Seattle Pop Punk Fest 2018 by Kayla Greet
On the first of December 2017, Chris Crusher was surprised by one of the best birthday gifts anyone over thirty and into pop punk could possibly get. He had booked the show himself, but in the middle of it, a secret band showed up and played. That band was Sicko.
Sicko quietly played a warm-up show for an intimate crowd of folks to celebrate Chris getting older. And the next day when I looked at social media, I kicked myself for justifying it being too damned cold to get out of the house that night. But it was a mild kick, since a month prior I had bought tickets to see them at the Seattle Pop Punk Fest, for which they were playing said warm-up show. These two gigs were the first time they’d played in nearly twenty years.
But this show review isn’t about these old timers. I mean, it is, but it’s also so much more. Ean Hernandez from Sicko has this little record label called Top Drawer. And some twenty-four years ago he put out 13 Soda Punx, a pop punk compilation of then-current bands like Cub, The Smugglers, and MTX. So Hernandez decided to put out 14 Soda Punx and this time was able to use only Seattle bands. Thus putting together a fest for the record release show was a no duh.
The fest was two days long and held at the Highline, a vegan punk/metal bar in Capitol Hill on January 19 and 20. Overall, seventeen bands were playing, and originally I had only planned on going to the first night, though both were seriously tempting. Then I remembered how much I missed Listen Lady and was committed to going both days.
So let’s get into it, shall we?
Day one consisted of: Stuporhero, Burn Burn Burn, Choke The Pope, Four Lights, Sicko, Ramona, and Dead Bars in that order. I had a podcast to record earlier in the evening so I missed the first two bands. Stuporhero I’d actually never heard of, but fortunately I’ve seen Burn Burn Burn a billion times before. Still wish I could have caught them both.
Choke The Pope was just taking the stage when I ordered my first Shirley Temple. The entire thing was backlined which severely cut down on the time between sets. The Highline is generally a one stage venue, but for this fest they added a smaller second stage where people are usually chowing down on Citizen Fish and Pig Destroyer sandwiches. What was neat about that is it’s all just one big room, so if you were in the very back for one band, you’d be right up front for the next one; just turn around! Or if you’re super tall, as Chris Crusher joked, you come off as polite when standing in the back, and then the next band starts and you’re a total inconsiderate asshole!
Choke The Pope really set the tone for what’s to be expected from Seattle pop punk. They’re snotty, melodic, goofy, cynical, and politically minded all at the same time. And I have to say, their frontman is one of the only people I know of to wear a tucked-in T-shirt on stage and still make it look cool. This band is fantastic, and I think they surprised a lot of folks who’d never seen them before.
The crowd at the SPPF was about three degrees of generation gaps.
A good portion were folks who used to see Sicko back in the day and that are now in their forties and fifties. Then there were a sizable chunk of those in their thirties who might have caught them at the tail end of their career, and a small group of twenty-somethings.
Four Lights were next and crooned the crowd in their dazzling blue velour suits. Then came the main course. I wasn’t ready for it, thinking that Sicko would headline, but everyone in the room smooshed themselves like sardines to the front of the main stage while I hung in the back, getting on my tip toes to see whenever possible. One cool and surprising factoid was that Mikey Erg was in attendance. Every now and then you’d see his fist rocketing out of the dense crowd in front of Ean, singing along to all the songs.
Sicko played three covers: Cub (“Little Star”), Misfits (I forget), and Indigo Girls (“Closer to Fine”), with which they closed out their set. The whole half hour they were on stage was raucous, energetic, and plastered smiles on so many faces. I’m too young to have caught them when they were active, but this more than made up for it. It started out with Ean on guitar and Denny on bass, but about four songs in they swapped. They sounded polished and tight, as if no time had passed at all. But they hilariously acknowledged the gap when Denny said, “Whoa, settle down guys. There’s people with kids out there.” to which Ean responded, “Dude, there’s people with kids with kids out there!” Ironically, most everyone in the latter demographic peaced out after Sicko and I do not blame them. Punk is way easier when you’re in your twenties.
But wait, there’s more!
Ramona was on next and having relocated to Philly about six months ago, the local scene was stoked to have them back. Besides one minor incident, their set was everything we all yearned for. Midway through a song, Abby got on mic and yelled, “Be nice!” to a rather large man who was making his own mosh pit and being rather careless towards everyone else’s personal space. Yeah, I get it when you’re at a show and up front you’re likely to get knocked around a bit. However, this was a pop punk show where pogo-ing is about as intense as it usually gets, and this dude was careening into folks more than half his size. So after multiple people in the “pit” told him to knock it the fuck off, Diego got on mic and diplomatically asked him to settle down. The guy then cluelessly looked around and said, “Are you seriously talking about me?,” so Diego broke it down for him that he was, and that everyone in the room represents a member of a community and that needs to be respected. Looking out for each other is super punk! Surprisingly, he took it to heart, calmed down considerably, and we all were able to enjoy the rest of the night without incident. I said to a friend later that if this was the worst thing to happen all weekend, I’d chalk that up to a success!
At this point I was ready to call it a night, but I’ve honestly never regretted seeing Dead Bars. And that set was one of the best I’ve ever seen them play. They kicked up the reverb on the vocals as high as it could go and in this small space it totally sounded like they were playing a fucking arena. Their former drummer CJ was on guitar, and Sal Medrano (of Rebuilder and Diego’s older brother) was on guitar, too! It just sounded so full and their whole set was killer. For the last song, John brought out a box of black and white T-shirts that said “Sick Fuck” and tossed every one of them out to the crowd. Ramona was wearing these during their set, so it was cool to get a little memento from the show.
As we passed the merch table, my boyfriend snagged one of the huge and awesome posters for the fest, and I grabbed a copy of the comp, as well as the last Sicko Mutant Pop 7”. Apparently Ean discovered that he had an entire box of these hanging out in his basement and figured he ought to share the wealth. I thought I already had a copy, but purchased one just in case!
SPPF Day Two
Date Night With Brian
What the fuck? That was only day one? My boyfriend and I slept in a little to recover from the night before, and headed out to the International District to attend the Seattle Pop Punk Dim Sum lunch. Now the Facebook event had over five hundred people either “interested” or “attending,” but when we got there it was Sicko, Mikey Erg, and maybe ten of their old friends.
It was super cool to hang out with these guys hearing stories about the old days, while they let me tell them about how great the current Seattle scene is. Though there was a moment when I checked out because everyone was talking about remodeling their homes, so I jokingly asked if anyone wanted to hear about my one bedroom apartment. Also, thanks a billion to the lovely couple from SF who paid for the dim sum! And thanks to House of Hong for having ample vegetarian selections.
After lunch, my boyfriend and I hit up the Womxn’s March for a while, and played pinball as we waited for the doors to the Highline to open. This day started much earlier and had nearly twice as many bands. I was really feeling exhausted when we got in (standing on concrete floors all night will do that to you), so we ordered some food and I watched Date Night With Brian and The Drolls’ sets from one of the small booths on the wall.
The former is Ean’s current project and the latter is Denny’s, both of them with their significant others in the band as well. Date Night was great and cruised through songs about Ean’s cat, while The Drolls joked about doing songs about Ean’s cat. The Drolls threw a Sicko song into their set that they’d also played the night before. One of my favorite parts was when Denny’s wife, whose name I’m not sure of, said, “The poor guys in Sicko can’t find anyone to be in a band with besides their wives now.”
Look, I’ll be honest, I feel like an old thirty-three and my energy levels were real low for most of day two. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, or maybe it’s ‘cause I don’t drink anymore, but I felt wiped out for the first four bands. They were good, and there was a nice-sized crowd watching them. I just spent a lot of time socializing or walking around outside between sets. Shadow Cats covered Leatherface’s “Not a Day Goes By,” so that definitely helped pump me up for round two.
The Botherations was on next and they certainly were a refreshing break from the pop punk moniker. Sure, they fit into this bill perfectly fine being a melodic punk band, though they’re definitely not singing songs about girls and bubblegum. They’re angular, distorted, and old sounding, as if they just straight lifted that ‘80s Midwest punk style and plugged it into current day. It was incredibly fitting that they covered Naked Raygun, and I stood there thinking about how important it is to see live music whenever you get the chance.
All the Raygun stuff that’s recorded before 1990 sounds a certain way just based on the tools and techniques of the time. And when I hear a modern band cover an old band, it’s so much cleaner than the versions I’m used to on record. You’ll never get a more accurate and full version than when you’re standing right in front of the music makers themselves.
I have to give The Botherations a shoutout for being the best at fucking up, too. Towards the end of their set, I saw their guitarist drop a pick, casually turn around and grab another one, and jump right back in like he never stopped. Also, their drummer, West Hunter-Keller (DJ host of KEXP’s Sonic Reducer punk radio show), was tightening his hi-hat stand with one hand while not missing a beat with his other one. My only bummer of their set was that West asked how many folks there went to the Womxn’s March earlier in the day and I was literally the only hand that shot up. I’m hoping there were actually more punks who went and maybe had too many beers in their hands to raise them?
Holy cats! Listen Lady!
They’re equal parts cool, goofy, dancey, and hilarious. Before they even started, guitarist L Henderson told drummer Tom Lowell that he looked like an auto mechanic from Nickelodeon’s Pete & Pete. Later on in the set when Tom got in front of his kit to adjust the kick drum, L jumped on the mic and said, “What do you think it is? The alternator?” If you manage to have a bad time watching this band, then you might have some deep-seated emotional issues that need working out. They hadn’t played a show since Siobhan Whalen (singer) and Tom got married, and now they won’t play another since L has moved to Michigan.
Before their song about cat calling (“Hey Listen”), Siobhan gave a shout out to the March and said, “Trump can lick my cunt!” They covered “Salvation” by The Cranberries to pay their respects to Dolores O’Riordan, who passed away recently. And they finished out with “PMA Can Suck My Butt,” which is all about L having cancer (not anymore though, yay!) and struggling with their mortality. I remember the first time they played that song. Every time since then it’s made me tear up. This likely being the last time I hear it live definitely made me cry a little. And I know I’m not the only one who did. I will miss them so much.
Okay, remember how I was kind of tapped out energy-wise? K Streets, the world’s best Fastbacks tribute band (since it’s all the members minus Kim, plus two other people to make up her absence), was on next. I know they’re a legendary long-time band. I’ve seen Kurt Bloch play a bunch of times. The fact that they were tuning their guitars over the PA while Listen Lady was playing kinda irked me (this isn’t Warped Tour!). I watched for a song or two and was not blown away. So yeah, I sat that one out and chatted with my buddy Lenny from Chicago, and his buddy Lenny, also from Chicago. It’s important to let your feet rest!
Success was up next. It was the third week of January and already the second time I’ve seen them this year. Right away Rev invited everyone in the crowd to move a few steps closer and get cozy. Their former keyboardist Sean was back in town for this show, but he took up rhythm guitar and I had forgotten how great they sound with two six strings employed. At this point I was sort of just singing along to stay awake—totally my fault, not the fest’s—but no amount of cold air or ginger beer was doing it for me.
Lenny and I had made a pact to leave before the fatigue really got to either of us, so I knew I wasn’t the only one ready to dip out “early.” I’m not hip to the Bum hype so seeing them close out the fest wasn’t something I felt obligated to see. My boyfriend had already worked out a non-verbal sleeve tug system when I decided I had to head home before I turned into a pumpkin. Two of Bum’s songs later, we were walking outside to get a Lyft and Lenny was mere seconds behind us.
Seattle Pop Punk Fest was super duper rad and I hope they do it every year—just try to include more womxn, LBGQT, and POC musicians for it next time! Also, major shout out to Cody at the Highline for running some of the best sound I’ve heard at a club show in a real long time. It was perfect. Thank you to Ean Hernandez, Tony Archer, and everyone who had a part in making this a fantastic time.