Punk Retrospective

The Genius of Punch and Pie – Part 2

When we shoot shows, it is sometimes hard to enjoy oneself. You have to stand in uncomfortable positions, arms raised, watching a tiny screen. We have a system, where we film three or four songs of a set, try to take in the music for three or four songs, then exit during the closer for a rest or a smoke. Unfortunately, this formula prevents us from fully experiencing the shows most of the time.

That said, it would have been difficult to not enjoy yourself at Punch and Pie. These bands came to play, and inadvertently melt some god dammed faces.

If you’re not aware of whom Urban Wolves are, I feel sorry for you. Sarah McLaughlin, sad one-eyed puppy, hide the swelling tear from your girlfriend sorry. It’s difficult to be an opener, be amazing and not steal the limelight from the headliner. It’s a very fine balance to entertain, enjoy what you’re doing, and still be real. These kids knew what they were doing. “Seasoned musicians” is not a good enough explanation of what I saw. You seriously wanted to dance. How do you dance to punk music? Fuck you, that’s how. The god dammed Urban Wolves are on, don’t question me.

In the first part of this story, I mentioned how Sean Stepp offered to put me on a guest list I was already on. He brings that class with him on stage with Civil War Rust. I disappointingly missed more of this set than I would have liked, but not in vain. Not knowing who he was, I approached Sean and told him what an amazing job he did. We struck up a conversation and I learned he works for Amp Magazine. Holy shit, I was making a friend. Or I was drunk, I guess it was something I’d have to figure out in the morning.

When you watch Bastards of Young, you hear something in their music. You can’t quite make out what it is, but it’s empowering in a way. Lys Mayo (Urban Wolves, Dead Dads) dances wildly beside me as the camera closes, shaking her tall can like a tambourine. In fact, everyone surrounding me is dancing. It’s safe to dance. For a moment, I’m liberated, and who I am or what I’m doing… It doesn’t matter, only the chanting of on and on from “In the Diggins…” matters. Lys bends down in front of me and grabs Sean Hills’ set list, writing “New Reaction” over it in blue sharpie, throwing it at Sean’s feet. Sean picks it up and shows drummer Wyman Harrell, modestly saying, “I like Lys’ idea.” The song starts, and the place goes mother-fucking bat-shit crazy. Where am I and how did I get here? And can I please never leave?

My break came during Red City Radio. When you do what we do, there’s a certain point you don’t care who’s playing anymore, you just want to rest. This was not that opportunity.

I got the privilege to watch from behind the wall at the Press Club, pulling back the curtain and complimenting drummer Dallas Tidwell on his amazing style. He turns and HOLY FUCK, YOU’RE THE GUY I TALKED TO IN LINE FOR THE PISSER!! My life is full of these screwed up coincidences, but it’s been a long, long time since one of them caught me so off guard. It’s safe to dance again. It’s okay to enjoy myself.

It’s night one for me, it’s not yet over, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. Amazing things have already happened.  Justin Hell from The Strange Party introduces himself, as well as band mate Morgan (?). He recognizes me from a podcast. Over the course of the festival, Justin and Morgan turn from a couple of guys I’m not quite sure of to a couple of guys I’m not only glad to have met, but am honored to call friends. Someone mentions Ken Doose’s name, and I recognize it from the internet. This is one of the guys always sharing the Video Magazine. I must meet this man, shake his hand and say thank you. No one bothered to tell me I was approaching a legend, or maybe I would have waited until I was sober. I can’t imagine what this man may have thought about me, but I hope good things. And I received a Bat Guano button for my boldness.  We were introduced to Taper Jim, a fossil of a man, who tapes shows much like we do at Sucker Punk Productions. The genius idea of trading footage came up, something I’m jealous that I didn’t think of myself. We exchanged contact info with Jim and Sean from Civil War Rust, although I admit I can’t remember why Sean wanted me to contact him now. And I couldn't leave without introducing myself to Pat Hills, whom I'd later learn was in the middle of mixing nine albums at the same time.

All of this, plus Sean Hills. We exchanged gratitude about our little video, and I coined the phrase in that moment, the “Man with Million Dollar Ideas.” It’ll catch on, Sean. Promise.

And at the end of the night, outside with all the younger kids, next to Dennis and Erin Jordan’s merch table, Morgan and a friend play an acoustic set. Why? Because that’s how they fucking roll. Accept it.

It was a long, long day at work the next morning. As well it should have been. But I was anxious to get back to the festival. We arrived to a very crowded Luigi’s, and that’s when the Genius of Sean Hills hit me. The Press Club is a 21 and up bar. Bands like Mad Judy and 9:00 News, younger with a younger fan base, needed somewhere else to play. The under age kids needed to experience this as well. And both bands, with their anthem style rifts and unique vocalists drew in that crowd. I’m posted between the sidewall and the stage for both sets, and I enjoy every minute of it.

I get my break during the Secretions, and this is when they bring it. They slam through what sounds like a decade of music. It’s fast and unapologetic. All of this I’m taking in, it’s too much too soon. I’m culture shocked. I have to step outside and get some air. There’s no will or energy to socialize. It’s night two, and my liver cannot keep up. For Christ’s sake, how much more am I going to be able to take before I just pass out from over stimulation?

Blag Dahlia was the break I needed. His quaint, personal acoustic set was both relaxing and funny as hell. He played to the crowd like they were old friends he hadn’t seen in years. I ran over normal recording time because he was just so damn entertaining. I didn’t want to put the camera down because I was afraid I would never see such a charismatic, crowd-friendly person again.

There wouldn’t be any socializing that evening, and I was perfectly okay with that. I was exhausted, shell shocked, and overall still questioning myself about where my place in all of this really was. The beer was as heavy as the sleep, and if my glasses ended up underneath Jasen’s ball sack that evening, I was sure I would be okay with it in the morning.

I was revived the next day, wanting impatiently to be back at Luigi’s. My hand was shaken numerous times upon arrival, for what I cannot say. I sat down with Ken Doose and was schooled on Sacramento’s rich scene history. I honestly felt like a foolish idiot, and yet proud that a guy like Ken would bother with a guy like me. This man, this iconic figure with such a love for music, spending time being one of the biggest supporters of local music and I imagine one of the best fans a band could have, gave a shit about what I was saying. Tiny, insignificant, lost nobody me. I will always be grateful for that conversation.

And that’s what the day was. Amazing conversations with Justin Hell, Mike Boyd from The Walking Dead, Dave Gordus from The Porter Project and numerous others I can’t even remember. Pints of beer turned into pitchers. People began recognizing and realizing who I was, thanking me for filming and telling me I was doing an amazing thing for the scene. All of which branched out from spending the last decade feeling dead inside and wanting so badly to just not be bored with myself anymore. It was like I hadn’t ever been outside.

I was already dancing when Dead Dads came on. I took my spot on the side stage, a perfect angle to watch Lys Mayo beat the fuck out of the drums. Shoeless. Seriously, is there anything this girl doesn’t do? I would later be told that lead singer/guitarist Cory Wiegert would be a good person to trade footage with and that I must… MUST download their EP. I did that. I was not disappointed.

When Know Your Saints played, you could feel the bitter cold of Seattle. The band relocated to Oakland and front man Lucas Andrews had something to say. And I listened intently, trying to not be distracted by the urge to jump around. The band has passion, and they wear it openly. I was left with an impression of awe that would be hard to beat.

Kill Devil is a different kind of beast, and one I’ve enjoyed since I first saw them almost a year ago at the Professional. Mike Boyd and Alex Dorame are wonderful people and we have a rich history of doing one another favors, like when Alex gave us a shout out, “They weren’t asked to be here. They do it because they love it.” You couldn’t ask for such a lovely compliment. Or for a more amazing set. Their whole style is more alternative, true alternative, not punk. But when they play, you can see and hear why they fit in so well with the scene. It’s their home.

This next part is hard for me to describe. I watched this old guy slam beers all day. He had an impressive wizard beard to go with his impressive beer gut. His movements blended in the crowd and you wouldn’t guess he gave a shit about any of the music. This man was obviously here to get smashed and find a bush to pass out in. He also ended up being Davey Quinn from Tiltwheel.

This guy is smashed before he reaches the stage, and he admits he has no idea what the next half hour is going to sound like. His band mates razz him about talking through the whole set, then they debate what song they’re going to play. This intro fell just short of being slightly uncomfortably long. And without notice, the band slams into playing this fast, heart pounding music that I was not expecting.

My job was to get angles of the drummer. The camera never left Davey Quinn. You could see the passion literally flow through this guy’s guitar playing. All the angst, all the anger of a horrible life… All the shitty jobs to make ends meet, all the fucked up girlfriends, all the people passed away. It was all there, right in front of my face. This man paid his dues in this life, and being up on that stage with a guitar in his hand, it’s the ONLY thing he wants. By all accounts of what I saw, this guy should have been a total wreck. He stole the show. Completely blew me away, so much so that I swelled up and almost dropped the camera. I could feel the music in my heart, and it moved me. Tiltwheel did something to me so profound and far off edge for me... It woke me up. There were no filters, no walls, no denial. Just real, true to blood life. Grounded and pumped out of Davey’s guitar.

I wish I could end right there, at the highest point of a festival that was nothing but high points. But it was Saturday, and the day was only half over.

There was a pause between shows. I had to compose myself. And drink. This was all so crazy for me and I had no idea what to expect next. Cold Heart Re-Press, it’s like they knew. They didn’t disappoint. Bear Williams is a genius in his own right, blending a beautiful mix of grunge era alternative rock sounds with punk. Paul Filthy acts out for the camera and I can’t turn away. The man is made for the stage. We have a rule about crossing one another with our camera angles. You just don’t cross in front of one another. Fuck that, I started behind drummer Kiel Gesicki and circled all the way around the stage to Sarah Shintaku and back again. I had to get them all on my camera, it wasn’t worth missing. I didn’t do this for any other band, and it was fantastic.

By the time Hear the Sirens came on, I finally figured it out. My entire life, people kept telling me to listen to music. My fleeting flaw of being way too literal, it never occurred to me to feel the music. Every band clicked in one way or another, and they were no different. The crowd had swollen and they spoke their compliments with dancing and cheers. This is the point I think my face began to melt.

I broke during Union Hearts. No, I didn’t go outside and rest for a moment. I literally spiritually broke down inside. That is how amazing this night, these bands were. It was a surge, a pouring of something other worldly, frothing through my skin, and it broke me. Union Hearts makes the room spin in a way that makes you feel like you’re moving all over the place while you’re standing perfectly still.

Cobra Skulls has an intensity I imagine being akin to lighting yourself on fire and jumping out of a plane while being eaten alive by fire ants. These guys don’t play their instruments, they slay them like a back-talking indentured servant. It was like fucking in a janitor’s closet when you know the custodian is almost done mopping up. What I’m trying to get across here is that they were pretty good. I didn’t walk out of Luigi’s so much as I stumbled out a drunken shamble of the person I used to be.

Sunday, the fest moved back to the Press Club for an early show. I was in a strange mood and didn’t say much to anyone. The last three days had put a lot in my mind and it needed to sort itself out. This was the night I met Cory Wiegert and we briefly talked about trading film. I had a long conversation with Justin Hell about things of the scene nature. To be honest, it was mostly just me listening. It was suggested I talk to Charles Albright, which I never got around to doing. I was growing a new perspective, and I realized I had been selfish with myself by not allowing myself to experience any of this until I was almost 30.

And then The Strange Party started. When you look at Justin Hell, you don’t expect to hear Jerry Only come out of his mouth. It made sense later when I heard he stood in for Vic Salazar at a Left Hand show just the week before. In fact, when you see the band get on the stage, you don’t expect what comes out of them. Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things. Unless they’re at a Strange Party show, because they leave you wanting more. I immediately asked for recordings, which aren’t yet available. I feel like taking methadone to get through the withdrawals.

I saw RAD’s very first show at the Professional last year. They had left an impression on me back then, and I yearned to see them again. I regret waiting a whole year, because they were just as awesome this time around as they were last. What makes RAD so amazing is their ability make you say, “Fuck, that was rad.” Who can pull that off? They can. I felt my skin sliding off my skull again. The thrash from these scene veterans makes you wish you’ve known them all your life. Lory Gilpatric screams so violently into the mic, you wonder if she could punch a hole through your face. And they do it with these huge shit eating grins on their faces, like they’re about to surprise you with a carnival prize.

And then there’s The Walking Dead. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen them play. Something familiar, something I can sing along with. I party with these boys, and ideas are formed and passed around regularly. Front man Andy Harrison had a hand in leading us in the direction we’ve gone. To say anything less than they’re a solid act with class would be an insult. When they’re on stage, they’re top billing performers, and when they’re off, they’re all just one of the guys. I love their sound. Always have, always will.

Everything came to an end for me with Kill the Precedent. Holy fuck. These guys are genius. This isn’t music so much as performing art. They blend their music with costumes, stage presence, film, sound clips and noises that I can only describe as old science fiction sound effects. You have no idea what the hell you’re looking at when it happens, but when it’s done, you’re so glad you saw it. It really is something different, and I don’t say that lightly. While the whole festival was noise candy and some sort of spiritual doping for me, this was by far the most intriguing band I had seen, not for just the elements I mentioned above. These people should be famous.

And that was it. I walked away strangely satisfied by the experience that was Punch and Pie. I would miss the Phenomenauts and Continental. There would be no City of Vain for me, and that was a disappointment. I would leave wishing to have seen the Moans, Prima Donna, the Community, Setting Sons and Cold Feelings. They would all have to be seen at a different time. And that funny feeling came back to me.

Sean Hills, the Man with Million Dollar Ideas, he was doing something in the scene, in the community. He was setting a standard. He was making a point. He was proving this could happen, if we wanted it. And so modest is this man, giving credit where it’s due, shying away from compliments. This wasn’t something he did to gain attention. Like Alex Dormane had said about our company, he did it because he loves it. Because he loves the music and he loves the fan. He is, in my opinion, the new standard of the scene. And yes I would be so bold to say so, even being an outsider coming in for the first time. I don’t believe I would be disagreed with.

Because that funny thing that happened when Urban Wolves started playing… That thing I couldn't describe when listening to Bastards of Young. The feeling I would continue to feel throughout the festival. The thing swelling in my chest that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. The emotion that I continue to feel after experiencing the juggernaut that was Punch and Pie Fest.

Sean Hills put that there. And it’s called revival.

Posted by benjamin_abel

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