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Regardless of the music's mood or message, everyone in attendance agrees that Pansy Division sounds good -- better than ever, in fact. Though Ginoli has always penned arguably brilliant lyrics -- witty, snappy, and at times profound -- he's not a musician. His ability to strum three chords on a guitar was OK in the noisy punk scene, where technical skill didn't matter, but it won't do for the group's mature work. Now the band wants to get away from punk, with catchy, rocking songs that have melodies and musical bridges. Fortunately, Pansy Division's newest members can really play.
This first acoustic concert has another curious effect: Finally, listeners can hear the lyrics. Those who never read the liner notes probably missed some of the best lines. But at this performance they ring clear, as in songs like "The Ache":
Out of the race, off the market, for ages now,
Diving back in rekindles buried doubts,
You thought time would help you see things clear,
But after all this time, the ache won't disappear.
You're wondering now if you made a mistake ...
You're feeling stale ...
The words are surprisingly prophetic for Pansy Division.
As boy bands go, Pansy Division is much like 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys in terms of onstage chemistry and formula. "Except we don't pretend to be straight," Chris Freeman jokes. There's a Pansy Division member for every fan: Jon is the brooding one. Chris is the goofy one. "I'm Scary Spice," says Patrick, who wears a long, straggly goatee that makes him look like he's from ZZ Top. And Luis is definitely the cute one.
Guitarist Patrick Goodwin, 28, and drummer Luis Illades, 27, were still teenagers living in conservative parts of Southern California when Ginoli started the band with Freeman in San Francisco in 1991. As the newest members, they missed Pansy Division's heady beginning and the groundbreaking tour with fellow Bay Area band Green Day. Back then, it was just Ginoli and Freeman with a string of freelance drummers who came and went. Their unapologetic and over-the-top celebration of sexuality caught the attention of the young and still-closeted Goodwin and Illades, both budding musicians.
"I liked them a lot. I liked what they stood for," Goodwin says. "But I wasn't their biggest fan. I was always rooting for them to do more, musically. I wanted to hear something more dynamic sounding to go with what they were already doing. When Luis joined, it was a sign of Pansy Division stepping up." Illades' addition in 1996 gave the band its first solid, regular drummer -- a change Goodwin says was a deciding factor for him when he accepted an offer a year later to be the band's premier guitarist. The talented new hires gave Pansy Division some musical polish.
"When I joined, saying you were gay -- and saying that it was fun, good, and OK -- was still radical and different," Illades says. "Now we're a lot less radical, and a lot more human, in a way. Before, the message came before the music. Now they can go hand in hand."
Even Ginoli feels somewhat disconnected from the band's early days, when its sole point was to shock everyone. The lead singer cringes when reminded that at the historic 1993 gay march on Washington, D.C. -- when such major issues as gay marriage and gays in the military ignited significant political debate at the highest levels for the first time -- he was onstage in view of Capitol Hill, screaming the lyrics of "Anthem":
We're the buttfuckers of rock & roll,
We wanna sock it to your hole,
With loud guitars, we're gay and proud,
We gonna get ya with your pants down.
"We don't play that song anymore," Ginoli says matter-of-factly. "It was our declarative statement. Now we can move on and say something else, and not dwell on it."
Pansy Division took a lot of heat for what it did and said, from the media and the audience alike. For example, it wasn't easy to win over the thousands of college-age fraternity guys who had packed sporting arenas around the country to see Green Day, not a gay opening band. Pansy Division considered itself lucky when the crowd threw only coins at the performers. In a Las Vegas theater, patrons began pulling up wooden armrests and hurling them toward the stage. More than a few whizzed past the musicians' heads as they played. Ginoli ducked a plastic nacho dish, but the melted cheese splattered all over his amplifier.
The worst night was in Detroit's sold-out Cobo Hall. There, more than 20,000 people drowned out Pansy Division's entire act with a half-hour of nonstop booing. "You could actually see battles being fought in the audience between the small pockets of people loving it and everyone else throwing up their middle finger, having none of it," Ginoli says. "The few people who dared to applaud got picked on by the rest of the crowd, and we just got pelted with everything. I did get a nice backpack out of it, and $40 in coins. It was by far our most lucrative night."