Oh, young love! Like winning the lottery or contracting genital warts, it's always something that happens to somebody else, no matter how hard you try. (We're just kidding, of course—we've totally got genital warts!) And on Valentine's Day, it hurts even worse—the lack of love, not the genital warts—but we're nothing if not gluttons for punishment, you know? That's why we subject ourselves to this column every week, and that's why we went to Chain Reaction on Valentine's Day, instead of chasing whiskey and orange juice with Raincoats records like we normally would have: for punishment! Oh, no, wait, we went for something else: as our hot date for the night (yeah, we take hot dates to ska shows on Valentine's Day—we're a class act from minute one!) sweetly trilled as we towered head-and-shoulders over the pubescent crowd, we were after rrrrrrrrrrrrromance!
But romance don't ever start easy, do it, baby? The Exit deserve a clever pun here that involves us trying to get far, far away from them, but don't let that stop you from not liking them! The guitarist gave good stop-me-before-I-rock-again face as he bounced around the stage, but that's only fun for a few seconds, and that's about how long they were fun. They were from New York, so we were hoping they'd at least rip off the Strokes (who are so over now that they're almost cute and retro again), but instead, they spun through a set of happy shiny ska-plated neo-punk that could have come from any cul-de-sac in Southern California. Every so often, a few seconds of song intro would sprout legs and stumble out of the muck—squint your brain a little, and you could have faked it into a late Clash B-side, when they were getting kind of wanky and reggae-ish but were still the Clash—but then someone would start singing into a mic, and it'd turn into Phil Collins plod-punk pop. Though, to their credit, they left the scat fetish in their elementary school bathroom. We're not sure why we woke up with "Phil Collins" written on our arm the next morning, but we can only surmise it was because the Exit was lame.
In between, we scoped for the cutest ska-kids-in-love couples. The guy using his girlfriend's head as a drum? The guy passed out on the couch with his girlfriend's arm trapped under him? The full-bearded means-bizness dude and his equally tough-looking girl? Well, they were the best of the bunch, but they still lacked a certain je ne sais something, ya know? Were the kids still all right, we wondered sadly, or were they just roiling stews of hormones sausage-cased in bad skin and worse shoes? And then we saw them. Him: bad afro, big glasses, braces, skanking like a man possessed—fucking rad. Her: obviously the coolest girl in her school, understated ska style with a dainty little checkered handbag. Their destiny: obviously a lotta laughs, chemistry potent enough to get a car to Vegas, and the best prom pictures in the 714. But did they know? No! When the band started up, they'd skank gingerly to and fro, careful to observe each other's insecurity perimeter, stealing nervous sidelong glances at each other, and in the rhythm of that skanking, we felt the timid heartbeats of two throbbing crushes. Oh, young love, we sighed. If only it would get a clue.
Instead, it got the RX Bandits. God strike us down the day we like a ska punk band, because that'll be the day dogs start lying down with cats and pigs fly through snowstorms in hell and all that. But goddamn it, the RX Bandits were pretty good. (We should actually curse a little more to retain our trademark edge, so pretty fucking good, okay?) They fucking burst off that stage like a botulism-swollen can of beef stew, all elbows and trombones and crazy energy—kids were, like, hanging from the rafters and skanking around in homemade RXB shirts (with the sleeves ripped off! HOW CUTE!), and we felt so old. And you know what? Yeah, the RX Bandits played what sounded like a few holdovers from the old days—though even when they were predictable, they were still tight enough to make you gasp for air—but wherever the new shit is taking them, it ain't ska punk. Instead, it's this crazy mutation of feel-good new hardcore and punk and ska and all kinds of weird shit, augmented by their boasting approximately 8 million people onstage at once (guitar, guitar, keys, bass, trombone, trombone, drums, drums—fuck, they were a halftime show!), all of whom were flipping the fuck out. God help us, it was fun. But romantic? That's up to you, kids.