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NOFX live at The TLA in Philadelphia

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On Sunday, December 1st, I took the short trip from the Lehigh Valley to Philadelphia to attend the NOFX show at the TLA on South Street. All in all, it was an epic event—and I don’t mean “epic” as the sort of adjective today’s kids throw around to describe just about everything, but in the true sense of the word—not just because NOFX played one of the raddest sets I have ever experienced but because all three bands that performed were outstanding...to varying degrees, of course. The Implants took the stage first—a sort of Fat Wreck megaband featuring members of Ten Foot Pole, Pulley and Strung Out (all of them bands I have listened to faithfully from the ‘90s to the present)—and then old-school Boston punks The F.U.’s followed. Not one disagreeable moment to be had throughout the entire event.

Of course, being that the venue was the TLA—a place that exists somewhere between the underground and the mainstream, neutral ground, as it were, without pledging its allegiance to either side—my friends and I had to wait in line to be patted down by security and admitted one by one. Once inside, we posted up in the bar area to await the start of the show. A swarm of punks had already rushed the bar to purchase one overpriced beer after another. As the ticket-holders were permitted to enter, each and each, the joint quickly became crowded and stifling. Eventually, the sweet-and-sour ghetto ambiance of punk rock took hold, and it was time for the show to begin. Well, that and NOFX’s El Hefe strolled out on to the stage and farted a gnarly squeaker into a microphone; and if that’s not the signal to begin a punk show, I don’t know what is.

Truth be told, at first I was mainly interested in experiencing NOFX’s set. You see, I have been an avid NOFX fan since I came across their Liberal Animation album in the early ‘90s. Since then, I have followed them closely, picking up their releases whenever I could, and hoping to get out to a show sometime. Sure, it took me over fifteen years to finally see them live, but it was worth the wait. I mean, it's not every day NOFX rolls into Philadelphia to play a show. What's more, I vowed to eventually catch them live after I missed them some years back when I resided in Las Vegas and they were playing right around the corner from my pad at the Confetti Club with Guttermouth. I was at the TLA in a press capacity, too, covering the event, so I didn’t have to shell out twenty-five bucks early on or forty bucks at the last minute. If, like me, you came up in the East Coast punk scene, you are more accustomed to laying down between five and ten for admittance to shows in Allentown, Philly, Jersey, and New York. But I suppose the TLA's rates that night were as close as a venue can get to mainstream prices without being outright accused of charging such a thing. Or maybe they can. Whatever the case, by the time we parked at the end of South Street and hoofed it a few blocks down to the venue, it was sold out. Not surprising, that. Not surprising at all.

The Implants started things off at a little after eight o’ clock. Having only listened to a little of their material beforehand, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But they did not fail to impress. Of course, I was especially stoked to discover that they are made up of members from other bands I have listened to since my youth. And it wasn’t at all difficult to hear the sounds belonging to those bands in this single project. Quite simply, The Implants possess your typical melodic SoCal punk, fast-paced and somewhat technical here and there, with well-placed stop/start bits, and less-than-harsh vocals.

Boston’s The F.U.’s were a different animal altogether, feral and magnificent…since they own a sound reminiscent of the loud, fast and dirty hardcore punk of late ‘80s. That style made perfect sense, of course, being that The F.U.s started out in the '80s, laying some of the groundwork for that type of sound. While listening to their set, The F.U.’s sound brought to mind DRI, D.O.A., Gorilla Biscuits, Institutionalized-era Suicidal Tendencies and Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables Dead Kennedys. Hell, the vocalist’s delivery had more than a hint of thrash period Mike Muir together with “Holiday in Cambodia” Jello Biafra. But that doesn’t even do their sound justice, really. It was just fast, dirty gutterpunk thrash from Massachusetts. And they certainly put on one helluva set.

By the time NOFX started their set with “60%” from the Wolves in Wolves Clothing album, the majority of the audience had hastily approached the stage trying to get as close to the music and action as possible. Before long it was a sweat-soaked full-house frenzy, with beer-sloshing drinkers, pungent puffs from serious bowl-hits rising into the air, and countless middle fingers raised in salute. It was a roiling sea of crusty humanity, with more punk t-shirts, tattoos, piercings, outsider hairdos, and form-fitting hoodies with patches pinned to their backs than you’re likely to see at your average event. But this was no average event, and that was instantly apparent once NOFX started doing their thing.

NOFX played a long set, laying down material from at least as far back as White Trash, Two Heebs and A Bean and Punk in Drublic and went all the way up to their latest full-length Self-Entitled and brand new EP Stoke Extinguisher. It was great when they played “Bob,” “Linoleum,” “Don’t Call Me White,” and a few other classics. But the highlight of my night was when they thanked the super-enthusiastic Philly audience by launching into their eighteen-minute punk rock masterpiece “The Decline.” At the helm of the SS NOFX vessel, the blue mowhawked Captain Fat Mike—who’s stayed afloat and mostly on course this long because he has remained true to the scene, and because he’s become proficient at dodging those pesky figurative icebergs—expertly abused the four strings of his bass and delivered his near flawless stream of vocals. El Hefe handled his axe masterfully, occasionally stopping to blow on the trumpet or trombone. Melvin shredded on his electric six-string like a champ. And Erik Sandin attacked the kit, playing as tight as any uber-talented drummer. After thirty years of NOFX, the fellas still have it and show no sign losing it anytime soon. If you get the chance, make it out to one of their shows. I guarantee a very memorable experience.

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