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A fanboy raves About Rocket From the Crypt's last show getting immortalized
The liner notes to Rocket From the Crypt's R.I.P. live DVD/CD say it all: "As with most (any?) live document, the 'you had to be there' rule definitely applies."
I should know. I was there, just like I was at nearly every Southern California show this San Diego sextet put on the last five years of their existence. No other band have inspired the sort of rabid loyalty that Rocket From the Crypt did for me.
RFTC's decade-and-a-half career provoked no fence-sitting. Those who got it really got it. Those who didn't thought they were a ska band because of the two-person horn section. Devout followers of the RFTC gospel hated this obviously moronic observation, but, hey, it kept the riffraff out. It's hard to pinpoint what made a person succumb to RFTC's blend of Ramones-ian downstrumming and James Brown-like showmanship. Maybe it was the matching suits, the always-entertaining between-song banter from singer/guitarist John "Speedo" Reis or the fact that on any given night, RFTC never relented and never phoned it in.
But it's not just this writer who got swept away by RFTC. Other than the four-bar Black Flag logo, there isn't a more tattooed band insignia than the RFTC rocket. Years ago, the group had a rule that allowed anyone with the ink free admission to shows, but that stopped when the line for the tattooed guest list became longer than the line for ticket holders. I'm sans tattoo, but I always vowed that if I got one, the first would be the RFTC logo. Nearly three years after their breakup, I still hold that to be true.
From a technical standpoint, both the R.I.P. DVD and accompanying CD do justice to what was really taking place that night. Viewers see shenanigans such as an enthusiastic fan climbing a metal stage fixture, Reis throwing a stage-diver into the crowd and a prop hitting the singer in the head midsong. This behavior was unusual, as RFTC fans weren't known for interfering with the show. But this was a farewell party, and people get crazy at funerals. The multi-angled shots give ample time to each of the six members onstage, while the audio maintains what Reis famously called "a big sound." And in true Speedo fashion, the explanation of each track is worth the cost alone. Take "Killy Kill," about which Reis writes, "I am so glad I don't have to play this one no more."
The band begins with Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" and segues into the first tracks from their debut record before burning through more than 90 minutes of the hits, all while donning voodoo tribesmen costumes (it was Halloween) for the first set, shiny suits for the second and mariachi outfits for the finale. Highlights include Reis whispering into his cohorts' ears during the breakdown of "Glazed" and the sentimental swan song "Come See Come Saw." Both exhibit the drama of the front man being confronted with the reality that his band were minutes from becoming history.
While the DVD portion of this double dose of a punk & roll extravaganza captures an energetic performance by a great live band, there is one glaring omission: the crowd. Walking into the Westin ballroom that fateful evening was like entering a Star Trek convention. I felt so cheesy being there, saying adios to a band. Two drinks later, the lights went down, and a montage of photographs backed by "Send in the Clowns" began the show (unfortunately, this scenario isn't in the DVD). That's when I sprouted Spock ears and realized it was okay to be a fanboy. All the icky feelings of weirdness vanished, and in their place arose bittersweet memories of a group that consistently put on the best live show I'd ever seen. All around me, the 1,500 people in attendance talked, hugged and cried, knowing the Cult Band That Could was finished.
The nucleus of the RFTC fan base was remarkably consistent. I never talked to most of these people, but I sure as hell recognized half the crowd at each gig. My guess is those same fans would say the same about me if they knew who I was. Now we RFTC fanatics have the memento we deserve.