Concert Review

So long and thanks for all the shows – NOFX checkout pt 1 – Berlin 8th June 2024

We sent our intrepid reporter to cover 3 of the last 4 dates on the European leg of the tour

Sometimes you’ve just got to grab life by the scruff of the neck and take some chances. I’ve long dreamed of being a tour photographer, whisked off to some foreign climes to shoot my favourite bands, with the lure of triple A access. With the withering of the printed media these days, it’s left to the digital press to get on with it and create content for their followers. So instead of waiting to be asked by Rolling Stone or Vive Le Rock, I decided to sort out my own mini tour using some of my contacts. Fortune favours the brave or those cheeky enough to ask for one!!

Californian punk band NOFX announced last year that this would be their last tour before stopping playing, 40 cities 40 songs 40 nights. Luckily for me a band that I have got to know quite well in the last couple of years, The Meffs, had been asked to support on various European dates plus the added bonus of opening for The Interrupters as well. So off I went to Berlin and Hamburg, before flying back to London to cover the last two nights of the UK tour at the O2 Brixton Academy. Just to make life more interesting and challenging I decided to tack Bikini Kill’s O2 Leeds Academy date on the end. Seven days, four cities and 5 gigs.

I arrived in Germany late on Friday night having flown in from Manchester. I’d never been to Berlin before, but it was surprisingly easy to find my way around. On Saturday I was up bright and early, determined to at least catch some of the sights, before heading off to the gig venue, Zitadelle Spandau, a 450-year-old fortress and one of the best preserved Renaissance military structures in Europe. Sitting on an island surrounded by the Havel and Spree rivers, you have to cross a bridge to access the courtyard, where the gigs happen. It’s an amazing setting for a concert and the weather was fantastic, sunny with just a cool breeze to keep you from overheating. The Germans however have another tried and trusted method for assuring the punters comfort, namely cheap beer at only €4.5 a pint. Also, food concessions were a lot cheaper too!! UK festivals take note.

Wandering around the site, which holds 8,500 punters, I bumped into a few friendly faces from Manchester who had come over specifically to see The Meffs. Breaking my golden rule of not drinking when photographing, I threw caution to the wind, several times during the day, well 6 actually but who’s counting? Surprisingly it didn’t seem to effect my ability to capture some half decent images, although I’ll let you be the judge of that.

NOFX did a good job of assembling a pretty impressive supporting cast, with 3 other US acts on the bill, Descendents, Pennywise, and Codefendents. The rest of the line-up was completed by rising Brit stars, The Meffs and openers Scheisse Minnelli from Frankfurt.

So first up, German openers Scheisse Minnelli, who I confess to knowing absolutely zip about before today. Actually it wasn’t until much later that I even realised they weren’t American, although the singer Samuel Action is an ex-pat who never went home after backpacking around Europe and the Middle East, forming the band in 2003. Their sound is part Black Flag, part West coast skate punk and they deliver the perfect high octane set to warm us up, although the 28 degree heat is doing that just fine. They haven’t released an album since 2018’s Waking Up On Mistake Street, but they have a decent back catalogue on both Bandcamp and Amazon Music (other streaming platforms are available), that is well worth checking out.

Next up, Colchester’s very own Brit Punk 2-piece, The Meffs who we are particularly fond of here at PCN Magazine! [Big love to Lily and Lewis for sorting the necessary accreditation to allow us access!]. Earlier in the day I’d stumbled across a pocket of Essex Boys over to give the band some support. However, judging from the number of Meffs t-shirts on view, there was plenty local support having already played Hamburg and Saarbrucken on this set of dates with NOFX. Their earlier Broken Brits Abroad and the Buster Shuffle support dates certainly seem to have laid down a good fanbase in this part of Europe. Invited to tour with NOFX is a major feather in their caps. Being signed to Fat Mike’s label imprint Bottles To The Ground, this is definitely him taking care of business, but it’s not a case of nepotism as The Meffs can more than hold their own in this company. This is about the tenth time I’ve seen them since I came across them at Rebellion Punk Festival in 2022 and I’ve never seen a bad show. They’ve definitely grown as a band in that time. They have more presence and stagecraft, which is pretty hard to achieve when there’s only two of them, but in Lilly they have an amazingly engaging front person, who engages with the crows by verbally and facially. She’s becoming known for her trademark “tongue out” expression and as she works the stage from side to side during the instrumental passages, you can feel the connection with the crowd. As a photographer, who spends a large part of a gig with his back to fans, I sense from the sounds behind me, to quote 90s Britpop stars Elastica, “the connection is made”! It’s a difficult dynamic when there’s just the two of you on stage. If you don’t make the effort you just end looking as boring as a Sleaford Mods performance. No need to worry on that score! The Meffs sound isn’t particularly sophisticated. There’s no reliance on banks of foot pedals, Lily only uses 3 or 4 at most but her guitar sound is full and dramatic.

They open with a new song Everything’s Gone taken from their forthcoming debut album What A Life (out on 12th Sept), which is fast becoming a live fave. You can sense the confidence they’ve found as Lily demands a circle pit during the first three songs and the crowd duly oblige. This is a fun circle pit, no flailing arms and legs, parents and young kids join in. The song stops, they smile and get ready to go again. Fun in the sun. Apparently this is the biggest crowd they’ve played in front of on this tour and a good percentage of the 8000 or so punters present are being entertained.

Little by little the songs from their original 2019 demos release are being rested from the live set, but they still find space for Budget Luxury, a fuzzed up two paced romp over in 90 seconds. Recent single Clowns sounds great too, but they refrain from unleashing their soon to be released next single FRSF today. The 3 tracks I’ve heard so far from the album are definitely getting the juices flowing ahead of its autumn release.

Their politicking hits the same chords with the German crowd. It seems we face similar problems. As I walk back through the main arena, I’m stopped by a local sporting his newly purchased Meffs tee. He just has four words for me, “Brexit, what the fuck”, and embraces me before disappearing into the throng. I don’t see him again but then maybe I do, but it’s hard to tell as the merch stall is swamped afterwards and the stock flies out!!! BWTF, exactly mate, now that would make a good song!

Set: Everything’s Gone/No Future/Stand Up, Speak Out/Breathe/Clowns/Look At You/Wasted On Women/Budget Luxury/Broken Britain, Broken Brains

Codefendants is supposedly another Fat Mike band, but live he’s nowhere to be seen, instead leaving it to the ragged-arse collection of misfits that has been assembled, and I mean that in the warmest sense. Their hotch-potch mix of hip-hop, new wave and rap, fronted by Get Dead’s Sam King on vocals, starts with an introduction by Ceschi Ramos to one of the many collaborating artists they’ve worked with. Sadly I don’t catch his name, but imagine a very young Timmy Mallet and you won’t go far wrong. After Ceschi and friend finish the first song, the band shuffle on followed by the imposing frame of Sam King (Get Dead). I don’t know who any of the backing musicians are on this tour so you’ll have to excuse my ignorance. King is an impressive front man, dressed in black suit and white shirt, rocking it in that “been on the piss all day at a wedding reception” way.

With a set mostly made up of tracks from their This Is Crime Wave album stand out tracks are Def Con, with it’s distinctive sub-Ghetto Defendant bassline, Fast Ones and Abscessed. There’s even room for a cover of Disruption by Get Dead, King’s other band. The crowd are receptive and their bouncy sound is perfect for day drinking in the sun, in such an iconic setting.

The excitement is ramping up, and those at the front on the barrier, are more likely to soil themselves now than move before the end of the evening. The following punk triumvirate of Descendents, Pennywise and NOFX are a treat in themselves and realistically any of them could headline, but it’s Fat Mike and the boys party, so it’s the turn of the elder statesmen from California’s Manhattan Beach. Formed in 1977, it wasn’t until singer Milo Aukerman joined in 1979, that the band’s distinctive melodic hardcore sound took shape. I’m expecting this to be a brilliant set, mostly culled from their debut album Milo and Everything Sucks from 1996, which I have to fess up and tell you that was the first time I’d heard them. I’m not disappointed as the 22 songs absolutely fly by. These are all great songs and it’s a real privilege to hear them played live. The current line-up of Milo, Bill Stevenson (Drums), Stephen Egerton (Guitar) and Karl Alvarez (Bass), is pretty much the definitive one in my humble opinion.

Descendents are one of those bands that you forget just how good they are until you see them live. These are the songs that pretty much opened the gateway to Melodic HC for me. Without them a great deal of what might be termed pop-punk just wouldn’t exist. Milo’s vocals sit jauntily atop the searing fretwork from Egerton and Stevenson’s drumming is far removed from the standard punk template, adding both light and shade. This is the perfect “best of” set delivered by a group still at the height of their game. They don’t need an hour to show you how good these songs are, it’s all wrapped up in 40 minutes but you still feel musically stuffed. True some of the songs are shorter than a Napalm Death encore, but who needs length when you’ve got girth? Less than a year on from his heart attack and the subsequent cancellation of their European tour and Rebellion Festival appearance, Milo is looking trim and there’s no sign that this minor bump in the road has taken anything from his performance. Hell, he certainly looks healthier than a good number of other punk protagonists around. Thankfully the band have moved on from some of their earlier material, as they couldn’t stand behind them lyrically, having matured and grown up. In 2018 Stevenson explained “We never even thought that anyone would ever listen to our band, so a lot of the stuff we say, or the shit we talk, or even just some of the distasteful humour or points of view handed down to us by our suburban, white fathers — we never thought anyone would ever even hear any of it. … It just doesn’t hold any water today at all. And might even be offensive to everyone. We don’t need to do that. We don’t need to carry that around with us.” 

There’s been no apparent loss in power or energy and the opening salvo of Everything Sux, Hope, and Silly Girl are testament to that. Rotting Out now sounds like something the Foo Fighters might be proud of. They manage to shoehorn Coffee Mug, Weinerschnitzel, I Like Food and No! All into the set, all done in under 80 seconds. Thank You is the closest they get to a full on stadium rock sound and the crowd mouth the lyrics back to them in homage. Whoever Karl wrote that song about originally, today it’s Berlin saying “thank you”, collectively to both the Descendents and NOFX for all the great music they’ve given us. Personally I thank them for When I Get Old for the lyrics, “will I still want to be someone, and not just sit around, I don’t want to be like other adults, ’cause they’ve already died, cool and condescending, fossilized”. It’s better to burn out than fade away!

Descendents Set: Everything Sux/Hope/Silly Girl/Victim of Me/Clean Sheets/I Wanna Be a Bear/Rotting Out/ Coolidge/I’m Not a Punk/On Paper/Global Probing/’Merican/Weinerschnitzel/No, All!/Myage/ Coffee Mug/ I Don’t Want to Grow Up/I’m the One/I Like Food/Bikeage/Thank You/Suburban Home

Pennywise’s Jim Lindberg is not a man to be ignored. When he asks for one of the photographers to lend him a camera, somebody duly obliges. I’m not sure I’d have been so accommodating but I guess the owner has a story, but at least I have the shot!! They are another band whose line-up has changed little in the 36 years they’ve been around. Save for Lindberg leaving for 3 years and former bassist Jason Thirsk taking his own life to be replaced by Randy Bradbury in 1996, this is prime Pennywise.

Despite having an extensive back catalogue of their own, 12 studio albums in all, they manage to include 3 covers in their set, with NOFX’s “Bob“, Bad Religion’s “Do what You Want” and the soul classic “Stand By Me” by Ben E King, which has now become a staple of their live shows. [Fat Mike will later return the favour covering Bro Hymn during their set].

Peaceful Day and The World are the perfect opening salvo for what turns out to be a solid set and the crowd are getting more pumped by the minute. This is turning into a day to remember.

Pennywise Set: Peaceful Day/The World/Violence Never Ending/Straight Ahead/Same Old Story/Bob (NOFX cover)/Do What You Want (Bad Religion cover)/Pennywise/Broken/Fuck Authority/Society/Stand by Me (Ben E. King cover)/Bro Hymn

And so it’s finally the part of the day that we’ve all been looking forward to.

Those wealthy enough to take advantage of the “Bro Pass” have taken their places on the stage behind the barriers and wildly cheer as the band and crew all do shots, before Rocky Horror Picture Show’s “Time Warp” starts proceedings with Mike and El Hefe strutting theatrically across the stage, imitating the song’s choreography best they can.

It’s astounding,
Time is fleeting,
Madness takes its toll,
But listen closely,
Not for very much longer,
I’ve got to keep control

Indeed, not for very much longer! Described by Fat Mike as the first of their last two gigs in Europe, a claim that rankles with the assembled Brits as we’re pretty sure the UK was still part of Europe when we left for Berlin!

The choice of 60% from 2006’s Wolves In Wolves’ Clothing album as opener is very much an autobiographical disclaimer of what is about to unfold. You should have read the small print!

I’m not here to entertain you
I’m here to meet my friend the Russian, the Irish, the German, the Colombian
I don’t care how bad I fuck up
I care about how fucked up I get
I’m not your clown, I’m your dealer
And I’m holding three bundles of bullshit
And you’re buying ’em ’cause you are addicted
To the pure and totally uncut

I’m not here to amuse you
I’m here to abuse my body
I’m here because old habits die hard
And, seriously, what else am I supposed to do?
This isn’t my job, my hobby, my habit; it’s sad
But this is my life

One thing you’re never going to get from a NOFX show is perfection. Yes you’ll get perfectly crafted and observed melodic punk songs but delivered in a dishevelled, almost haphazard style. Like Yul Brynner, Mike is at pains to point out very early in proceedings that the whole 40 songs, playing certain albums in full schtick etcetera etcetera! As he says it would be very boring just to plough through in track list order. NOFX are definitely not a band who does what it says on the tin, or if they do you might find the text altered with marker pen!!!

And of course he’s right! We are addicts, needing one last fix of melodic skate punk before they sail off into Sunset Boulevard and back to their Hollywood lives. Nobody here is begrudging them that and we’re thankful for what they’ve given us over the years.

Despite having been on tour for the past few weeks, they sound remarkably fresh but tight they are not. Probably due to the amount of relaxing refreshment we get false starts, restarts and even wrong songs, but we don’t care as we know that’s just the band’s DNA working it’s magic. I’ve waited a long time to see them play live again and I know that tonight will be different to tomorrow and different again to the two Brixton shows I have coming up. Yes Mike, 12th June 2024 O2 Brixton Academy, that’s your last ever European show!

NOFX Set: 60%/Seeing Double at the Triple Rock/Leave It Alone/The Cause/Perfect Government (Mark Curry cover)/ 72 Hookers/Six Years on Dope/The Man I Killed/Leaving Jesusland/Radio (Rancid cover)/The Brews/Don’t Call Me White/Lori Meyers/Bro Hymn (Pennywise cover)/Fuck the Kids (Revisited)/Juice Head/Hobophobic (Scared of Bums)/Monosyllabic Girl/I’m Telling Tim/Instant Crassic/See Her Pee/Can’t Get The Stink Out/IQ32 (Necros cover)/I Wanna Be An Alcoholic/Fuck The Kids II/The Marxist Brothers/Linoleum/What’s the Matter With Parents Today?/Reeko ENCORE: Franco Un-American/The Moron Brothers/Six Pack Girls/Bottles to the Ground/Green Corn/I’m So Sorry Tony/Kill All the White Man

About The Author

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Andi Callen (Contributing Editor)

Original punk. Done everything there is to do in music, except run a record label! Addicted to noise and taking photographs of live music. Based on NW England, I've previously contributed to Louder Than War, MancAndi, The Punk Site, and Backseat Mafia, where I was Punk/Post Punk & Live Editor. Part of the original review team when Rocksound Magazine first started.
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