LIVE: NOFX / Alkaline Trio / Lagwagon / Gnarwolves @ Brixton Academy,

By Penny Bennett

Having seen NOFX once before, albeit in a muddy field at Reading, I am both excited and weary of their polarising gig performances. Whilst I was growing up I was a huge fan of their attitude, style and music yet when I saw them once before, they were both exciting and incredible as well as sloppy and chaotic. Nevertheless, I was excited to see all of the other acts on this powerhouse of a bill.

As half past six arrives so do lovable Brighton punks, Gnarwolves. Although the room barely contains 300 people, of which only a small handful can be seen visibly singing-along, the trio seem utterly undeterred and zoom through an impressive high energy set without any indication of nerves. This is impressive when considering they are relatively unknown in comparison to the rest of bill’s prestigious punk royalty. Gnarwolves, who play in front of a huge DIY tie-dye backdrop, acclimatise to the Brixton environment well as they deliver gems such as Smoking Kills and Boneyard as well as a heavier new track which they have been debuting on the tour. At times, it is difficult to distinguish the vocals from the rest of performance but this only acts as the smallest detractor in such a frenetic display. By the end of their set, the capacity in the building has at least doubled with many of the older members of the audience, of which there is a significant majority, looking decidedly impressed with the half hour they have just witnessed. An energetic and excellent way to start the evening.

Unfortunately, Lagwagon, who are up next cannot match the enthusiasm of their predecessors and end up falling a little flat. Despite strutting out onto the stage with the A-Team theme tune blaring and receiving rapturous applause as they enter the two-thirds full room, the five-piece are underwhelming save for a few tracks. Once again, the vocals are quiet within the mix and this leaves the band sounding messy and disjointed which in turn seems to disappoint the crowd. However, there are odd glimpses of finesse from the band during old favourites ‘Violins’ and ‘Making Friends’ which get a strong reaction from the pit at the front as well as the pint-holders at the back. As the set progresses the band’s presence and sound undoubtedly improves especially during Alien 8, where frontman Joey Cape plays alone on the stage before being reunited with his bandmates. It is welcome and rare moment of intimacy within the evening. Penultimate track ‘May 16’ has the band sounding the best they have all night, it’s a shame then that the bulk of Lagwagon’s set seemed lethargic in contrast.

Alkaline Trio hit the stage next and from the off they showcase the most watertight sound of the evening so far. Opening with Private Eye, the response from the crowd is absolutely electric and remains so throughout the entirety of the set. In the breaks between songs, of which there are very few, the three piece are nearly silent to both the crowd and one another. Instead the band choose to give the fans the tracks they want as they hurtle through an impressive 17 tracks in their hour slot, parading the greatest cuts from their extensive back catalogue. Classics such as ‘She Took Him To The Lake’ and ‘This Could Be Love’ provoke a huge audience reaction and fit seamlessly with newer material such as ‘I Wanna Be A Warhol’. Alkaline Trio play with an almost clinical precision which sometimes come across as a tad detached yet this doesnt detract when you consider the mastery which is clearly being displayed by the band. The set closer, Radio, sounds absolutely divine as it initiates a sing-along from every fan within the now full-capacity Brixton Academy. Alkaline Trio play like they are the billed in top position and, judging by the crowd’s reaction, for many people they are their headline band of the night and deservedly so.

Talking of headline bands, NOFX are up next on the Brixton stage and they rouse the crowd by having Damian Marley’s bass-heavy ‘Welcome to Jamrock’ booming over the PA as they walk onto the stage. Everyone in the building is itching for a promising punk masterclass after some excellent warm-up acts and then it turns out that the whole lead-in is for nothing. It’s slightly disappointing really but it’s the norm at NOFX’s shows. This time around NOFX roll up on stage, notably with Fat Mike clad in drag between two flags which support the US Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling, and talk nonsense to the crowd for a few minutes about Eric Melvin being engaged in the bathroom before eventually starting with 60%, an apt song to commence with and an indication of the performance to come. As the opening lyrics ‘I’m not here to entertain you’ ring out, it’s clear that NOFX do not care what you, the audience, their fans, think of them. There is I guess, a certain sense of integrity in admitting that as a band you play for yourself and nobody else but also there is a certain degree of arrogance and that is what NOFX deliver tonight, a unique blend of nostalgia, great songs as well as lashings of self-importance. NOFX are going to give the audience what they always give, 60%.

It’s not to say that the band sound bad at all. Whilst playing the songs, NOFX sound punchy, tight and sonically imposing and the mix of both old and new material proves to be a successful idea. 1992’s Stickin’ in My Eye sounds right at home alongside I Believe in Goddess, a song released only a few years ago. They deliver classics such as Bob, Linoleum and Murder the Government with the same uncaring ethos which made them so attractive to me when I first heard them. As a unit, when they play live, NOFX are a band who can play nearly any track from their monolithic back catalogue and are greeted with a euphoric response and tonight is no exception as musically the band are on top form. However, when the band take a break between songs and chat to the crowd, NOFX’s nonchalant attitude comes across as rambling, nonsensical and occasionally even offensive. Before segueing into recent album opener, 72 Hookers, a song whose content centres upon jihadism and Islamic fundamentalism, Fat Mike unnecessarily chooses to quip about how few NOFX fans are from the Muslim community. I for one appreciate how Fat Mike and friends reject any notion of political correctness and it always something that has solidified the band’s ‘no fucks given’ credentials. Yet sometimes it comes across as a display of ignorance and conceitedness rather than a valid piece of social commentary. Throughout the night NOFX take light-hearted pot-shots at everyone with varying levels of success from Margaret Thatcher, whom they label “England’s biggest ever slut”, to “the darklord Matt Skiba” as well as of course the obligatory “fuck you” David Cameron. The stage banter offers varying levels of success and almost lets down and otherwise stellar performance.

Unfortunately for some, NOFX ending up finishing at way past 11 which leaves many people looking disappointed and heading for the exit which is a shame seeing as the ending encore combination of Ronnie and Mags, The Moron Brothers, Bottles to the Ground and Kill All The White Man rounds up the night in a great way. Although, if I had to gauge the percentage people who have approving faces as they leave, I’d probably estimate it’s it’s proportionate to level of commitment NOFX have put in tonight, around 60%.

Jack Hadaway-Weller