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Live review: Screeching Weasel at Club Nokia

An influential pop-punk band, whose old ideas still work, plays with undimmed spirit.

When a musician, at the beginning of a rock show, invokes the phrase “Without further ado,” you’re usually in for a good deal more ado.

Not with Ben Weasel: Welcoming fans to Screeching Weasel’s concert Sunday night at Club Nokia — its first ever in Los Angeles — the frontman kept to his word, declining to explain why he’d reformed this influential pop-punk group after a decade of inactivity or why its current lineup lacks the founding guitarist known as Jughead. (Longtime collaborator Danny Vapid was on hand at Club Nokia, along with three younger sidemen.)

SCREECHING_WEASEL_PG “It’s been so long,” Weasel said. “We’ll just play some songs.” Then he turned to the band’s drummer and gave a nearly imperceptible signal to count off “Cindy’s on Methadone.” It was the first of 27 tunes Screeching Weasel played over the next hour.

A suburban Chicago precursor to a generation of platinum-selling California punks, Screeching Weasel more or less mastered the art of the three-chord rave-up during its initial run. Unlike successors such as Green Day and Blink-182, though, Weasel and his bandmates never tired of their music’s formal limitations; there aren’t any hip-hop experiments or “American Idiot”-style rock operas in the group’s no-frills catalog.

On Sunday the singer provided zero evidence that he’s changed his mind about the base-line durability of punk. The music was loud and fast, and if it wasn’t quite out of control, it certainly hadn’t grown tighter or more orderly with time. (Weasel dedicated one song to the band’s sound man, which may or may not have been a joke.)

In fact, the music hadn’t grown in any way at all: Although the band’s set included a new song called “Endless Vacation” — “I know no one ever wants to hear new songs,” Weasel admitted, “but it’s a good one, believe it or not” — a sufficient number of beers probably could’ve convinced an audience member he was watching a Screeching Weasel show from 1991.

Minus the beers, that might’ve been profoundly depressing, particularly given the skeptical eye Weasel casts in his songs on traditionalists and various sticks-in-the-mud. Yet the band played with such undimmed spirit that you understood its reliance on old ideas not as an aesthetic matter but as a way-of-life thing.

The ideas still work, no less for us than for Weasel, who sang a significant portion of Sunday’s show from just outside the mosh pit, all but invisible to anyone not within spitting distance. From what you could see, he seemed happy — or maybe just un-angry — there.

-- Mikael Wood

Photos: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (2)

I don't know if you remember or not, Ben played the Knitting Factory a few years ago (I wanna say back in March 2008) as "Ben Weasel" with almost the same line-up (Simon was playing guitar when I saw them last.. The new kid Drew is pretty damn good). Apparently, he and Jughead had a falling out, and they needed to settle some legal issues before Ben could use the "Screeching Weasel" name.

Anyway, it was a great show and my three highlights of the evening were Fat Mike singing his "Peter Brady" part, Ben's rant before they tore into "Cool Kids" and the hippie who tried to bum-rush the stage and was removed via his ponytail.

Ditto on Adam's highlights - especially the pony tail grab. While the author jokes about the tightness of the set, they played most of the 27 songs straight through with no pauses and seamless transitions from one to the next. Honest and thoughtful music like this needs few words between songs.


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