3 punk rock bands hit Honolulu in blazing tour of United States
(Cue pompous-sounding announcer.) They came together from different parts of the mainland with one daunting mission in mind. From mid-September to early December, some hardy bands that record for the independent punk label Fat Wreck Chords would single-mindedly traverse these great United States, playing at least one concert per state.
Fat Tour 2005
Featuring Against Me!, Smoke or Fire, and the Soviettes
When: 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Pipeline Cafe, 805 Pohukaina St.
Tickets: $15, all ages
But there lies the challenge of a 2,000-mile trip to the tropical islands of Hawaii. Will our intrepid caravan of musical misfits survive the additional wear-and-tear of overseas travel to ultimately triumph at their Honolulu destination?? ...
HELL YEAH!! And expect rising stars Against Me!, plus stalwart bands Smoke or Fire and the Soviettes to rock the house at the Pipeline Cafe Friday night.
When the Star-Bulletin spoke to all three bands on the day the tour had a stopover in lovely Billings, Montana, they had already performed in 17 states in their travels together.
"This tour has been a piece of cake for us so far," a cheerful Annie Holoien of the Soviettes said via cell phone. "Tonight was surprisingly fun. We weren't sure what to expect. We had played before in a bar, and the turnout wasn't so good, but tonight, there are hundreds of kids here all freaking out. The hall's staff is nice. They think it's all so amusing. We even got to play some horseshoes in the back."
Along with fellow singers Maren Macosko (aka Sturgeon on guitar), Susy Sharp (bass) and Danny Henry (drums), the power punk quartet from Minneapolis, Minn. have already distinguished themselves for their high-energy music.
Together for four years, the Soviettes are one of those bands-to-watch. Their sound is like the illegitimate spawn of the Buzzcocks and the Go-Go's.
More serious politically minded songs like "Multiply and Divide" and "Middle of the Night" are offset by such fun pop tunes as the bouncy "(Do) the Stagger," and, on the band's "LP III," the back-to-back combo of "Thinking of You" and "Hanging Up the Phone," two songs so solid that, if buffed up to a slick sheen, would sound perfect on mainstream radio.
SMOKE OR FIRE's singer-guitarist Joe McMahon is going through a transition period in writing, much like what his band has gone through over its eight years of existence. The band moved from its original Boston home base to the more bustling punk scene of Richmond, Va., about three years ago, and it's all worked out for the best.
"Over the years, I've gotten more into the political stuff, part of growing up and getting older," he said.
Songs like the straight-talking "Culture as Given" was inspired when McMahon heard populist historian Howard Zinn speak. "His 'A People's History of the United States' is a major influence. But I try to read both sides. I'm not just into anarchism. I want to make my own decisions, and I don't want to influence other people, other than for them to just think for themselves."
EVEN THOUGH Against Me! seems primed to take the next step in their career -- they recently appeared on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and has been opening on occasion for Green Day during the tour's off-days -- the guys haven't gotten big-headed.
"All the bands get along," said drummer Warren Oakes. "Playing with them is like getting a battery recharge every night. Right now, going to play in Hawaii is the light in the tunnel -- the only thing is, there's more tunnel after that. We'll see how we feel in December when this is still going on."
Already with a devoted fan base, Oakes said the band is doing a mix of older songs with songs from the new album, "since, at this point, the new album ('Search for a Former Clarity') is only about a month old. They're rather unorthodox songs to ones we're more known for, but they're helping us let our fan base broaden."
Oakes jokingly calls those fans resistant to change as "the faithful peanut gallery. They've been there every step of the way. When I came in playing a standard drum kit with cymbals -- the original played with buckets and no cymbals -- they were yelling 'you suck!' It's just like when Tom went from playing an amplified acoustic guitar to an electric. ... At this point, we're so familiar with the bitching and moaning, it'd be disorienting if we didn't hear it from them."
But Against Us! carries on. "As sleep-deprived as we were doing Conan, it was just another day in the life, lugging gear, doing a soundcheck, putting on a good show. We feel really fortunate. Tonight, we're playing the Fraternal Order of Eagles Hall in Billings, and tomorrow opening for Green Day in a L.A. arena. Considering our life right now, we have no complaint."