Grand Romance Riverboat
May 1, 2011
Old-school punk rock as a genre has a tendency to sound the same song after song–especially to those unfamiliar with the genre. Luckily for T.S.O.L., they rely on a unique combination of sonic wizardry (think keyboards and chorus-y guitars), as well as the benefit of a front man with a larger-than-life stage presence.
In case you didn't read Weekly
Web Editor Vickie Chang's recent cover story
on T.S.O.L., front man Jack Grisham
has written an autobiography titled An American Demon
. Sunday's show was a release party for the book, and in a style befitting any anti-establishment punk rocker, it was all ages and free.
Before getting into the specifics of the performance, let it be said, Grisham may just be the hardest working punker on the planet. He spent nearly four hours meeting with fans and autographing copies of his book. Each time I walked to the third level of where he was set up for most of the day, he was chatting with people, having his picture snapped with his arms draped over the shoulders of adoring fans clutching copies of his book. Then he played a full set in on poorly air-conditioned boat that was packed to the rafters with drunken punkers. At no point did he appear deflated. In fact, the whole thing seemed to have an energizing effect on him.
By the time T.S.O.L. was ready to play, the sun was starting to dip over the harbor. The rest of the band spent several minutes setting up on the bottom-level stage while Grisham finished things upstairs. When the music commenced, Grisham emerged from the audience. He flashed a mischievous smile while taking it all in for a second, then launched into a blistering set of songs about bucking the system and raping corpses.
Though it may sound like a puerile affair to some, there is something truly magnetic in Grisham's demeanor. A bear of a man, with broad shoulders and big, dark-rimmed glasses, he paces the stage with the compulsive gait of an angry bull, his bark a weird hybrid of Johnny Rotten screechiness and Glenn Danzig croon. But what came across time and again was his smile, which he flashed continually throughout the performance–at once maniacal and serene, it was disarming, inviting and oddly inspiring. This aura was reflected in his sense of humor, which reared its head several times over the evening–notably when he remarked about the lack of exits on the boat. He explained that since his political career was over, he didn't care whose back he stepped on if he had to escape, should the boat sink.
Though the sound inside the ship's cabin was less than studio quality, the backing keyboards, which emulate the tones of a jazz organ, interlaced nicely with the shimmering buzz of the guitar and didn't get lost in the mix. A set highlight included “I'm Tired of Life,” off 1981's Dance With Me, with it's moody call-and-response intro and angsty lyrical themes. The song “Abolish Government,” off 1988's Thoughts of Yesterday 1981-1982, inspired an enthusiastic crowd response, with feet and legs hoisted above a seething throng, though Grisham spaced on some lyrics. After a few good-natured jeers from the crowd, he said he had an ADD moment when he looked out the boat's windows and imagined it sinking.
One non-musical highlight included Grisham pointing to his niece Jesse from the stage. The blond cutie pie, who couldn't have been older than 4, was sitting on the shoulders of someone in the crowd. While the band raged behind him and he paced back and forth, he called out to her and flashed the devil horns. Proving her punk-rock lineage, she flashed them back.
Overheard: “Hey, guys, flip off all the tourists,” someone on the ship's stern suggested as a tour boat full of people cruised by.
The Crowd: Punk circus to the core, due in no small part to show openers the Yeastie Boys, who turned out in full clown regalia. There were also groups of boys and girls showing off menacing skin ink images of spider webs, Rollins Band logos, and famous horror-film monsters. Fishnet stockings and garter belts were also in full effect.
Random Notebook Dump: Skateboarding legend/U.S. Bombs front man Duane Peters was in attendance with his son. The young lad apparently cut his hand walking down the gangplank. Dad quickly applied a series of bandages with the steely aplomb of an urban warrior combined with the gentle assurance of a den mother.