Not all of us sported razor sharp mohawks and tattooed forearms to bear our tortured souls. Some of us who listened to Dropkick Murphys and Rancid when we were ‘nobody gets me,’ rebellious teens, showed up last Friday at the Avila Beach Golf Resort concert too. The punkers of the late eighties and nineties are now in our forties and fifties, our years of teenage angst neatly worked out through counseling and (for some, judging by the smoke in that taunted the clean ocean-side air) cigarettes.
I was stoked to see the Thrasher Magazine shirts and spiked dog collars in abundance, and even more delighted to see former punkers with their newly-anointed kids up on their shoulders, screaming like awesome maniacs — the future torch bearers of punk. How wonderful, I thought, that when they get to their inevitable first disappointments in life: when the first girlfriend dumps them for some jock, when their dad won’t quit drinking, and when they get busted for skateboarding over someone’s flower bed, they’ll have their headphones to turn to. Full blast. Because, isn’t that what punk is? A big, giant middle finger to everything that sucks? At least for me it is, because “God Save the Queen,” I’d never listen to Hell-heavy bass and angry thunder drums when I’m feeling chipper and content with all the great things happening in my life.
Punk is a form of release, and I believe everyone at that concert, even the incredibly punk-versed 20-somethings like my babysitter I spotted there in her black lipstick, seemed to be breathing just fine. There were no fights or arrests in sight. I did, however, see one ingenious couple in kayaks on the San Luis Obispo Creek inlet, under the bridge, enjoying the leftover pizza scraps of the concert for free. The mood of the Dropkick Murphys/Rancid show was festive and friendly. It was also a monumental gathering of two of the best punk bands ever: One East Coast Celtic, and one East Bay-born evil twin brother.
The dual headliners brought impressive food trucks with craft beers and really cool T-shirts to add to our Ramones and Pogues collections. But the music, my, my, made my black eyeliner run for cover.
Throughout the whole ‘From Boston to Berkeley Tour’ the two punk bands have been trading headline spots. For Avila Beach, we got Dropkick Murphys first. To my delight, by the way, since I recently interviewed guitarist/accordionist/Irish whistler/drummer Tim Brennan, who is the youngest in the band (in his 30s) and has so much energy and stage presence, the audience can’t even help but storm the stage and to join him. He plays the accordion like an electric guitar. A group of about nine teenage girls rushed the stage when Dropkick played ‘I’m Shipping Up to Boston’ later in the set, but Al Barr kept on singing loudly and shouting with his matter-of-fact Boston accent into the microphone, and the band kept playing, bagpipes and all. More people joined the Irish Boston speed jig on stage: kids, their moms, punkers, everyone smiling and comforted, like they just got invited into the pub by Norm from “Cheers.” The best part of the show was when Dropkick Murphys bassist Ken Casey looked out at the super-engaged crowd and said, “Well this is definitely different. It’s like hard, old school punk rock. California punk rock. A dirty hippy barbecue. I don’t know what to make of this.”
Dropkick Murphys performed about 16 songs in all, including “Rose Tattoo” and “The Lonesome Boatman” to start the show. I thought for sure there would be stage dives, but the chummy act of admiration kind of just of elevated the stoke of the music. It was the sound of St. Patty’s Day coming out of an amp at five billion shamrocks. I was so proud to be Irish for every Dropkick song, but not the sweet hospitable Irish mother proud — I’m talking fighting Irish Proud. Drink a pint with your best buddies kind of proud. And I worked out some of my angst too. It had been a hard week.
Hundreds of fan hands were already carrying hilariously cackling punkers over our heads as soon as Rancid started playing. Mohawks and motorcycle dudes commanded up to the pit for better viewing of Tim Armstrong’s impressive beard, super-beat up favorite guitar, and spiderweb-tattooed head. My editor, Luke Phillips, met me at the show to take photographs. You might not know it by his plaid, button-downed shirt (which he wore to the concert, having to jet down to Avila straight from work), but Luke is the biggest Rancid fan I know of. He even somehow edits stories to punk music (hidden under his headphones). He didn’t wear earplugs for this show, oh no. Instead, you could just hear the insane symphony of misfits enter his mind through the open doors of his ears. I pictured a young Luke growing up in the California Desert, staring up at the ceiling with his stereo on full blast, in a messy room with Rancid and Green Day posters pinned all over the walls.
I screamed over the first song, “Radio,” “Luke, did this help you work through a lot of anger when you were a kid?”
Luke flashed me a devilish smile. “Yeah, and it still does,” he said.
Rancid did a stellar job pleasing his vintage troublemakers, like Luke, with some old favorites: (playing “Nihilism”, “Salvation” and “Roots Radicals”). Lars Frederiksen, Rancid’s singer, summed it up the awesome punk rock evening, “A little beach. A little punk rock. A pretty good night,” he said “All you need to do now is to drink a couple of beers and chill. A little Rancid and chill.”