Australian tour in May we’ve got a whole bunch of time off to write. We don’t know where we’ll record though,” Ahren reveals. He also mentions they’re wrapping up the video for ‘Youngbloods,’ which should be out in a few weeks. From videos to merch, The Amity Affliction are heavily involved in every aspect of their band. Ahren designs their products himself because “we kept getting shitty merch design, so I took matters into my own hands and drew what we wanted… Some of the t-shirts bands put out these days are disgusting.” There’s a commotion outside the van and we exit to investigate. Several members of various other bands on tour are yelling at a drunken dudebro whose friend keeps insisting “He’s had a bad day, guys!” Woe, is Me bassist Cory Ferris informs me this man spat at their singer, then went on to cause more damage including punching a girl next to him in the face for no reason. I remark to Ryan how this situation is reminiscent of the SXSW incident involving Ben Weasel. The members of Woe, is Me aren’t looking for a fight, but they want an apology and clearly aren’t going to get one from this long gone fellow. Two of the men managing the door come out to handle the situation. “Whoa! Those guys are from Paint It Black!” exclaims Trad at the sight of punk rock icons kicking the drunk hooligan and his friend off church grounds.

With the amount of touring they do, members of The Amity Affliction have met many other musicians, but admit to still feeling star-shocked when it occurs. “Soundwave was insane, walking around backstage you got to see all your childhood heroes,” Ahren said excitedly, “I met Toby Morse from H2O!” Helmet laughs and eggs Joel on to tell me about his hero encounter. “I blew it. I met Chad Gilbert. He was cool and I wasn’t,” he states quietly. The mention of Warped Tour brings Joel’s spirits back up. “I would fucking love to play Warped Tour!” “Hopefully we will,” adds Ahren, “but we have to wait until we get a chance. It would be a dream come true.” Any possibility of seeing a tour from Lovecats, Ahren and Trad’s electro collaboration or Joel’s other band The Author? “Oh God, our side projects aren’t going anywhere. We’re too busy. They’re done!” declares Joel.

The show ends and the crowd swarms out, several boys stopping to tell Trad and Joel how much they enjoyed their set. Someone mentions we should go to a bar, perhaps Paddy’s Pub (from ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,’ which is sadly not a real place). The band eventually come to a consensus that they’re too broke and low on energy to venture around Philly. I decide to leave them to their rest for the next day’s big show in New York City, where they spent two months recording ‘Youngbloods.’ We exchange goodbyes and I walk past Jimmy cocooned in his sleeping bag. “Go Phillies! And kangaroos! Unbeatable team!” he yells at me. I quite agree, Jimmy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Chicago Irish & The Cultural Infusion

About a month ago, Terry, Andrew, and Darryl of The Pogues stepped into the guitar shop I work in for a look around before their show. These men hardly look like the type to incite rowdy shows, long past their heyday, all baby boomers. Yet, these are just the men who were pioneers in sparking a trend in punk that still burns bright today. Irish rock, Celtic punk, whatever you like to call it, it’s one of those formulas that simply works well. Faster-paced, politically charged music mixed with danceable Irish-inspired instrumentation. Even covers of some of the oldest folk songs just get better with wear.

Yes, it’s been going on for 30 years now. One would think it’s getting old at this point, but take it from a Chicagoan: we still love it. The United States has over nine times the Irish than Ireland itself, and I’ve often heard that Chicago itself has more Irish than Dublin. I would be surprised if this wasn’t true. Irish punk naturally speaks to this city, its heavy immigrant roots, rough and tough heritage, bringing pride back into a heavy Irish population. It’s only natural that Flogging Molly has spent numerous St. Patrick’s shows right here. I can’t keep track of Dropkick Murphys fans and we have our own Tossers, home-grown from the south side.

“So”, you might say, “that’s all fine and dandy about your clover-loving, Guinness-drinking city, but I’m not Irish. Why should I care?” or simply, “I’m Irish and I don’t care.” Well, you don’t have to have particular blood to enjoy the music, the music that these artists create truly speak to a wide audience, while broadcasting a cultural flavor. More importantly, the entire genre has opened the doors for even more ethnic infusions of punk. Exhibit B: Gogol Bordello, a gypsy punk band (wait, what?). Infusing Romani culture with political punk party music (pun intended), you can bet it’s at the very least intriguing if not down-right infectious.

Some people may find it arrogant, infusing personal cultural backgrounds into music. But rather than an over-zealous sense of ethnic pride, I feel it’s more often a voice, a color, a lens to speak from and share. Reaching out to an audience, regardless of their heritage, with your own stories from your own background can be a truly beautiful thing.

The Pogues start their European tour in July. The Dropkick Murphys are currently touring Europe, coming to the US this summer, then back to Europe. The Tossers aren't straying far from home, but they're out there too. Gogol Bordello is currently on tour in the US and will be in Europe this summer. Check em' out!