During the 90’s, if you were in the know, you knew about Fat Wreck Chords. My first exposure to the record label was discovering the Fat Music for Fat People compilation album while at our area’s local skate shop, which also served as THE place when it came to finding anything in the independent label world. I already knew who NOFX, Rancid, Face to Face, Tilt and No Use for a Name were, but I hadn’t heard of Lagwagon, Propagandhi, Guns ‘N’ Wankers, Strung Out, Good Riddance, 88 Fingers Louie or Bracket.
Twenty-one years later, I’ve been more than exposed to all of these bands and eventually became a very big fan of the majority of them. Fat Wreck Chords was a huge part of my musical journey and have been the home of several bands that I would most certainly say are major influences when it comes to my musical taste and my approach to writing music. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the stage with a few bands that released albums through Fat Wreck Chords and have seen many of the bands multiple times over the years. When I found out that this festival was happening, I didn’t hesitate one minute to get tickets. The label had mentioned that there would be more bands announced as we got closer to the date of the fest, and they did not disappoint when it came to announcing the final lineup.
Thee Parkside is the ideal place for such a festival. The local rock club hosts a good amount of punk and hardcore shows every month and has become a hangout for many SF musicians associated with Fat Wreck Chords over the years. “Day 0” of the fest took place last Friday, which served as a party to host a pre-screening of the new NOFX documentary “Backstage Passport II”. I was not able to check that out, but I assume it was one hell of a party (Fat Wreck Chords is well known for its partying skills, after all).
On Day 1, as I was walking into the festival, it felt much like the first time I had been to a Warped Tour. Mohawks and beards were plentiful. It was a sea of black clothes paired with patches, studs and the occasional fanny pack. The sun was shining bright, and the beer was flowing. Inside Thee Parkside were a few DJ sets, along with some acoustic sets from the likes of Joey Cape, Chris Cresswell and Sundowner. Outside the venue, we had Toy Guitar, Night Birds, Western Addiction, Bracket, $wingin’ Utter$, Strung Out, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Sick of It All (who were a last-minute replacement for Propagandhi) and NOFX.
Day 2 kicked off with a bit of a light fare. Spike Slawson of $wingin’ Utter$/Gimme Gimmes fame has a new group, the ever-so-cleverly-named Uke Hunt. Slawson’s smooth vocals fit nicely with his ukulele and some other accompaniment as the band glided through covers of The Carpenters and Hall & Oates. With it being another nice summer day in SF, the crowd was lit up with anticipation for the day ahead. Inside Thee Parkside, a few DJ sets started things off, followed by sets from Pears, Darius Koski and Bad Cop/Bad Cop. Outside after Uke Hunt’s set, Masked Intruder brought the energy level back up and were followed by The Flatliners, Dead to Me, Tilt, Good Riddance, No Use for a Name (with special guests), Lagwagon and once again, NOFX.
Bands like Tilt and Bracket hadn’t performed live for over 10 years (Bracket had played only one other show in that time). Other bands had seen lineup changes, members pass away and hiatuses, but the one thing that most bands on Fat Wreck Chords have in common is that they have pretty much universally only released albums through the label itself. Several bands made it a point of thanking Fat Wreck Chords co-founders Fat Mike (lead vocalist and bassist for NOFX) and Erin Burkett (read our interview with her here), along with the label’s staff for their never-ending support and hard work. The word “family” was thrown out many times, and that’s really the way it should be.
As for my experience at the show, I had an incredible time. I ran into friends I hadn’t seen in years, plus I got to see a few bands that I had never seen (Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Dead to Me, Uke Hunt) and a few that I never thought I’d ever see again (Tilt, Bracket, No Use for a Name). It was nice to know that Fat Wreck Chords has continued to live up to its tradition of offering something you could count on — just good quality music and good times. I can’t say that I have been a fan of every band that has released an album on Fat Wreck Chords, but I would say that a good 85 percent of them I have enjoyed listening to at some point in my life or another. I personally would have loved to have seen Propagandhi since I have never seen them before. I would have also loved to see a Screw 32 reunion at the festival. Bands like Mad Caddies, Face to Face and American Steel also would have been a treat, and I don’t say that to complain at all since you really could not beat this lineup.
Here are a few highlights after celebrating 25 years of Fat Wreck Chords at Thee Parkside.
Given the fact that there was a very strict curfew in place, Fat Mike, who is normally very talkative and always ready to heckle the audience, had to take a back seat with all of that to save time. That didn’t stop him from getting a few good ribs out there, though. My favorite had to be “Hey Dad! Don’t take your 12 year old to a NOFX show!”, which was pointedly said to the father and daughter a few rows back from the barricade on Night 2. Anyone familiar with NOFX’s lyrical content knows exactly what he’s talking about. This was said just prior to the band performing “Louise”, a track from the band’s album Pump Up the Valium, which details the relationship between two lesbians that clearly have a dominant/submissive relationship. The song is “colorful” to say the least.
While I was in a punk-rock band fresh out of college, Lagwagon was THE band that we were drawing the most inspiration from at the time. I had never really listened to them much before joining this band, but I quickly grew to love them, particularly their album Trashed. When I heard that they were intending to perform that very album from start to finish at this show, I was stoked! As promised, the band ripped right into “Island of Shame”, which got the crowd into a frenzy, and followed with “Lazy” and “Know It All”. But then singer Joey Cape asked the crowd if they’d prefer to hear the album or a bunch of other tunes. The crowd gave a stronger response to the latter, which despite breaking my heart a bit, ended up not being a letdown in any way.
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
A band I had yet to ever see and was incredibly stoked for, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes had hands down the most fun set of the festival. The notoriously fun cover band features members of various Fat Wreck Chords groups, and this year featured Scott Shiflett filling in for his brother Chris, who was once in No Use for a Name and currently plays with the Foo Fighters. Dressed up in white pants and tropical shirts, the band whipped the crowd into a glorious sing-along, which lasted the entire set. Busting out gems like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, Elton John’s “Rocket Man”, Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” and John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, it was one classic after another. There’s nothing like seeing a sea of punks belting out “Sloop John B” by The Beach Boys at the top of their lungs.
No Use for a Name (with special guests)
The elephant in the room at this show was the fact that Tony Sly, lead singer/guitarist of No Use for Name and also a key figure in the Fat Wreck Chords family, had sadly passed away a few years ago. When it was revealed that the surviving members of NUFAN were going to perform with a rotating cast of singers, I couldn’t help but be moved. I had always liked NUFAN and remember being quite affected by the knowledge of Sly’s passing. Several bands had taken a moment during their sets to give a shout-out to the late singer. Strung Out even covered the NUFAN song “Soulmate” during their set. You could feel the energy when they took the stage; both band and crowd were eager to release, and release they did. Among the guest singers were Joey Cape (Lagwagon), Fat Mike and El Jefe (NOFX), Russ Rankin (Good Riddance), Karina Denike (Dance Hall Crashers), Chris Aiken and Jason Cruz (Strung Out), John Carey (Old Man Markley) and more.
Tilt was the band I was most excited to see at the festival for a few reasons. The East Bay quartet was one of the earlier additions to Fat Wreck Chords, releasing four albums through the label. I remember being turned onto Tilt back in high school by a dear friend of mine who has since passed, so the band has always held a place in my heart for not only that reason, but also an old band of mine once shared the stage with them at The Phoenix Theater back in 2001. In what has historically (and tragically) been a boys club, Tilt have always been a good reminder that women fucking rock, too! Cinder Block’s voice was as beautifully raw as ever, and the band whipped through a tight set spanning its entire catalog. It was a treat to see all of the band’s former members come up on stage at one point or another, and Tilt ended their set with “Berkeley Pier” and all of them on stage.
Another band that I had shared a stage with at one time, Bracket from Forestville, Calif., made their triumphant return on Saturday. One of the earlier bands to sign with Fat Wreck Chords, Bracket’s sound embodies the melodic side of things. Though the band likely wouldn’t think so (they are all very humble guys), they sounded right on point. I was personally bummed that there wasn’t a bigger crowd for them, as they have always been one of the more unique bands on Fat Wreck Chords and had some of the best songwriting in my opinion. However, this did not stop them from having a killer set, and those in attendance were very stoked to see them to perform.
Masked Intruder are one of the more recent groups to join the Fat Wreck Chords lineup, and I hadn’t heard anything from these international men of mystery. I knew about the masks they wear and I had a few friends who had talked them up, so I was eager to see what they were all about. Right off the bat, I was impressed by these guys. Not only was their sound infectious and super tight, but they also brought a cop on stage with them to keep the peace. No joke. OK, so the cop is part of the act, but it’s still hilarious and doesn’t at all take away from the fact that they are writing really great tunes.