Date: June 16-19, 2011
Featuring: The Chinkees, MU330, SLAPSTICK, Monkey, Unsteady, Buck-O-Nine, Slow Gherkin
About 13 or 14 years ago I was a teenager working 20 hours a week at a grocery story making minimum wage. The third-wave ska explosion was in full swing. I had just discovered Skankin’ Pickle. Cheap $3 punk and ska compilations helped introduce me to many of the bands that I would love for a decade and a half. Give Em’ The Boot, Can You Spare Some Ska?, Can O’ Pork, Misfits of Ska, Hopelessly Devoted To You, Mailorder is Fun. One of the labels that released one of these particular compilations caught my eye.
Asian Man records was run by Mike Park who was in Skankin’ Pickle. I could order Skankin’ Pickle shirts for $10 postage paid? CD’s were only $8 ppd? I could afford this stuff! I would order in lump sums. MU330, Slapstick, Less Than Jake, Slow Gherkin, Link 80, Knowledge, Potshot, Alkaline Trio, Five Iron Frenzy, Blue Meanies, Unsteady, the Chinkees, Skankin’ Pickle, the Bruce Lee Band, Johnny Socko, the Lawrence Arms. CD’s, shirts, stickers…and when I would get my package it would be chock full of stickers, posters, patches…that were free! I was in love. I would order everything Asian Man directly through Asian Man Records ever since then.
13 or 14 years later there is a weeklong celebration of Asian Man Records and Mike Park in San Francisco, California. I live in Western Pennsylvania. No problem. My wife and I have been planning a trip to California for years but haven’t been able to due to personal reasons. When I got news of SLAPSTICK reuniting for the festival as well as a slew of other bands getting back together for the event, my wife was awesome enough to let me plan our vacation around the festival. She even went to the shows with me, Buck-O-Nine being her personal favorite. I managed to get tickets to the SLAPSTICK and Slow Gherkin show. We got our plane tickets, booked our hotel and we were on our way!
The first show was the big kick off show and featured the Chinkees playing together for the first time since 1999, MU330 who have only played a handful of shows since 2007 and SLAPSTICK who have not played together under that name since 1997. This show was held at the Slim’s, which was the biggest venue of the festival. SLAPSTICK wanted to play for as many people as they could since, in their words, they will never play together again. Take it for what you will fellas!
The Chinkees, fronted by Mike Park kicked off the festivities with a very fun and danceable set. Mike talked fondly of his memories of playing in Skankin’ Pickle with many of the bands that were participating at the festival, of getting SLAPSTICK to reunite and of how excited he was and how happy he was to see so many people at the shows from all over the globe. The Chinkees tore through many of their classics; “Controlling Animals”, “Asian Prodigy”, “Big World”, “You Don’t Know”, “She’s My Friend” and they even got Matt Skiba up on stage to skank to a cover of Operation Ivy’s “Bankshot”. At the end of the set, which Mike Park danced non-stop to, the crowd gave Mike and the Chinkees a really wonderful ovation and he left the stage with the widest smile in the history of the world.
Following the Chinkees were MU330, the only band on the bill that I have previously seen…on a dozen or more occasions…every one of them great. MU330 came on stage and furiously tore through their set list. They played a good mix of mostly older songs with a few from their last release “Ultra Panic” like “Tell Another One” and “KKK Highway” which got a big response from the crowd. “Tune Me Out” kicked off their set with some of the highlights being “Rok”, “Hoosier Love”, and of course, the previously mentioned “KKK Highway”. The set was very “Chumps on Parade” heavy, which was fine by me. They even dusted off some deep cuts like “The Punisher/Downtown”. All the guys in MU330 still had the energy and enthusiasm that I remember from all those years ago back at Club Laga. They randomly picked a dude from the crowd to play with them, talked fondly of their memories of Mike Park and Asian Man Records and of course about the familiar faces in the crowd. John from “Hi My Name Is John” was there and they played the song for him. MU330 seemed to get the crowd into a feeding frenzy with their brand of psycho-ska. It might have also had to do with the band that was up next.
SLAPSTICK. For me, that pretty much says it all. Much like Skankin’ Pickle, I got into them shortly after they called it quits. They have always been one of my all time favorite bands and getting the chance to EVER see them play live was nothing but a pipedream to me. Having spawned so many other great bands; Alkaline Trio, the Broadways, Tuesday, The Honor System, the Lawrence Arms, it would never in a million years happen. All of a sudden it was the 15th anniversary of Asian Man Records and I was going to see….motherfucking SLAPSTICK!!! Mike Park managed to perform a miracle. It has been known for years that most of the former members of SLAPSTICK wanted nothing to do with their old band. They avoided fan requests for songs, talked about their dislike for ska and dodged questions about reuniting. Then a few years ago the SLAPSTICK dam began to crack. The Lawrence Arms played “Broken Down” complete with horns at an Asian Man show. Then they started playing Broadways and SLAPSTICK songs on tour. Then Mike Park raised his fist to the sky and opened a portal back to 1995 and transported SLAPTICK to San Francisco in 2011.
“We’re…ummm…SLAPSTICK, I Guess.” And SLAPSTICK was playing “Colorado” fifteen feet in front of me. Life was good. It was if they never broke up. They were tight and the songs sounded great. The crowd welcomed every note with energy, enthusiasm and excitement and the band reciprocated tenfold. Even though they were playing songs that were written when they were all teenagers and they were playing a genre that they grew out of, every one of the members of SLAPSTICK seemed genuinely happy to be there doing exactly what they were doing. They spoke highly of Mike Park, the Chinkees and MU330. They mentioned that without him, no one at that show or any of the festival shows, would probably not have the careers that they do now. Mike Park was surely blushing.
It was amazing to see SLAPSTICK playing live. It would be extremely hard for me to pick a favorite song of the night. “Colorado”, “Crooked”, “Eighteen”, “74 Fullerton”, “Broken Down”, “Good Times Gone”, “She Doesn’t Love Me”, “Almost Punk Enough”, “Nate B.”. I guess that it would have to be my favorite SLAPSTICK song, “There’s A Metalhead In The Parking Lot”. Yep, that was it.
One would have expected that since most of the members of SLAPSTICK are in punk bands nowadays that they would shy away from the ska songs in SLAPSTICK’s repertoire but that wasn’t the case at all. They seemed just as comfortable playing “Crooked” as they did “Broken Down”. Dan Adriano also gave his vote for SLAPSTICK as the fastest band ever. Agreed.
At the end of the show, I closed my eyes and totally forgot what year it was. I knew in the back of my head that it was 2011 but it felt more like it was 1997 and I was driving to a Mustard Plug show with some friends in the car blasting “Almost Punk Enough”. Did I just see SLAPSTICK live? Was it all a dream? Nope, because I have pictures to prove it. It was one of the most memorable shows that I have ever been to and everyone at Slim’s was just there to have fun, skank it up and to celebrate Mike Park for making everything happen and for introducing so many people to such great music. And I got my picture with him! It was a blast but I had tickets for another show the next night…
Thee Parkside was the host for the next night’s show, which included Monkey, Unsteady, Buck-O-Nine and Slow Gherkin. Again, most of the bands on this bill haven’t played together in years but were excited to reunite to play at Mike Park’s request. I had never seen any of the bands that were playing on that night. My number one priority was to see Buck-O-Nine. I could not come all of this way to have Buck-O-Nine playing mere blocks from where I was staying and not get tickets to this show. Unsteady was another priority because I have heard so many good things about their live shows back in the day.
Upon arriving at Thee Parkside, I managed to stumble upon Jon Pebsworth, lead singer of Buck-O-Nine hanging out around the ticket line. I got my picture with him and chatted a bit. I thought to myself, this is going to be a good show. Lo and behold, I got to hand out with Jon and a few other members of Buck-O-Nine throughout most of the evening and chat about ska, Buck-O-Nine songs, Asian Man Records and record label politics. It was cool as hell and all of the Buck-O boys were really awesome and down to earth.
Thee Parkside was quite a bit smaller than Slim’s and this show felt more up close and personal. Monkey kicked things off with a fun ska set. Monkey is a band that I was familiar with, but not as much as I should have been. They were really good and had a great horn section. They gave props to Mike Park and Asian Man and got the crowd moving early. They closed their set with one of the most amazing things I have seen live, a cover of Skankin’ Pickle’s “Fakin’ Jamaican”. I had to change my underwear shortly after their set was finished.
Up next was Unsteady. I have always enjoyed bands that don’t stick to the same formula and play the same style all the time. Unsteady is definitely one of these bands. Every song that they played had a distinct sound and musical influence. They had rock songs, jazz songs, ska songs, punk songs, ska punk songs…you asked for it and they provided. They were tight and didn’t seem to miss a beat. They were surely the largest band of the evening. With the small stage, it seemed like there were fifty band members playing. “Trophy Boyfriend” and “Bad Attitude” were the highlights of their set for me. Unsteady managed to keep up the skanking that Monkey got rolling earlier on.
After 12 years, I was also going to finally get to see Buck-O-Nine play. They never really toured the east coast much after the release of “Libido” which really got me into the band so, as I mentioned before, this was a first for me. I sure as hell hope that it won’t be the last. They were amazing live! Their set list was like what a greatest hits record would sound like from them. They played so many good songs. From the top of my head I can remember hearing “Irish Drinking Song”, “Who Are They”, “My Town”, “Cook Me Into The Bowl”, “Water In My Head”, “Calling In Sick” and their versions of “Sound System” and “Pass the Dutchie”. I was hoping that Buck-O’s set would never end. I would have been totally fine with them playing every song in order from “Songs In the Key of Bree” to “Sustain”. I wasn’t going anywhere. I still had three more days in San Francisco, but alas, all good things must come to an end and there was one more band lined up for my Asian Man concert going before that would happen.
Slow Gherkin was yet another band that had reunited specifically for the Asian Man anniversary shows. An interesting side note and much respect to the band, all members of Slow Gherkin donated their payment for the show to Mike Park for charity. That’s what makes Asian Man bands so special in my opinion. The band got quite a tremendous ovation when they took the stage and they started things off with a deep cut in “Slaughterhouse”. They then proceeded to cause quite a ruckus by jumping into the crowd, inciting skank pits, jumping on people’s shoulders for songs and pretty much cause everyone to have a good time. Personally I was a little disappointed by the song choices since I’m more of a fan of their first album “Double Happiness” and am not too familiar with their newer stuff. No “Tetley” or “Cable”, but they still had some good song selections like “Get Some More” and “How Now Lowbrow”. Slow Gherkin was fun and full of energy and really put the icing on the cake to end the night. As with every band before, they thanked Mike Park profusely and Asian Man immensely. With my Asian Man concert going officially over (there was still the free BBQ on the weekend), my wife and I made it back to our hotel room and I was exhausted, excited, happy, sad, delirious and any other adjective that you can throw in there.
Reflecting back upon the events of last week’s Asian Man Records 15th Anniversary shows, I will always remember how fun it was, how every single band that I saw gave their respect for Asian Man Records and Mike Park and how each and every band brought their A game. I managed to meet some great people from all over the globe, got my pictures with some of my idols and I got to have Mike Park make me a burger. I seen the Chinkees, Slow Gherkin, Monkey, Unsteady and Buck-O-Nine for the first time and I was at a SLAPSTICK show. A SLAPSTICK SHOW!!! It was one of the best experiences of my life. Here’s to another 15 plus years of everything great that comes from Mike Park and Asian Man records.