The Germs at Warped Tour @ Los Angeles 8/17/08
Posted Aug 18, 2008, by The Bear.
Featured Artists: The Germs; Genre: Punk; Punk;
The 2008 Warped Tour finished up in Carson, CA, on Sunday, August 17, 2008, the same place that it ended last year. The tour contained a return of last year’s well-received Old-School Stage which featured bands from early in L.A. Punk history. Making return appearances were Fear, the STICKies, and Revolution Mother, and appearing for the first time on that stage were D.I., Mike Watt & the Missingmen, M.I.A., TSOL, and the Germs (more on them in just a second).
I came down to Carson with three other members of KSCR to man a promotional booth for the station. I didn’t see all very many bands because, not really feeling like being out in the sun more than necessary, I spent a lot of time at the booth where we had some shade. Unlike last year there were no clouds and it was very hot indeed – which is actually pretty normal for a Warped Tour. I only did get to see four bands.
However there is one band in particular that I’m writing this review for and that would be the Germs. They were the last band I saw that day, and they made the biggest impression on me. This review is being written largely as a companion piece to my review of the Germs’ MIA record over in the Tenure Albums section of Big Smile for another perspective on how well the Germs’ work has held up over the years.
Watching the Germs perform today is a peculiar experience – for the obvious reason that Darby Crash, their original singer and poet, has been dead for almost 28 years. His modern day successor, Shane “Wreck” West, who plays Darby in the What We Do is Secret movie (and has been inducted into the band as Darby’s real-life replacement by the surviving Germs because they were really impressed with him), has perhaps the most thankless job in Punk Rock today since he begins any performance with two and a half strikes already against him before he even steps on stage: One, to anyone who saw Darby in the old days he obviously can’t measure up to the original. Two, to anyone who didn’t see Darby in the old days but has been a long-time Germs fan he obviously can’t measure up to the legend. And two and a half, to people who like him and maybe don’t know the Germs so well there is probably a question in their minds of “so what would Darby have been like?”
This is not a position I would wish on anyone, and I’m sure Shane is aware of it. So how does he handle it? Only he knows for sure but to me out in the audience it looked very much like he just didn’t care about any of that; he knows who and what he is, and although he reproduces some of Darby’s general mannerisms (how could he not?), it seemed more like he was there just to have fun and rev up the crowd as much as he could. He certainly gave off a cheerful vibe that one finds rather hard to imagine that Darby would have had (NOTE: if you saw the Germs in their prime and disagree feel free to correct me). At the same time he was respectful of what the band and its songs mean to a lot of people. He was down front at the barricade holding out the microphone to let crowd members sing some of the lyrics a lot more than most singers usually are, giving the set more of a participatory feel if you were lucky enough to be down front.
He didn’t make the show by himself of course. The other members of the band were the ones who really made the musicianship go. The surviving members of the Germs: Pat Smear, Lorna Doom, and Don Bolles, are all, to put it mildly, very-experienced musicians and they work very well together as a unit. In fact there was a weird kind of chemistry going on between Pat and Lorna, almost like they were making out with each other while on stage. And Don Bolles had a sort of otherworldly aura about himself as he was drumming. But the three of them together meshed really well. They played really well and it sounded very good. Pat Smear, in particular, played a really mean guitar, showing that Nirvana knew what it was doing when they hired him, and the Foo Fighters were wise to keep him on board after Nirvana broke up. Could Shane keep up with them? Yes, I’d say he managed it. Maybe he’s not the best singer in the world – he sounded rather hoarse when he spoke to the crowd – but he’s an experienced performer who knows how to handle himself in front of a crowd. In addition to his acting work he also fronted the band Jonny Was. So even though you might say he’s playing a role he’s also not. I should add that not once was the impending release of the Germs movie mentioned during the set. It was just the band being itself.
The set itself was good. I wouldn’t say it was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen as far as a band’s performance goes, but of course the Germs were never the greatest band in performance anyway (except maybe at the very end in 1980). But they know how to put the material across. They played a lot of classic songs in a short time, starting with – what else? – “What We Do is Secret,” ending with “Media Blitz,” and in between those two playing such seminal songs as “Circle One,” “Lexicon Devil.” “Richie Dagger’s Crime,” “Let’s Pretend,” “Communist Eyes,” “We Must Bleed,” and some others.
However more to the point than the band playing its material well is that the material is good enough to put itself across, regardless of who’s playing it or singing it as long as it’s played well. What I was most impressed by was the way the songs connected with the audience, most of whom weren’t even born when Darby died. Yet they knew the songs very well, they cheered when their favorites came on, and they were just happy to be able to hear these favorite songs of theirs performed live, something they probably thought they would never see until just a couple of years ago. The crowd was comparable to those at the main stages, and there was usually a good pit going – maybe not the biggest pit in the world, but eminently respectable and able to hold its own against any other pit.
So now the fans can finally say they’ve seen the Germs play. That is why I usually tend to approve of bands reuniting – if they’re not going to phone it in just for the money that is. To the older fans it’s not the same – it never is – but it does let younger fans finally see their favorite artists.
But no reunion is worth anything if the material they play isn’t good to begin with, and on that score the songs the Germs have created have long since proved their worth. They get covered by many Punk bands already, and will probably still be covered by Punk bands many years from now after all of the original Germs are long gone. That, by any definition, is passing the test of time.
As for the rest of the day I saw the Street Dogs early on, and later saw the back to back sets of GBH, and the Vandals. They were all great. The Street Dogs, coming off of their new album State of Grace (available from Hellcat), played a tight set that got the fans very revved up – which is a feat at 11:45 AM on a hot day in August. Near the end of their set they managed to convince the moshers to expand the circle pit so that it went around the sound booth. This was potentially very dangerous for the sound booth, but the fans confined themselves largely to running around the booth and not hitting it. Still it was an impressive thing to see.
I’d been wanting to see GBH ever since the 2006 British Invasion show they were headlining was cut short by rioting before they got to play. They were great too; they played a good mixture of older and newer songs, including such classics as “City Baby Attacked By Rats,” “City Baby’s Revenge,” “Sick Boy,” and “Time Bomb” to name a few, also mentioning they would have a new record coming out on Hellcat, and promoting their upcoming show at the Key Club the following Thursday (the 21st). Despite the heat Colin came out wearing his leather jacket, zipped up, and sang several songs that way before finally taking it off. How many pounds he sweated off that way only a scale could tell you.
I hadn’t seen the Vandals in a while, but they were their usual fun selves. They know how to play, and they gave the crowd a fun time – despite the mid-afternoon heat.
I didn’t see anyone else, but our booth was near the food vendors near the main stages, so we actually were able to hear the other acts on the main stages pretty well. Even though a lot of the time I was talking about the station with people who came up to our tent I still remember listening to (but not seeing) Cobra Starship, Against Me!, Relient K, and Story of the Year, among others. They all did pretty well from what I could hear. Around 7:45 PM we packed up and came back to USC with another Warped Tour going into the record books.