During the whole shelter in place I had, as did many others had a bit of meltdown.
Not being able to dance at clubs or go to live music shows among other things drove people a little batty to it mildly. Thankfully things seem more or less back in business but I had not been to Mosswood Meltdown (formerly Burger Boogaloo) in several years because of those events. But this year the surf punk-rock queens the 5, 6, 7, 8s AND “the most sampled band in history”, new wave/funk female trio, ESG were on the bill so I decided to show out despite not knowing many of the other names listed. And I forgot one thing about the annual Oakland meltdown at Mossowood park is you will NEVER know all the names on the bill. I’d wager most people are lucky to know even half. But go you should because it is always full of surprises and discoveries and lots of punk ethos and attitude where everybody just has fun.
And right off the bat it is all ages, I’ll have more to say on this but to me that is hugely important if we want a thriving and growing local music community because the youth have the energy to hype needed to keep it vital. Also they are not yet jaded and cynical so all the joi de vivre hasn’t yet been corrupted by “real life”.
One person I talked too commented how the event feels so very Oakland even outside of the location and that it made him proud they put this on every year drawing known and unknown names but managing to keep the feel very community oriented (it is all local vendors and food stalls). Outside of maybe some alcohol brands, there is VERY little in your face corporate branding to be found. Most of the branding comes in the form of band shirts. And I swear outside the headliners I don’t think I saw two people wearing the same band shirt.
It’s as if people are trying to represent every punk band ever. My personal favorite this year was the King Khan & BBQ Show shirt because I had played them on my PopOff! show for a theme on dogs years ago. And that band was one of those weird finds that happens when I do my work and think nobody else on earth has heard of them. But name any punk band and I am sure somebody was wearing their name on a shirt. Though to give you a little idea of the crowds vibe… you will not likely find anybody wearing a Ramones or Green Day shirt. Love those bands as people do, WAY too mainstream for the meltdown. Those are the kinds bands posers wear on shirts. Try Kleenex or Angry Samoans.
But that suggests there is pretension and gate keeping. And there is not, it just seems to be an unspoken edict of sorts to shout lesser know bands and your clothes.
Shirts aside, while the whole throwdown is outside is still feels DIY and divvy. This is largely due to the people there dressed ready to punk rock it out, especially anybody under 21 bringing every shade of the rainbow in hair color to any type of hair cut short of a beehive. Ripped everything from pants to fishnets and shirts… plus boots, stilettos, chucks in every color- piercings… you name it somebody has pierced it. The “adults” are mostly dressed for comfort though there is that smattering OG punks who still wear the leather because it wasn’t just a phase, the mohawk in tact.
The festival comes with two stages, the “Field Stage”, which is basically just a typical main stage though this year they did have a screen (more on that later) and the amphitheater (a cement mini arena) which this year was decorated like Pee-wee’s playhouse but looks so DIY that you worry a strong gust of wind would tear down the whole thing. The amphitheater has no barricade so if you get up close to the stage you are at the stage; the band, the speakers, the volume… it is all in your face and in your ears. This creates a very different effect on the crowd. More energized slam dancing and crowd surfing is done at the amphitheater. The main stage and had more pogoing and bobbing in place this year.
The headliners were Le Tigre on Saturday and Gravy Train Sunday. But trust me when I say you don’t go for the headliners. You may think are you there for Devo or Iggy Pop or Le Tigre… but as the day unfolds you realize the hidden treasures on the festival poster often outshine the famous name. Or you go for the early afternoon acts going for broke because it is their first festival stage and anything could happen.
The first bands go on at 12 noon and friend refereed to those acts as the “sound check bands”. But don’t be tricked by the opening slot image. Sometimes the early acts are the best act of the day. They don’t have to follow a bigger name and there isn’t as big of a crowd to wade through and to try and rally. So it is sometimes easier to get a connection to the audience and get more in the face with the music. It is also often the slot wear you will see the wildest -ahem- shit. The side of punk that was more performance art then about the music. Of course these days punk music has become so narrowly defined by many it excludes most of what was originally considered punk.
Side note: Sunday had less of a crowd that Saturday and it wasn’t the acts that caused it was, as the bartender with her sleeve of tattoos wryly said, “Heatwave and hangovers”. I mention this to let you know pacing yourself is a good idea no matter how hard core you are as a punk.
Both days offered lots of great music and meetings of kindred spirits but if I have to pick a winner I’d go with Sunday. There are a few factors in this choice.
1. Local punk legends the Avengers who were only active for 3 years in the late 70s came out on the main stage and rioted like it was a show at The Deaf Club back in 1979. And for the song Teenage Rebel they brought on the Linda Lindas who had played Mosswood last year. One member was only 12 which means they were 11 last year… and that youthful energy they showed as they moshed and head-banged and thrashed all over that stage like a dog tossing around a rag doll is just what is missing form mainstream corporate world. You can’t bottle that or prepackage it.
2. The third act of the day Brower played to the half empty amphitheater and totally destroyed with straight up, old school, fast lane 70s rock ‘n’ roll. Think, T. Rex and songs like China Grove by The Doobie Brothers, and Jet Airliner by Steve Miller Band. I felt like I was riding down Ventura highway with the top down in a ’75 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale. Every member wore some jumpsuit painted with big stars except for Josephine who had the jumpsuit skirt combo and totally shredded out guitar solos like it was your typical 1976 Kiss concert. Brower was definitely my favorite band discovery this year and they were my favorite act of the whole festival until…
3. Bratmobile. I have played them on my show. There were part of the 90s Riotgrrrl scene in the great white northwest. I am pretty sure no song is over 3 minutes. Reunited just for the Meltdown after decades of no live shows or new recordings. They just launched right into business. Down in front of the stage all the youth were assembled immediately turning the area into a proper slam dance pit with added crowd surfing. And while there was the righteous anger and fist pumping that comes with punk unlike the OG punk shows of the 70s/80s/90s there was no just straight anger and people throwing actual fists at each other. It would seem the youth found the balance of being nice to everybody and keeping the energy/ethos of punk. A balance that was often lacking, especially for females at shows back in the day making them sometimes scary affairs.
By that time around, 7-ish the sun had begun to set and things started cooling off so maybe it was a second wind from the crowd. But the audience was definitely into it.
I was not down in the pit this time but a little bit further back up in the “seating”. And there was a father in front of me with a girl who must have been two or three. They were dressed very casual but he was launching her up in the air to the music and catching her and the girl was loving it. Anarchic feminist punk being injected early is good parenting in my book.
But my favorite people watching the whole weekend was the two girls to my right who must have been 13-14 messy hair dyed out in neon and messy makeup, completely layered in a mishmash of goth, punk, and 90s something or other… that must have been sweltering in the heat. They were not casually awkward dancing like teenagers so often do while trying to be too cool for the room. They were fully into it.
But it was the expression on their faces that really got me. They were all lit with smiles and awe. These were two young ladies were having their minds blow for the first time, watching Bratmobile (whose members are much older and dare I say wiser and calmer then when the first careened into the punk garage). They were seeing the possibility of not just awesome music but of what it means to be “old” and old, punk, and a woman. You can be in your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and still get up on and bounce around like rubber ball and scream and swear about bad boyfriends and worse politicians.
And that is just one reason why I think we need more all ages music events, this is passing on knowledge from the elders and in this case a very specific and important part of feminist and punk music history of the 90s. At some point during the set those two girls careened down the isle and launched themselves into the tornado of the pit never to bee seen again.
Bratmobile ended their set by inviting the Linda Linda’s on stage and several other girls even younger to belt out The Runaways, “Cherry Bomb” And as with the rest of the songs in their set, it was under 3 minutes.
Other bands on the line up I enjoyed were The Rondells who delivered very classic straight up CBGBs punk sounds, Morgan and the Organ Donors doing a kind classic early 50s girl group rock ‘n’ roll sound ALA Goldie and the GIngerbreads, Tina and the Total Babes, and Warped, an SF punk band that was the second act Sunday and so got the full brunt of the July sun glaring down with a “Let’s see what do you got?!” They also get the award for shortest songs. It was loud and it was punk and I didn’t understand but maybe twenty words of what the lead singer sang because I was so close to the stage. But I thrashed harder to that band that any of the others. As I said earlier some of the acts early in the day are running on a go for broke attitude and that can fuel the fire. It certainly lit me and the rest of the early crowd up and got us ready for the rest of the days events.
On Saturday the 5, 6, 7, 8s were great but started late and had technical difficulties so it felt like a shorter set than I would’ve liked but thankfully they ended not with the “Woo-hoo” song from Kill Bill Vol. 1 but with a revved up killer cover of the 60s instrumental, “Telstar”. Also, because the festival is so small you often run into band members just out and about. And I kept running into various members of that Japanese surf trio on Saturday.
ESG, the other act I had come to see did what I expected and certainly had the crowd bouncing to their punk-funk. Even though the lead singer had to perform sitting down, they still set the standard by, which the headliner Le Tigre had to best. And well… Le Tigre were great. Front woman Kathleen Hannah set the tone by saying how nice it was to perform at the festival and just have fun. I really enjoyed their set but it didn’t stand out the way some others did. I also assume Le Tigre were the one’s who put the screen in their rider because every lyric they sang flashed up on the screen in some manner so you would know every riot word they were singing. Also every band at the festival had a person on stage doing sign language for every lyric and word of banter which was cool to see. And another example of how Mosswood Meltdown makes the feeling very inclusive for all types of people where bigger festivals do not.
Between acts DJ play music of various types and every song in deliberate and no song feels out of place. I mention this because on Sunday before the headlining act a DJ played, Madonna’s “Burning Up”. Madonna never recorded punk music but it was PERFECT for the moment because it was Madonna’s first big hit and with the recent news of her being found unconscious along with other health issues tipping the hat to the pop queen at a punk festival made me a little emotional. Because music aside Madonna is punk in every inch of her don’t give a fuck do what you want ethos. It is how to quote Madonna herself went on, “To rule the world.” And she clearly seemns perfectly content to go down not giving any Fs like she has for her whole career. It was also perfect because the headliner for Sunday was probably the most outwardly queer act of the festival, Gravy Train.
I did not know of Gravy Train before this, which seems odd now having heard their music but hey I was into Paula Abdul for a hot minute so that’s my excuse. I liked many of the songs fine but much of the banter and stage antics all felt so raunchy in the worst juvenile way like teenagers who just discovered “naughty words” talking about vaginas and penises. I am not put off by this type of humor in certain settings like a drag show. But it just seemed so out of place with the rest of the weekends vibe to me. As if they were trying to say how many people can we turn off or offend tonight at ironically a punk show of all places. Still, I enjoyed some of the songs, but I ducked about four songs in because I wasn’t connecting and I wanted to catch Brower again at Thee Stork Club down the street to see if I had hallucinated how good they were.
I had not.
Since the festival is two days and rather small for a festival there is an intimacy here that doesn’t happen like at, say, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass or Bottle Rock. Several strangers came up to me on Sunday to compliment me on all my Saturday energy/vibe, outfit, dancing or all three. And the young punks are quick to compliment OG punks who kept the outfits or hair and vice versa. The cross-generational mingling is just so lovely hear and witness as opposed to the usual fear that gets pedaled in the media about “adults” and “kids” mingling. And it’s great to see a kind of space where misfits and outcasts by mainstream standards don’t have to worry about judgmental eyes or forms of aggression that make them feel less welcome in the larger world. And I am trying to figure out how we can get more smaller local venues to allow all ages to weekend night; rock and punk and hip-hop shows. Because this local music we have going on does not and should just belong to the 21 and over crowd. All should be accepted, welcomed, and, loved.
I fully acknowledge that the punk and queerness of Mosswood Meltdown comes with many of the things certain segments of the US population and media are outright terrified of if not also decrying as as affront to the end to the US as a country. Especially when doing it in front of children. GASP!
Recently, when I was engaged in a conversation with somebody about males wearing dresses and certain badly worded laws and how that could effect me, this person told me it wasn’t about the dresses or even me. They then proceeded to show me photo examples of what it was actually about. And every picture was taken from a pride parade and every picture had some version of somebody I saw at Mosswood Meltdown. And for the first time ever in 40 plus years walking earth I felt a real, “Oh hell no this is not happening right now” rise up in me. And I had to shut this person down and send them packing. Some debates should not even be debates to begin with.
So I have come face to face in past few months with the cold reality that these segments of the population DO NOT like us. I mention this because so much of today’s news of the world is out of our own circle of control such as what people think or do etc. And engaging with people who have already made up their mind will not change them. The science has proven this. Also, actions speak louder than words, right? And what better action than a live righteous punk show for two days. So why bother saying anything to closed minds then or certainly now in a concert review?
I say it because with what I have witnessed firsthand recently it is no longer about what I can and cannot control. It no longer about talking to the other side. I am an elder queer at this point and what I’ve seen recently eclipses anything I ever endured in the 90s in terms of outright bigotry and hate and terror. And I have MANY friends with queer, punk, goth, you name it teens and younger… So me writing this, is me refusing to stand by silent as it goes on. As somebody who has been through some trauma I know what it’s like to deal with people standing by while you get abused.
So I want it on the record that I called people out for their horrific bigoted beliefs. We’ve have decades of people trying to get others to change their views and reach across the isle… I thought we’d been making progress with things like equal marriage but I am learning not only do these people not want reach across the isle, they want to burn down the isle so they don’t have anything to reach across in the first place. Or to put it in a more banal frame, they don’t want to grab a beer and talk it over because they don’t want queers and punks and others like us to have access to beer and to solve that problem they want to just get rid of us altogether.
So I want it on the record I support my local community and it’s annual Meltdown where some of the very tenants this country was founded on evolved and grew to include types of people and performers the founders did not know even existed or would exist. The types of trailblazers and activists and artists and scientists and free thinkers that are vital to a healthy community organism. And if you don’t like it well you are free to walk on your way or move to some other country that better aligns better with your views, if they will have you.
To say this is about free speech, would be true. But with what I have witnessed recently and personally it also for many about survival. And Mosswood Weltdown is not just a place where people survive but a place where people THRIVE and learn that, “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” and “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”, still need to be shouted.
BEST OF SHOW:
Morgan and the Organ Donors