In theory, I’m a prime candidate for punk nostalgia of the worst sort. I’m thirty-nine and I got into punk in 1980. I could easily be going around saying, “My generation originated blah, blah, blah…” or “These kids today don’t know blah, blah, blah…”, but to do so would put me among some of the most joyless people I know. So far I have resisted such cranky cynicism because I still want to have fun and learn something in the process. Speaking of joyless people, Exene Cervenka was in town last weekend. Even though I bought my first X album in 1981 and still like their first four, I had no desire to see her. I may have an emotional connection to some of that music but not to her. She has sullied her image in my eyes by making some of those aforementioned senior punk slags of the kids today in Spin‘s 25th Anniversary of Punk issue which Todd Taylor reprinted in his column in Razorcake #3.
I won’t recite them all here but my favorites were, “There are people who still believe in the spirit of punk and live that lifestyle, but it’s only a re-creation,” and “I’d hate to be 15 right now.” How amusing, I thought, that she’s hitting the road with a new band and new material which sounds a lot like her old X material. Does this mean her new band is only a “re-creation” too?
The only reason I went to the show is that I knew her rhythm section is former members of The Distillers (one of those new “re-creation” bands whose first album I completely loved when I bought it last year). Bassist Kim Chi and drummer Mat Young are good players and I wanted to meet them. They lived up by playing great and being really nice, personable people. The two guitar players, Jason Edge and Sam Soto, also played well. Exene lived up to my low expectations of her.
Admittedly, Charlotte is a tough town for unknown touring bands. There is no college radio here and never has been. As a result, many famous bands have never played here despite this being the second largest city in the South. Maybe Exene thinks she can coast on her legendary punk status but that doesn’t work so well here. Oh sure, the oldsters will come out on a weeknight for Iggy Pop, but not for very many more. Old punks here generally stop going out to shows otherwise. The crowd on this Sunday night was between forty-five and fifty people. I saw only one person there who looked older than me. It was a $10 show for over twenty-one and $12 for under. This is a club that normally charges $6/8 for local/regional shows. A local band, Men of Leisure, opened up and played a good set. The singer has a great, raw voice that really gives a strong edge to their ’50s rock/garage punk sound.
The Original Sinners opened up with an instrumental sans Exene. She made her entrance on the second song. In an attempt to get people to move closer to the front she asked the audience, “You’re not afraid of us are you?” Few people moved a muscle (not untypical of Charlotte crowds, though). The Sinners started their show at 10:25 and including a two-song encore (with yet another Exene-less instrumental). The whole thing was over at 11:10. From where I was standing I could see their set list had been originally written to include more songs, but I guess Exene cut it short when the crowd wasn’t loving her enough. The crowd wasn’t dead or rude; they just weren’t giving out lots of energy and wild devotion. If the band had played at least an hour, I don’t think I would have felt quite so cheated. As it was, Exene did nothing to draw the crowd in and make them feel that she was at all into performing for them.
I couldn’t help noticing the people in the crowd. I saw the three young guys who were perhaps still in their teens. One of them was wearing a Descendents’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” t-shirt. I wondered if Exene saw him on the street would she think he’s trying to “re-create something that somebody else invented,” or because he’s at her show would she see him differently. I know it isn’t easy for 40-ish women to relate to teenagers but whether Exene likes it or not, kids who are just getting into punk are going to come to her shows. I’d like to think she has something to offer to them other than “worship me,” but if she does it was not apparent on this particular night. The band played great and I wish all of them well in their venture, but I’m afraid their lead singer’s heart is only in it when the waves of adulation are readily given.