Red City Radio, PKEW PKEW PKEW, The Penske File, 2018 by Will Malkus

Red City Radio

Red City Radio, PKEW PKEW PKEW, and The Penske File, October 21, 2018 at Metro Gallery, Baltimore, Md. By Will Malkus

“Fuck Evertthibg. I hope th show a good tonight. Pro b nottho.” These two (?) sentences (?) were shared on twitter by Toronto-based pop punk act PKEW PKEW PKEW in the afternoon of October 21, 2018, just a few hours before they were supposed to play a show in Baltimore, Md. with fellow Canadians The Penske File and punk rock veterans Red City Radio. I immediately texted Lorien Lamarr (Aretesophist Photography); what was going on? Was everyone okay? What if PKEW PKEW PKEW didn’t show up tonight? An hour later the PKEW boys followed up with another tweet: “Pretty much all chicken fingers at good.” “Nevermind,” I texted Lorien, “they’re just drunk.”

Fears assuaged, I headed for Metro Gallery. Baltimore (much like any city) has a few local venues that are hidden gems and Metro Gallery is right up there with the best of them. As the name suggests, they curate art shows featuring local visual artists in addition to hosting all kind of performances, not just bands. It’s about as multipurpose as any venue I’ve ever been to and I’ve seen some great art there over the years, of both the visual and aural varieties. Tonight, I was confident, would be no exception. These bands were responsible for some of my favorite music: I’d been listening to PKEW PKEW PKEW’s self-titled album regularly since it was released in 2016, and The Penske File’s Salvation was a revelation from the first few notes I heard to the end of the album. Oklahoma City’s Red City Radio are a staple of any contemporary punk catalog; you can walk into practically any show at the FEST in Gainesville, Fla. and find frontman Garrett Dale on stage, even if it’s not with his own band. I knew we were in for a good night, barring any unforeseen circumstances of course.

I arrived at Metro Gallery a little early, mostly due to some incredible parking karma, but inside was not a heartening sight. There was Red City Radio merch. There was Penske File merch. But where was the PKEW PKEW PKEW merch? Oh no. One beer later and it was getting close to time for The Penske File to take the stage. I did some quick sleuthing on social media and discovered the all the members of PKEW PKEW PKEW had decided to go to an Eagles game in Philly that afternoon. Philadelphia, Pa., if you’re unfamiliar with the topography of the East Coast, is about three hours from Baltimore with no traffic. It’s an easy drive if you leave in the morning. It’s possible in the afternoon. When an Eagles game lets out in the late afternoon in downtown Philly and you have to be in Baltimore by 7:30? You step on the gas and hope for a miracle. Luckily for the boys, they had a buffer. The Penske File was up first.

The Penske File
Seinfeld reference name notwithstanding, I have never seen a crowd so completely caught off guard as when The Penske File started playing. If you like flawless harmonies, rock anthems that sound like they should be played to arenas, and pop punk music that will make you dance around your living room, this is a band you should absolutely be aware of. It’s rare to find a band with a vocalist that makes you want to sing along to every song; it’s even more rare to find a band with three distinct vocalists of equal ability who have that effect. To be honest, one of the best parts of seeing them live is seeing just how much of the vocal work is shouldered between the three of them. Before this show, I honestly didn’t know if they had one incredibly talented vocalist doing the bulk of the work or if all three of them shared the load equally. Turns out it’s the latter, and it’s a sight to behold. I was especially blown away by drummer Alex Standen’s vocal ability, which absolutely has to be mentioned.

The Penske File lead with “Kamikaze Kids,” track one off their 2018 album Salvation, and specifically with guitarist Travis Miles’s best power-rock scream. From there they went into a full set that could only be described as acrobatic; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one band do quite so many splits and jumps for a Sunday night crowd. It was clear from the beginning that they were going to give 110% and the audience responded to that in kind. I saw multiple looks of incredulity traded among the crowd: this was the opener? What would the rest of the show be like? Another standout was “American Basements,” a slower Springsteen-esque ballad that chronicles The Penske File’s experience playing at a house show in Ohio and is probably my favorite of their newer songs—not purely because of the harmonica interludes provided by Miles—but it sure doesn’t hurt. The Penske File work like a well-oiled machine, different vocals dipping in and out at exactly the right moment to create something wholly unique. Sometimes they say more with their silences and pauses than with the words to their songs.

PKEW PKEW PKEW
But all too soon, they reached the end of their set. Right before closing with “Come What May” (probably the Salvation track that best illustrates Standen’s voice), they took the opportunity to confirm my suspicions. “So, PKEW PKEW PKEW isn’t here yet. They, uh, went to the Eagles game today? But if they show up you’ll see a great set!” The time was 8:00 PM, and we were all standing around waiting to see if PKEW PKEW PKEW would show up or if headliners Red City Radio would call a time of death and play their set early. And then, out of nowhere, PKEW drummer David Laino ran into the venue with cymbals in hand—wearing an Eagles beanie over an Eagles baseball cap—looked around in a panic, realized he was on the wrong side of the stage, and ran back to the other side muttering three perfect words under his breath: “I’m so drunk.” If you play in a band and you ever want to feel like a hero, I’d advise you to show up ten minutes before you’re supposed to play in a blaze of drunken action. The rest of the band was met with cheers as they burst in wearing Eagles hats and shirts, practically throwing their gear onto the stage and setting up in under ten minutes. With no preamble they immediately launched into “The Prime Minister of Defense,” where the repeated chorus of: “Let’s stay in the minors, where we can hit well even when we’re drunk” had a special kind of resonance.

PKEW PKEW PKEW are nothing if not consistent, and their raucous party energy was only amplified by the circumstances of this particular show. Continuing with the theme of truly excellent harmonies, the foursome’s new single “Passed Out” adds a new trick to their repertoire between the three distinct voices of Mike Warne, Ryan McKinley, and Emmett O’Rielly. PKEW’s onstage antics are half the fun of seeing them live, especially Emmett’s faces and, in this case, the moment during “Hangin’ Out” where members of The Penske File and Red City Radio emerged from the crowd to hold up pieces of paper with scores written on them. The band earned a 5, 7, 6, and 6 from the judges in case you were wondering. PKEW PKEW PKEW have gotten more mileage out of one album than most bands do in three, so they tend to have a pretty perfect and consistent set list. I’ll admit, it’s nice not to have to wonder if they’ll play my favorite song (“Kathie Lee + Hoda”). Around the middle of their set it occurred to me that we were receiving the quintessential experience for a band with a song that repeatedly asserts, “We’ll sing about beer and football.” Spirits were high as the set ended, and PKEW asked us to clap for the other bands on the bill, and then to clap for ourselves for being such a good audience.

Red City Radio
“Fuck the Eagles!” Garrett Dale, with a shit-eating grin plastered across his face, yelled into the microphone as Red City Radio took the stage twenty minutes later. “And fuck PKEW PKEW PKEW! Not you though Emmett; I like you. This one’s dedicated to Emmett!” If you don’t know Red City Radio by now, I honestly have a hard time knowing where to start. They formed in 2007 and have had almost exactly the same lineup ever since, with only guitarist Ryan Donovan of Nothington fame stepping in to fill the gap left by Paul Pendley in 2014. Red City Radio have released six albums, toured on three different continents, and have never failed to charm me. A lot of that is due to the undeniable charisma of Garrett Dale, but that’s not to say the band doesn’t have chops.

Their new album Sky Tigers really has the sense of self-awareness and easygoing confidence that comes from bands that have been doing this for a decade or more, and I was really looking forward to hearing it played live. Red City Radio entered completely straight-faced to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” for some inexplicable reason, then got right down to it. They’re pretty much pros at this point and might be incapable of delivering anything other than a solid performance, but even then they managed to surpass my expectations on quite a few songs, most notably “Rest Easy.” There were a lot of contenders for best moment of the night during their set, including when James Hall from The Penske File switched out Garrett’s guitar by handing his new one off like Excalibur, but the winner was easily when Emmett jumped back onstage during “In the Shadows” to play a trumpet for thirty seconds, thereby sealing Red City Radio’s status as a ska band forever.

The sheer power of Garrett Dale’s growl of a voice cannot be overstated, and there is something undeniably awesome about seeing Red City Radio’s particular brand of Americana-infused punk performed in front of a giant banner of a two-headed tiger. The show was so good—and all of the worrying and the suspense had paid off in the best way possible—but Red City Radio wasn’t done yet, blowing us all away with a three-song encore barrage of “Rebels,” “We Are the Sons of Woody Guthrie,” and “Show Me on the Doll Where the Music Touched You.” “If we play a few more songs will you shut the fuck up?” Garrett demanded when he reclaimed the stage to calls for more songs from the crowd. “Actually, if we play a few more songs can we all listen to Miley Cyrus and take some shots?”

So we did.

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Will Malkus is a writer, librarian, and concert photographer based out of Baltimore, MD. You can check out his photography portfolio at charmcorephoto.com/.

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