Time and time again, one thing in the music industry has always held true: a post-prime rock band is really only as good as their aging frontman. Thankfully for MxPx, 38-year-old Mike Herrera hasn't lost a step in his musical ability or his stage presence.
As Herrera, guitarist Tom Wisniewski and drummer Yuri Ruley took the stage with an extra guitarist, it was clear that the sold-out crowd at the Observatory in Santa Ana on Friday night was in for a treat. After the first of many thankings and a brief introduction, the Washington-based punk band promptly launched into "My Life Story," "Tomorrow's Another Day," and "The Darkest Places."
While there's no doubt that MxPx is about as kid-friendly of a punk band as it gets, it became apparent early on that the crowd was a little more family-oriented than most punk shows. By the time the group continued with "I'm OK, You're OK" and "Here's to the Life," a handful of parents could be seen desperately attempting to keep their young children away from the outskirts of the (rather polite) mosh pits, scolding other concertgoers for smoking joints, and averting their offspring's eyes from semi-profane shirts.
A handful of songs into the set, Herrera announced that they'd be recording the evening (and presumably Saturday night as well) for an upcoming live album. Rather than energizing the crowd, the audience's volume began gradually tailing off following the declaration. Whereas the first few song's anthematic choruses got huge crowd reactions, equally crowd-friendly tunes like "Heard That Sound" (featuring the horns section from opener Five Iron Frenzy) and "Secret Weapon" didn't garner nearly as much of a sing-along.
Perhaps MxPx's diverse, catalog-spanning set caused the mid-concert lull, or maybe the older portions of the crowd were just tired after a long work week, but neither "Screw Loose" nor "Cold and All Alone" led to a whole lot of singing either. Even classics like "Party, My House, Be There," "Middlename," "New York to Nowhere" and "Doing Time" lacked the cheers you'd expect from a sold-out crowd wanting to hear '90s punk songs on a Friday night.
Following a few more songs that definitely made it seem like Herrera and friends were more excited to be there than the crowd was to have them, the announcement that the evening was nearing its end semi-revived the crowd for "Responsibility" before breaking for the expected encore.
Upon returning to the stage, Herrera led a very underappreciated acoustic version of "Quit Your Life" before puzzling portions of the crowd when the band broke into their cover of the Clash's classic "Should I Stay or Should I Go" with Wisniewski singing lead.
To wrap up the set, the punk trio-turned-quartet played the riff from the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" into "Chick Magnet" and pleaded with the crowd to expend every last bit of energy left during "Punk Rawk Show." It was likely the most movement from the crowd all night, although a good portion of the families cleared out over the course of the encore.
There are plenty of times when a raucous crowd carries a mediocre band to put on a great show. Friday night was the opposite, with MxPx doing everything they could to get a somewhat quiet and unenthused crowd to make their album recording sound as loud and exciting as a live punk album should.