Photo by Eric MayfieldAmVamp/Bottom Turn/55 North/Postnatal Abortion
Sunday, Jan. 20
What better symbolic occasion, on this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday eve, to journey into the dank pit of the Shack in Anaheim—which, need we remind you, has in the recent past become a haven for Nazi/white supremacist bands? We have a dream, too, y'see, that one day this Anaheim room will cease booking those types of shows once and for all. Not that they should, mind you—freedom of expression and such—but it would be the nice thing to do.
This wasn't Nazi Night, though. Instead, it was an ordinary eight-band punk show; we stuck around for half the bill. Still, after getting our IDs checked and the backs of our hands slopped with huge, goopy ink stamps (overheard: "This shit takes, like, three days to wear off." "Well, maybe if you took a bath every once in a while, it wouldn't take as long"), we detected a strong white-power presence. Could it have been emanating from the bald young Caucasian in the black T-shirt with white, old-English-style lettering on it that read, "SKINHEAD"? Or maybe from the chrome-domed security guy who skulked around modeling his Brutal Attack shirt, Brutal Attack being a notorious white supremacist band? Mmmm . . . could be!
(On an entirely different tangent, we were nearly as offended by the watered-down Cokes we bought—served in cups that were two-thirds filled with ice, natch. Then there were the $4 nachos we ordered, for which we paid $5 and didn't get change back, passed beneath a lamp caked with dust on the top. Hasn't anyone at the Shack ever heard of lemon-fresh 409?)
So you could probably see why we felt, before a single note was strummed, that the bands we were there for would have that certain suck-by-association aura about them. But we were wrong—we could have seen them anywhere, Nazis or not, and they all would have thoroughly blown!
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Witness Postnatal Abortion, whose dead-tired brand of thrash punk bored us to the point that a river of drool began to ooze slowly out of our agape, stupefied mouth before we realized what was going on. It was some of the most ordinary onetwothreefaw, play-as-fast-as-you-can-in-two-minutes-and-call-it-a-song tuneage we've ever heard. Even the vocalist—surely no one could confuse him with an actual singer—looked bored shitless. When his band would go off into what amounted to an instrumental circle jerk, he'd just stand there, almost motionless, staring out at the smallish crowd, patiently waiting for the time when he could commence blurting again—not unlike Andy Kaufman performing his old Mighty Mouse bit. Stage presence? Hardly, not when you have to rely on crib notes to remember your song lyrics—not that anyone could understand him anyway ("What's this song about?" we asked our companion. "I think it's about his cock," said he. Actually, we concluded, he sounded like he was singing with a mouthful of cock).
55 North were next, but they were only slightly better than Postnatal Abortion—at least they (barely) knew how to scrape up the semblance of a melody every once in a while. Still, it was fairly standard, teenage cookie-cutter punk, the kind that wallowed in clichs—their spiky-haired guitar player wore a tee with a pot leaf on it, which is, you know, "edgy" and "alluding to illegal activities" and therefore "outrageous" and "wacky." Yawn! Their girl singer, who could barely be heard above her band's din, sounded like she had relatively weak pipes the few times her voice managed to break through, but she couldn't seem to decide if she wanted to be Monique Powell or Wendy O. Williams—now that's schizophrenic! They really weren't as bad, though, as they were amateurish, and if they can somehow rise above the level of the below-ordinary, they may one day graduate to the level of "listenable." But on this night, 55 North's best song came when one band member stepped to the mic and pinched off a huge belch—at least something had a consistent rhythm.
Bottom Turn also made an attempt at something vaguely punkesque, but after their singer yelped out, "Everybody who's getting some tonight, raise your hands!"—well, we kind of purged everything about them from our memory. We seem to recall their guitarist joking about their old drummer—"who's gay now," he said. Then he went awkwardly into an attempt at a joke that implied their current drummer is queer, too! Oh, the bust-a-gut frivolity of these kids! Hey, here's one: Bottom Turn were bottom-of-the-barrel! Ba-dum-bump!Or this: when they asked the crowd to jump around during one song, we wanted to jump, alrighty—off a freeway overpass from having to endure their hapless, passionless drudgery! Ba-dum-bump!
This led us right into the Gothish AmVamp—short for American Vampire, we learned; they had just castrated their name months earlier. The front man was a hugely spiked lad who was gussied up in a black necktie, a white dress shirt, a short black miniskirt and black fishnet stockings. He looked like a Mormon who had been led terribly, terribly astray, and if there was any confirmation that this wasn't Nazi Night at the Shack, the sight of him was all we needed. He began the set by engaging in such self-deprecating dalliances as "We really, really suck—but buy one of our demo tapes!"—an obvious attempt to win converts. But their attempt at deep, black despair came off more laughable than anything (Goth is such a self-parody these days), especially when Fishnet Boy fancied himself something of a comedy/lounge act between songs—silly Goth, you're not supposed to be funny! The best humor was all unintentional, like when he'd wrap his mic cord around his neck as if he were going to hang himself (Yes! Please!). Other times, he writhed around onstage and moaned incoherently, which was a hoot. Hot tip: when your drum machine is the most talented member of your band, it's time to rethink your career.