September 10, 2011
Better than: Blasting Let's Go through a walkman on the bus to high school.
The pit at Rancid's performance at the Warfield on Saturday was the kind of place where you make new friends and new enemies. Only a few songs into the two-hour set, about five security guards had to attach themselves to one Very Large Man who was flailing his beefy limbs in every direction, knocking into anyone and everyone -- even as he was dragged, one bouncer per appendage, out of the building.
But most of the sweaty throngs were friendly, waving arms and slamming torsos down in front to a parade of hits and lesser-known gems from this iconic East Bay punk band, resplendent onstage in studded leather and eyeglasses (Tim Armstrong), tattoo-revealing shaven head (Lars Fredriksen), and black-clad, virtuosic dignity (Matt Freeman, bassman extraordinaire).
Turns out there are a lot of people who'll show up to swim in others' sweat and shout along to "Journey to the End of the East Bay," "Poison," "Hyena," "Rats in the Hallway," and any of Rancid's other Clash-indebted, hook-filled anthems. Saturday's show had sold out by 9 p.m., and the crowd was thick with college-age and younger fans as well as the expected older ones. It wasn't all punk dudes, either: There were a lot of tough females down in the pit, including one fighting her way to the front in a wheelchair with the help of a few friends.
Barely pausing between songs, Rancid made a case for itself as perhaps the most punk of the class of '90s revivalists who made it big time -- what with the Offspring now basically irrelevant and Green Day on the arena-rock/Broadway circuit. Aside from a little between-song sentimentality and a brief acoustic interlude (which sounded great), Rancid's street anthems seemed as ferocious as they were in the Clinton era. No doubt this was helped by the members' unrelentingly speedy performances onstage, and the way so many of the band's songs are built on irresistible hooks, with the surrounding elements serving merely as slingshots to launch you into the chorus high.
The songs off its more recent albums were fine -- "East Bay Nights" and "Fall Back Down" found plenty of applause. But this band's songwriting hasn't again reached the urgency and force it did around 1998-2000, when Rancid followed one dub and ska-influenced album (Life Won't Wait) with one political hardcore album (2000's self-titled). And few songs Saturday got more favor than those off of 1995's breakout ... And Out Come the Wolves. So Rancid finished its encore, naturally, with the yearning, uncertain "Ruby Soho," which had just about everyone in the filled-to-capacity theater -- everyone who hadn't been thrown out, anyway -- singing along. It felt like a class reunion of sorts, but without the awkwardness: More than a decade after Rancid made it big, the band served local fans a reminder of the power of Bay Area punk.
Personal bias: I was a skateboarding punk rock kid (or wannabe punk rock kid) growing up in the East Bay in the '90s, so, yeah.
Highlight: Live and onstage, "Journey to the end of the East Bay" gives me chills.
Ouch!: Forgot what it's like to be in a pit with people who are wearing actual studded leather.