I’m touching finger to keyboard for the first time this year, and the month is already almost gone. The month has already seen the death of a friend and the inauguration of a president who makes George W. Bush look refined and harmless. Don’t even get me started on all of the new cabinet appointees. If I had a key to this particular cabinet, I’d lock them in so they could cannibalize each other in the dark. There’s a cathartic mental picture for you.
Speaking of cathartic, kick starting the year with a punk festival helped focus and hone all of my angst into inspiration to continue working toward the kind of change I want to see in the world.
The Lookouting, for those who don’t already know, was a festival celebrating 30 years of Lookout! Records, the label associated with the early days of Gilman St. in Berkeley, coughing up a plethora of bands like Stikky, Operation Ivy, Isocracy, Crimpshrine, and a host of others. It was also briefly home to the mighty Neurosis, not to mention the less mighty but more popular Green Day.
I spent so much time at Gilman St. in the late eighties that it was like a second home. I was friends with lots of the regulars, many of whom were either in bands or publishing ‘zines, or both. I volunteered to work the door, was a “stage manager” once, helped chase away nazi skinheads, and on a couple of occasions brought home itinerant European punks who needed a place to stay for a night or two. My parents were tolerant.
Here are a couple of photos from the old days, probably taken by Murray Bowles, whose camera could often be seen flashing away in the crowd. He would print photos, always in black and white, and sell them for a quarter. That said, they might have been taken by Wayne.
As the years wore on, I attended fewer shows. These days, sometimes a year or two passes without me stepping inside Gilman. Strangely enough, my stepdaughter, Eva, now goes to shows there pretty regularly. The torch has been passed.
The first of the three shows I attended was on New Year’s Day. I drove up by myself and as usual, got there early. It ensured a good parking space, but also meant I had to wait a bit for things to get started. To kill time, I wandered around and looked at the merch tables. I said hi to Lawrence Livermore and bought his book, which ended up being my only purchase of the night. There were some nice, screen printed posters, but I still haven’t hung any of the other posters I’ve purchased over the last couple of years. Framing things is expensive and wall space is at a premium. Gone are the days when I lived in a room with walls so plastered with stuff that the actual plaster was completely hidden.
My brother Greg showed up at some point. I looked around for my stepdaughter, Eva, but didn’t see her. She later told me that she was there, but outside hanging out with friends because she didn’t have enough money to buy a ticket. I told her to call or text me next time something like that happens.
My old friend Shayne, who was a fellow Gilman kid back in the eighties, was there with his trusty recording equipment to document the proceedings. In fact, a number of other people were wandering through the crowd with camera gear too, filming for a documentary being made to commemorate the event. A clip of the Criminals has already been unleashed, and it looks great.
Day One, January 1st:
I wasn’t previously familiar with Black Cat Music, mostly because they didn’t come on the scene until about a decade after I stopped regularly going to Gilman. Their set wasn’t bad. Brady Baltezore’s vocals were relatively high and thin, and the music was in a melodic punk vein which veered more towards the rock end of the spectrum, mostly because of the languid, satisfying guitar lines. Their set was both a window into the later Lookout! period and a nice way to start of the festival.
On the other hand, Kamala & the Karnivores is a band that I saw many times back in the early days of Gilman. It has been around a quarter of a century since the last time I’ve seen them, and it was like seeing band-members go from being young punks to middle-aged ones in the blink of an eye. Yeah, there were lots of jokes about aging and comments about the surreal nature of being back on stage all of these years later. In fact, most of the other sets were similar in this regard.
The only record they ever released was a 7” on Lookout!, I hadn’t heard many of the songs in their set since the last time I saw them play. Their music is satisfying melodic punk, with just right amount of snarling.
I hadn’t seen The Criminals before, but I’d seen singer Jesse Luscious in Blatz. Jesse is also a DJ at KALX and, according to Greg, who is a fellow DJ at KALX, an elected official of some sort in Berkeley. He also put on a hell of a show, piledriving through the audience and screaming in people’s faces and acting like he wasn’t pushing middle-age. In fact, his stage energy reminded me of the mighty Devon Morf. Musically, The Criminals are more aggressive than the majority of the Lookout! bands, and the audience really got into the swing of things too. They definitely get a gold star for most energetic performance of the evening.
Check out a clip of the show (a cover Fuk Shit Up, originally by Blatz, a band that also featured Jesse, and this time out featuring Ivy DuBois from Kamala & the Karnivores on backing vocals) to be included in the upcoming Lookouting! documentary.
The Sewer Trout Experience
Sewer Trout was another band that I saw regularly back in the early days of Gilman. Sewer Trout guitarist, Jim Maclean, died back in 2005, so the band tonight was a Sewer Trout tribute band, with a guest appearance by Jim’s brother (and Sewer Trout drummer), Hal, on vocals. Sewer Trout was one of the more melodic early Gilman bands, and while not one of my favorite bands from that era, they always played enjoyable sets. The tribute band was heartfelt, and despite some off-key vocals, was fun. Hal got up and sang a couple of songs toward the end.
The biggest revelation for me on Day One was that Tilt is a damn fine band. As with some of the other bands, Tilt came on the scene after I’d stopped regularly attending shows at Gilman, so this was my first Tilt experience. Singer Cinder Block has a powerful, melodic voice, and the rest of the band are no slouches either, laying down some driving, tuneful punk. The crowd response was ecstatic too. I’ll be buying their music at some point.
Most “Gilman” moment of the evening: somebody in the pit waving around an old Operation game – you know, the one where you have to delicately remove a body part from the game board without touching the sides of the cavity it’s resting in, with failure resulting in the patient’s nose lighting up and a loud beeping sound. I imagined somebody trying to play it in the pit. A barrel of laughs, to be sure.
Day Two, January 6th:
I drove up early with Eva so we could meet Greg in Emeryville. Traffic kind of sucked. Greg biked to meet us at Pirate’s Press so he could pick up the boxes of his freshly-minted new 7” and throw them in the trunk of my car.
We had time to kill afterward, so Eva used her phone to find us a nearby restaurant. We settled on a place called Las Moles, which as the name suggests, specialized in mole sauce. I ended up getting a dish that consisted of potato and cactus drenched in a mole sauce that had something like 50 ingredients. It was excellent. The horchata was the best I’d ever tasted too.
While we were driving around, we spotted a relevant ad on the back of a bus. It's weird that a Gilman band would ever end up being advertised on the rear end of a public transit vehicle.
Afterward, we dropped Greg off so he could get his bike. He must pedal pretty fast, because he beat us to Gilman by a couple of minutes. To be fair, there was a lot of traffic on San Pablo.
I don’t think I’d ever seen Scherzo before. They came on the scene around 1990, and I think I was still showing up at Gilman pretty regularly then, although maybe I’m mis-remembering. They definitely have that Lookout! sound down, with their songs being full of driving, upbeat melodies. They played a good, if unsurprising, set.
Wynona Riders were new to me. Their set featured subdued, almost gothic, lighting and more of that melodic, punk Lookout! sound. For some reason, their music didn’t click with me as much as most of the other bands. Perhaps it was the vocals.
Surrogate Brains, from Stockton, proved to be the big revelation of Day Two. In this case though, I’d seen them play before (not to mention owning a record or two), but had never considered them to be among my favorites. They ended up delivering a set of classic Gilman insanity, arriving onstage wearing safety gear which made them look like Caltrans workers, and continuing the schtick for the duration. The schtick also included inviting audience members onstage to hold cardboard prompts, and lots of other silliness. Musically, the sounded pretty damned good for an old band who doesn’t play regularly. They competently straddled the line between silliness and delivering the musical goods, playing songs in a variety of styles, from laid-back to aggressive. They also looked like they were enjoying the hell out of themselves. Best set of the night, in my opinion.
Corrupted Morals is another early Gilman band. Their 7”, “Chet”, was one of the initial batch of releases, and features artwork by my old friend Mark Tippin. I was looking forward to their set. My first disappointment was that Joel Wing wasn’t on bass (if for no other reason than he was a familiar face from back in the day and that I slightly knew him). As I type, I notice that he was out of the band by the time they recorded their album (which I don’t own), so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that he wasn’t involved this evening. The other disappointment was the relative sloppiness of their set. To be fair, they’d only rehearsed a couple of times in preparation for this show, so the sloppiness shouldn’t be surprising, but it did detract from things somewhat. Other than that, it was a fun set and it was nice to hear some of the old songs again after all of this time.
I can’t remember if I ever saw Monsula back in the day. The only recording I have of them is the Very Small Records (ex-Lookout!er David Hayes’ subsequent label) compilation 7” “If You Can See Through It… It Ain’t Coffee”, which also features Fuel, Thumper, and dearly missed angry punx, Filth.
This is the first time they’d Gilman since 1993, and after nearly a quarter century away, they got down to business with aplomb, delivering a solid, high-energy set of songs. They were Eva’s favorite band of the night, but at least partially because she liked the singer’s tattoos.
Day 3, January 7th:
The weekend weather forecast called for torrential rain on Saturday, and after looking at the line-up, considering the prospect of driving an hour each way under adverse weather conditions, I elected to stay home and read a book. Eva, who went, said that she liked Pansy Division but not the other bands. Below are links to the Saturday sets, submitted without additional comment.
Day 4, January 8th:
I missed Saturday, and Shayne, who had been busily filming all weekend, hit a wall (figuratively speaking) after Saturday and was a no-show on Sunday. I definitely wanted to attend the Sunday show because of Avengers, and I ended up being very glad I did.
Back in the day, The Jimmies only played Gilman once, or so they informed us. This time out, they were giving away their merch for free. I grabbed a CD and a 7”, and I’m happy that I liked the band, because it would have been awkward if I had ended up slipping them back onto the table after the set (yeah, I grabbed them before I heard the band, but one never knows if free stuff is going to sit there on the table forever or quickly disappear). The songs were basic, no-frills punk, with a bit of melody and some nice guitar bits. Nothing super different or earth shattering, but their set kicked off the final evening of the Lookouting! in style.
Here's a 30 second clip uploaded to YouTube by a user called Lindsey's Untitled Rock Mag.
Conversely, Juke was a crazed juggernaut of entertainment, with a singer who, early in the set, shouted something like, “fuck the man! Fuck clothes!”, as he ripped off his garments and flung them into the audience. The music was a bit more aggressive too, while still retaining the silly Gilman Street vibe which seems to be the common ground upon which the majority of the Lookout! bands tread. The singer’s antics brought to mind the inimitable Devon Morf, who wasn’t at the show (fortunately, I did get a chance to catch up with him later in the month). We were also pelted with books, and I grabbed a Tanith Lee novel which is part of a series, which means that in order to read it, I’ve got to find the preceding books first. It’s a good thing I like books.
Here's a 30 second clip from Lindsey's Untitled Rock Mag.
Black Fork brought anger and aggression to the stage, and their set reminded me about why I was initially drawn to punk in the first place. At its most effective, punk is venting with purpose. Black Fork proceeded to vent with purpose for the duration of their set, and even helped us vent by tossing a piñata into the audience. The piñata seemed to evaporate in a puff of crepe paper and cardboard, spewing its guts into the crowd. I managed to grab a couple of bouncy balls (which I have since given to the cat) and a Black Fork pin. Their set ended up being one of my favorites.
Cringeworthy, the Cringer tribute band (sadly, Cringer mastermind Lance Hahn passed away a number of years ago) was supposed to be up next, but I heard that Kamala (who was scheduled to do double duty by being a member of both Kamala and the Karnivores and Cringeworthy), wasn’t feeling well, so their set was canceled. It’s too bad, especially since I’d recently dusted off and listened to my Cringer records and was pleasantly surprised at how well they’ve held up after all of these years. In fact, I think I might like them now even more than I did the first time around. We miss you, Lance.
Here's a recording, courtesy of Bay Area Punk Shows.
Avengers have a long history, punctuated by years of silence. Singer Penelope Houston has a decades-spanning solo career too. I never saw Avengers back in the late seventies, but I’ve caught them a few times more recently (as the Scavengers), as well as seeing Penelope Houston play on multiple occasions. Their set started with Penelope introducing a punk from Texas wearing a Punks Against Trump shirt, and continued with a blistering set of songs which, for the most part, were older than most of the Lookouting! attendees. They even threw in their cover of the Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black. Along with the Black Fork set, this was one of my favorites sets of the festival.
Here's a recording, courtesy of Bay Area Punk Shows.
Nuisance was familiar to me in name only, and their set was okay in a weird, laid-back, country punk sort of way. They even played a slow, boring country song (their words, not mine – I sometimes like slow, boring country songs). That was actually one of my favorite songs of the set.
Here's a recording, courtesy of Bay Area Punk Shows.
All things must come to an end though, and as the last note died, I found myself reflecting on the differences between then and now. All of the original Gilman kids are now middle-aged, so there was a lot of grey hair in the audience. Plus, many of the Gilman kids now have kids of their own, and peppered throughout the audience were short people with big, earmuff-style earplugs. Some of them had leather jackets and mohawks too. The torch has been passed. Notably absent from the festivities were a lot of the old Gilman regulars, including Murray Bowles and his trusty camera. Murray would hold his camera above his head and snap away during pretty much every show. He has been replaced by a generation of kids with iPhones, meaning quantity over quality. That’s pretty much a sign of the times, isn’t it?
The following week, I was wearing my new Gilman St. 30 Year Anniversary hoodie, and a park ranger (I work in and near a county park) at work noticed and recognized it for what it was. He was an old Gilman kid, but hadn't heard about the Lookouting! We nerded out about Gilman while his coworker looked on bemusedly.