I used to think that Rancid were Clash soundalikes until I played a Clash album for a teenage Rancid fan and he just couldn't get the connection. Rancid are fast, rough, politically cynical, today, and low budget. The Clash were major label pop punk, London-slick, politically naive, and a whole lot slower. They existed an awful long time ago in an almost inconceivable universe. Rancid are as American a phenomenon as the Bush Presidency or Springsteen. They preach apolitical youth rebellion and alienation but they sell a lot of t-shirts to well washed allegedly alienated allegedly rebellious white kids.
When he tours with Rancid Lars Frederiksen has to talk about Rancid, what they're doing, where the merch stall is located, what the new album is called. Fronting The Bastards - pals who play in hardcore and punk bands not making as much money as his day job - he gets a chance to talk about himself, how he's doing, how he's feeling. No wonder Lars and his Bastards have been all over the world promoting their second album, Viking. He has a formidable ego, an ego nurtured by decent kid fans who hang onto his every word.
Nevertheless the show at The Underworld in Camden on Febuary 14th was a unique opportunity to see, in a small club, a man who normally plays in fields and auditoriums. His willingness to do small venues makes these Bastards shows attractive. The last time I caught them - at the intimate Wetlands in New York - they supported Frederiksen's dubious proteges, The Dropkick Murphys. Stylish looking Japanese transvestite punks and Manhattan student punk socialites hung around in the rain outside, offering the Dropkick's Irish American white trash fans between $75 and $100 for a ticket. The trash, being trash, worked out deals. So the skateboarder elite got into what was supposed to be a proletarian celebration.
There was no such problem at The Underground - the Great Unwashed had the place to themselves. It was all sticky carpets, homemade mohicans, luddite punk philosophy, and photocopied fliers for forthcoming hardcore events. I can't put my finger on it but The Underworld gives me the creeps. It plays host to loads of punk promotions but has the aura of reactionary nightclub nightlife about it. At the weekend it's a late night drinking and pick up joint. I only go there when I have to, when there's a band playing that I really want to see.
The sound was good, the songs were impressive, the rhetoric was bloated (as was Lars). The music is rooted in rockabilly, hardcore, and ska. Surprise, surprise. They covered Marie Marie, the old Blasters classic which is gradually becoming songwriter Dave Alvin's retirement fund. There was crowd surfing, circle pits, communal carnage. A good time was had by all at this second last night on a world tour. Lars said that Johnny Cash was the original punk. He said that Joe Strummer had been a good friend of his. He said that punk was a community of all races, straights and gays, men and women. He said his brother died four nights before the tour started. He dedicated a song to all the dead Ramones. He talked about his weight problem. He said he'd just been godfather to the child of a member of The Business. He told people in the front row not to gob at him. He talked a lot. He never mentioned Iraq. He said Rancid will be back next year with a new album.
Joe Ambroses's book, Moshpit Culture, extreme travel writing from within the moshing subculture, is published by Omnibus Press.