When the Angels Sing
A Benefit for the family of Dennis Danell
Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre (if they want us to start calling it by that ugly new name, why haven't they changed their signs yet?)
Saturday, May 6
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. And by "bad stuff," we mean you, if you were one of the doofuses in the pit who helped rip the seats out, apparently not thinking that the damage you were causing would be deducted from the funds going to Dennis Danell's family. Or maybe you were one of the inbreds who bought a $30 ticket solely for the purpose of starting fights, only to get tossed out before the sun went down (we witnessed at least two very nasty, blood-spilling brawls before the clock even hit 7 p.m.—why did the hypermasculine HB Wifebeater-Tank Nation pick this day, time and place to hold its convention?).
Sigh . . . We suppose it wouldn't have been a true punk rock show if there hadn't been a little mayhem. But still, this was basically a wake, with all the whirling emotions associated with such ceremonies. Those sentiments just didn't seem to be found among some of the 15,000 guests who showed up to pay their respects. It was mostly the kids in their teens and 20s who were causing problems, though, not the many 40-year-old recovering punkers reliving their wild, untamed Cuckoo's Nest youth (Agent Orange, TSOL and Social Distortion on the same bill for the first time since the Carter administration!).
Onstage, things were different, from the moving words of Dennis' wife, Christie, who spoke after X's set ("May his spirit rock on in all your hearts"), to the Offspring, who dedicated "Gone Away" to Dennis, to Pennywise's cleansing, anthemic burn-through of "Bro Hymn" (penned in tribute to their own Jason Matthew Thirsk, who killed himself several years back; they, too, know the pain of losing a band mate).
Mike Ness said his goodbyes to Dennis through the music, perhaps the best way he knows how. He came out solo and acoustic for "When the Angels Sing," the evening's theme ("Stand up strong, feel the pain/When the angels sing/ Love and death don't mean a thing/ Till the angels sing"), which was quite touching, evidenced by a sleeved greaser whom we actually glimpsed weeping. The crowd even did that normally annoying, clichd, Bic-flicking thing, only this time it somehow felt fitting and poignant. Mike continued on acoustic for "Ball & Chain," which he ended with a "Motherfucker!" yelp, strongly scrunching all the pain, tragedy and celebration into a single blunt word.
Then John Maurer, Chuck Biscuits and Johnny Wickersham stepped up, and Mike strapped on the Les Paul. "Twenty years ago we set out to change things because we didn't like the way things were," said Mike, in a way challenging people to do the same thing today. Then the band zipped through Social D hits both older ("The Creeps," "Mommy's Little Monster") and newer (surely you know what those are), and, somewhere near the end, Mike unveiled an amazing new song called "Don't Take Me for Granted"—written with Dennis in mind, he told us—which has all the markings of his next great tune. They ended with "Ring of Fire," an impassioned love song written by June Carter Cash for her husband, Johnny, all about how deeply devotion can burrow into your soul, no matter if it's invested in another human being or in a punk rock band. Life, love and devotion—those were the real themes of the night. Legacies, too, perhaps, exemplified by the kid we saw, probably about 8 years old, standing at stage left during Pennywise's set, riffing away intensely on air guitar and mouthing the words perfectly to every single song—punk rock future, right there. Dennis would've been proud.
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IT CRAWLED FROM THE MAIL BIN
N8 (SELF-TITLED SEVEN-SONG CD) N8 (say it out loud—"Innate," get it?) have a very 311 thing going on, which, in this case, is no bad thing. "Comearound," for instance, is a slow, loping raga tune that manages to stay interesting and, according to our CD timer, is four minutes and 20 seconds long. Hmmm! There are better songs, though, like "Head Above," which starts off with a neat, joogley guitar munch before spewing up into some nice, noisy riffage. "Alien" has some complex timekeeping, apparently to show you they can actually play their instruments (you'd be surprised how many "bands" can't). Sometimes they can get a little too quiet, like on the Sleep-Eze-influenced "Where We Really Are," which tends to drag things down. N8 are really at their best when they simply allow themselves to crank their amps up.
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