LIVE – Codefendants / Melvinator / Get Dead @ The Old Blue Last

By Katherine Allvey

Let’s make one thing clear: this is not a NOFX show. That would come a couple of days later at the site of the mighty Slam Dunk South. Rather, this is a sampler of where the members of NOFX are heading now, a celebration of their strengths and chance for us all to appreciate just how talented these guys are away from the safety blanket of their band. While NOFX might have run its course as a project, Eric Melvin, Fat Mike and co are still capable of bringing the aural fire.

“I swear the green room is bigger than this fuckin’ room,” laughs Sam King before launching into forty five minutes of Get Dead’s hardcore two-tone shaded punk, and he had a point.  The Old Blue Last is tiny, the live music area is a metaphorical cupboard-above-the-stairs at the elegantly ruined Shoreditch boozer. The Fat Wreck alumni are a DIY punk triumph (“We don’t need to practice, we don’t need a shit-ass manager neither…,” proclaims King at one point), a So-Cal Capdown, pitting their rage against the system over those staircase Rancid-esque baselines and big punk drumbeats. The second the ska chords to ‘Disruption’ drop, every head in the place starts to nod.  King judders and twitches like he’s in the electric chair, spitting out bullets to share the band’s story of survival through the years. Their set is emotionally honest, varying from the melodically rough ‘Stickup’ to the satirical degenerate country of ‘Fuck You’, and in a scene that can sometimes seem drenched in performative gestures, there’s an unvarnished rawness about their performance which grabs you by the shoulders. 

Codefendants were the reason that most of the crowd were there, however. Comprised of King, Fat Mike and rapper Ceschi Ramos, their recent album drop traded genre boundaries for emotional exploration and, in their ill-fitting court suits, there was a moment where their power over the crowd hung in the balance. But then, a simple jangling of an acoustic guitar and a rasp in King’s throat as he opened the desolate ‘Suicide by Pigs’ and that was it; they’d reached into our hardened chests, through our battered leather jackets and given our hearts a squeeze. Opening with their most brutal song was a brave move, but the whole set was a hop, skip and jump out of their comfort zone. There were no hip-hop samples or effects, no bluster or ego (Ramos chose to open ‘Prison Camp’ by sharing his regret at the course his life took which led to his incarceration, for instance) and no pretension. For a band which claimed to be influenced by flamenco and The Beatles, there was purity in their stripped down performance which relied on laying bare their own failings to a thrash guitar. ‘Abscessed’ builds up like a storm waiting to break, and when the guitar starts tapping out the tension, there’s a clap-along as we feel like we’re teetering on the edge of a cliff, ready to fall until the power in that ska bass pulls us back. The fists to the sky rage was barely contained in this small venue, released in the beat. Cesce’s vocals are far more gritty in real life, which proves the point that Codefendants are trying to prove; ‘punk’ is much more than a genre or a single style of delivery. 

Fat Mike was notably absent for most of the set, making a short appearance on guitar around twenty minutes in. In some ways this was admirable, letting his friends take the spotlight and letting his music speak for itself rather than use the show as a meet and greet. Codefendants were none the poorer for his absence though. ‘Brutiful’ became a personal sharing of truths with very little accompaniment, a therapy session on a graffiti covered street corner.  Ramos performs offstage for more than a few numbers, and this creates a crowd formed of all of us, wherever we started. We are all we have, and we’re a cathartic serene mob, feeling that genuine sense of self flow out between us all. 

As if the quality of Codefendants’ live performance wasn’t enough of a surprise, Melvinator followed. Eric Melvin’s new project and alter-ego is huge, euphoric dance metal in the vein of a Pendulum set at Cyberdog with Melvin’s infamous blue dreads flying in all directions with each jump. He’d been working an EDM-punk rock mashup project since the pandemic, and now it’s come to fruition, it’s a glorious thing to behold. With a reworking of ‘American Errorist’ mixed in with songs that hadn’t even been titled or recorded yet, Melvin seems to be powered by a sense of creative urgency, a need to fling his songs out into the electric universe to see where they land.  It’s a forty five minute relentless disco set that gets the jaded old crusties full on raving as the sun sets over East London, and it’s a truly wonderful experience. 

As Melvin finished his set, Fat Mike crept on stage so that when the guitarist turned, the first thing he would get was a warm embrace from his friend. Their hug received it’s own applause. That gesture seemed to summarise the whole show – the two halves of the NOFX sound have parted ways musically but emotionally, they’re as close as ever. Fat Mike’s taken this chance to explore his roots through a diverse group of musicians united by an outsider aesthetic, and Melvin’s chipped off a piece of his soul and sent it spinning out of this galaxy powered by EDM. Two hours of the Codefendants and you’d be ready to launch a molotov cocktail at the nearest corporate symbol, and two hours of Melvin’s music in a warehouse would make for the New Year’s squat party of the century. Both men united forty years ago to create an era defining band, but now the musical avenues they’re both walking are very different but equally as brilliant.