Hi-Fi Rockfest Queen Mary 9/26/15 Coming straight out of the gates of Hell, the Hi-Fi Rockfest brought several old school rock and punk bands -- or, more accurately, various members from old school punk bands -- to the shores of Long Beach to perform for a day in the shadow of the Queen Mary cruise ship. Over the course of 12 hours, 11 bands entertained a fairly modest sized crowd with their high energy performances. The name in the headline position of the festival's banner was Dead Kennedys, but there were many influential bands and musicians in attendance which collectively forged a terrific day of music.
Some of the bands built from various members of vintage acts included: Luicidal, which was formed by Louiche Mayorga and R.J. Herrera (respectively, the bassist and drummer from Suicidal Tendencies); Year of the Dragon, featuring "Dirty" Walter A. Kibby II (vocalist / trumpet player from Fishbone); and Dirty Filthy Mugs, which is fronted by vocalist Matt Wedgley (former vocalist for Viva Hate and The Force). These bands, as well as The Two Tens, Downtown Brown, and True Rivals, performed 30 minute sets during the first half of the day. Following that, the allotted set times increased commensurate with the star power of the performers and the band names.
Starting with Richie Ramone, whose band hit the festival's lone stage at 4:35 p.m., the set lengths gradually began increasing. The highly entertaining and energetic set of the former Ramones drummer and songwriter lasted 40 minutes. Following this, Ramone [who, like most of the performers at this festival perform under pseudonyms] and his bandmates blended casually in with the down-to-earth crowd. Regardless of the level of celebrity or talent of the performers, there was no significant disparity in feelings of who was a more significant human being (no overblown Hollywood-proportioned hero worship). None of the performers had anything close to a Kanye complex, and the crowd was also cool enough not to mob the performers who wandered over to the merch tents or the food trucks.
As expected, the crowd consisted of a variety of colorful characters. All of the '80s punk hairstyles were represented (mohawks, Liberty spikes, various shaved patterns, and brilliant colors); some outfits were patchworks of logos and slogans; some people wore band t-shirts that may have been purchased at Walmart; and some wore civilian wardrobe. All ages were represented, as well; there were preschool-aged kids as well as geriatrics. And while some of the attendees literally dressed like they were going to war, the event was peaceful. There was plenty of booze, which could have served to make things rowdy, but apart from the controlled violence of the mosh pits, the only people who were asked to comply with rules were the folks sitting too close to the ledge overhanging the rocky shoreline ["Folks, if you could please scooch back a bit; we don't want anyone falling over. Thanks so much!"].
As the sun began to set, The Sonics took the stage. The Sonics were probably the oldest band at the festival. Pre-dating the punk movement by about 10 years, their line-up also consisted of three of their original five members. Of all the acts performing, they probably have the longest list of punk and post-punk bands who have cited them as an influence (including The Cramps, Nirvana, Mudhoney, and L7). Next up was the Chicago-based Naked Raygun. One of the the first post-punk bands of the early '80s, they are well known for their political edge and raw and vicious style. Their set included many of their classics and lead singer Jeff Pezzati's banter showcased some good old fashioned Chicago pride and Midwestern vibes. The newest of the headlining bands was Street Dogs. Formed in Boston in 2002 by Mike McColgan, the former lead singer of The Dropkick Murphys, the Street Dogs's set had tremendous energy, and much of McColgan's stage chat was centered around military pride -- especially when he named his former gunnery sergeant as his greatest inspiration. That being said, much of their music is about pride for U.S. soldiers but not for U.S. conflicts, as evident by some of the songs that he and his bandmates (including former Dropkick Murphys tour manager Johnny Rioux) performed, such as "Back to the World."
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Finally, the Dead Kennedys took the stage, and the political messages reached new levels of ridiculousness. While satire was always a staple of the Dead Kennedys back when they wrote and performed all of their music with founder / lead singer Jello Biafra, Biafra's subtleness was missing. Ron "Skip" Greer currently holds the microphone for the band and keeps things nice and silly. His singing is strong as is his stage presence, but even when he set up and led the band through classics like "Nazi Punks Fuck Off," there was no real edge. The campiness in their show has eclipsed the political bite. That being said, it was fun to listen to Greer bash Bud Light, the sponsoring brew of the event, by taking a swig of Goose Island beer and saying, "Do you know the best thing about Goose Island beer? It's not Bud Light. Bud Light is what I drink while watching Gilligan's Island with my bong."
Overall, the event was a tidy punk rock festival that served as a greatest hits history lesson. Many classics by The Clash were played by various bands or over the sound system during the interim periods between bands. There was no shortage of patrons casually spitting, and the mosh circle (which increased in diameter as the night went on) allowed the dozen or so interested individuals to join in the parade as their favorite shoving tunes were performed. The various ages of the musicians and the varieties of members per band line-up provided degrees of vintage appeal and street credibility. All in all, it was great entertainment, but as far as the punk rock factor -- despite the fact that none of these performers had that superstar thing going on -- there's still only so much edge a concert in the park featuring facsimiles of yesteryear's grittiest acts can showcase.