Flipper with David Yow
Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco
October 10, 2015
It made perfect sense that the first ever public performance of pioneering San Francisco noise-punks Flipper with iconic Scratch Acid and The Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow kicked off with a ridiculously bad joke.
[jump] “Why did David Yow take off his boot at Flipper practice?” asked the singer in the third person. “So he could rock out with his sock out,” he deadpanned, slyly referencing his own tendency to stage dive with his pants around his ankles. The crowd groaned, leading Yow to repeat the joke not once, but twice more as the volume of good-natured heckling and demands for music grew louder. He would reiterate the gag a half dozen times over the course of the night.
For all the squalling guitars and room-clearing sonic chaos shared by Flipper and Yow's past bands, it was that sneering, sarcastic sense of humor on full display throughout Saturday night's live debut of the new lineup that cemented what an inspired choice the singer was for the cross-generational collaboration. With longtime singer Bruce Calderwood (aka Bruce Loose) no longer able to perform due to health issues, a recent offer to play a series of shows in Italy led original Flipper members guitarist Ted Falconi and drummer Stephen DePace to invite Yow to join the band.
When we first arrived at the Bottom of the Hill, the club seemed surprisingly uncrowded for such a hotly anticipated, sold-out show. But once local support band Street Eaters took the stage, a teeming mass of old-school punk fans filed in from the back patio to see what the duo had to offer.
The musical partnership of longtime Bay Area punk fixture John No (Geek Festival founder and lead singer for Fleshies and Triclops!) and his wife Megan March (Neverending Party, Wild Assumptions) has been going strong since the late 2000s. If they were at all intimidated by the historic significance of evening's proceedings, it didn't show as the pair blasted through a propulsive set of original tunes.
Powered by strident tandem and trade-off vocals, March's muscular drumming and No's over-driven, distorted bass tone, the duo's concise, corrosive tunes at times echoed the angular intensity of Canadian punk vets NoMeansNo. Once Street Eaters wrapped up their well-received set, the DJ spun a mix of experimental weirdness including tunes from Captain Beefheart and the Residents as the ever-growing audience crammed into every available space for the main event.
The crowd let out a triumphant roar when Falconi materialized on stage with his battered Fender guitar and knotted tangle of grey dreadlocks. The rest of the band including drummer DePace and longtime bassist Bruno DeSmartass (aka Steve DeMartis) took their places and — after Yow's anti-comedic introduction — lurched into a punishing version of “Ha Ha Ha” to start the show.
The tune established the modus operandi for this latest variant of Flipper. Falconi stayed focused on his amplifier, rarely turning from it as he unfurled his trademark mudslide of sludgy distortion while DePace gleefully hammered out the beat, leaving Yow and DeSmartass to play animated foils to each other. The singer careened across the stage and lunged at the fans up front, laughing maniacally through the opening song's chorus.
The plodding churn of “Love Canal” followed with Yow howling through the bleak lyrics about the toxic tragedy with relish: “We are breeding/ Our children look like monsters.” As irreverent as Yow's stage patter would be all night long (he frequently prefaced tunes by saying “So when we wrote this song…”), there was no question the singer was taking his job seriously.
Anyone who ever saw Yow back in his '90s heyday with the Lizard or Scratch Acid knows that his unhinged performances were frequently fueled by copious quantities of beer and liquor. Saturday's show stood out as the most sober I'd ever seen the singer onstage, but he still snarled out “Shed No Tears” and “Life is Cheap” with the same feral dementia that the songs demanded.
Despite the dark and abrasive nature of the music, the atmosphere of the event remained one of a celebratory grey-beard punk rock high school reunion. Yes, a few uninitiated younger audience members could be seen leaving the Bottom of the Hill after a handful of songs with bewildered expressions on their faces, but the crowd stayed thick in front of the stage as Flipper and Yow seethed their way through classics from Generic Flipper like “Way of the World” and the extended dirge of “(I Saw You) Shine.”
The band dedicated “Sacrifice” to Will Shatter, the late Flipper bassist/singer who died from a heroin overdose in 1987, giving the song an emotional weight that fittingly led into the punk survival anthem “Life.” Yow introduced the tune with brief moment of seriousness, saying “I can’t really articulate how weird this is for me” before leading the crowd as they shouted along to the chorus: “Life is the only thing worth living for!”
The band briefly left the stage, only to return with a pair of auxiliary horn players for a shambling version of “Sex Bomb” that teetered on the brink of collapse for the song's duration. Microphones were handed off to audience members who clambered onstage and screamed the tune's one line over and over as Yow danced with the Freddy Krueger figure fixed to a pole at the corner of the stage as a Halloween decoration, bringing the evening to a perfectly chaotic conclusion.
Ha Ha Ha
Shed No Tears
The Lights, the Sound, the Noise
Life is Cheap
Way of the World
(I Saw You) Shine