At the End of Spring Break, NOFX Takes Houston to School
Photos by Violeta Alvarez
NOFX, Unwritten Law, FenixTX, That Lying Bitch
House of Blues
March 20, 2016
Many punk rock lessons were delivered from House of Blues’ stage at yesterday’s NOFX show. For several in the audience, the band’s return to Houston was probably akin to a refresher course. It’s built a devout following over a 30-plus year history, so it’s unlikely novices outnumbered repeat enrollees at yesterday’s show.
Did you ever have a teacher you liked so much you pondered failing his or her class just to return to it the next semester? That’s Fat Mike, the NOFX front man/musician/entertainer/instructor. The day-long event began at two in the afternoon and featured eight bands. Those who came before the headliner were worthy choices. But, only Fat Mike and his bandmates - El Hefe, Eric Melvin and Erik Sandin - held tenure at this gathering.
We got to the show too late to see half the bill and regretfully missed locals Kemo For Emo opening things up. We chatted with K4E’s Larry Fenix and Jake Rawls a bit during That Lying Bitch’s set and learned that some early-goers showed love, eager to hear tracks from the band’s recently released album, A Picture Perfect Romance. They report that the third installment of an ongoing video saga related to the album is in the works. But mostly, they were elated, geeked to have had the rare opportunity to open for bands like Fenix TX and NOFX, who were their first instructors in all things pop punk. Getting to stand at the lectern before those bands was a thrill for them. Since they’re some of Houston music’s genuinely nice guys, we were happy for them.
As for That Lying Bitch, they grabbed our attention with “I’ve Been Doing Fun Shit Without You.” The Chicagoans drew a solid crowd by set’s end, which is how any punk act at a House of Blues show can gauge its success. If there are more people inside for your closing song than on the balcony snuffing out cigarette butts with their Chucks, you were good. The band won over its Houston audience and not just the alert music fans who happened to catch the fact that Plain White T’s Tom Higgenson drums for the band.
In homage to its Houston roots, Fenix TX arrived onstage to Project Pat’s “Never Be a G” and launched full-throttle into “Threesome.” Front man Will Salazar looked and sounded fine and took on the “back of the classers” in his pop punk lecture, devoted to the balcony dwellers.
“You lazy fuckers,” he said, calling them out before getting into a run of really nice songs that began with “Katie W” and included the rave-up “Minimum Wage” and their best offering of the set, “Flight 601 (All I’ve Got Is Time).” They finished up with a version of “Ben” that included Beastie Boys’ “Gratitude” in the break and “All My Fault.”
One thing that was being instructed was some pop punk history. Unwritten Law contributed with a snippet of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” that stirred the crowd into song, an act they were only too happy to repeat when the band played “Seein’ Red.” The song was high up the set list, so the singers in the crowd were able to relax a bit and take in the musicianship, particularly guitarist Chris Lewis, who was playing his second set in a row, having just finished with Fenix TX. There was a bit of a kerfuffle – real or scripted, who can tell at a snarky-ass pop punk show – between singer Scott Russo and an unknown audience member, which gave a little bite to the band’s best offering of its hour-long set, “She Says.”
NOFX came on shortly after 9:30 p.m. The curtains pulled back and the band engaged in about five minutes of give-and-take with its audience instead of breaking right into song. Most of what was said there is probably best left unsaid here, but after rambling on for a while, Fat Mike announced, “I’m gonna shut up, ’cause I will talk all night,” then went into “Dinosaurs Will Die.” Like students who’ve faithfully done their homework, the audience was right there with NOFX, singing “Linoleum” up to the rafters and knowing “Eat The Meek” was next on the play list just from the sight of El Hefe grabbing an offstage trumpet. We all got a special treat since Dance Hall Crashers' Karina Denike sat in on keys and backing vocals.
The crowd didn’t hear everything it wanted, but “Stickin’ In My Eye” earned a “Holy fuck!” from some kids behind us, and a cover of Rancid’s “Radio” was excellent and led to more discussion between the band and the audience in which Fat Mike joked that his calls and texts to Rancid go unreturned. He and the band took on Bad Religion (“Bald Religion,” they quipped) and Billy Corgan (“How do you make a double album with one good song?” asked Fat Mike). But the targets of most of their good-natured humor were either themselves or their fans. A fan with a long, gray beard was called “ZZ Top,” then “GG Allin” and finally dubbed “ZZ Allin,” by Fat Mike. A father who’d brought his teen to the show was admonished for having the kid out on a school night and then endured the band asking the kid if she knew what a “chili dog” or a “snowball” was. They gave her the full street definitions. If you need them, just check Urban Dictionary or some Internet list of sordid sexual euphemisms.
Sometimes lessons are learned the hard way. That doesn’t mean NOFX doesn’t love its fans.
“You people who are up there in the balcony, don’t fall,” Fat Mike instructed. “The rich people up there, don’t fall. The people who are afraid to be down here…don’t fall.”
Personal Bias: “Lineoleum.” I woulda waited all night to hear it, but it was the fourth song. “Lori Meyers” and “Three On Speed” didn’t make the cut. But “Linoleum” was the song I was there to hear.
The Crowd: Cool moms and dads with kids who maybe should have been home instead of hearing about “rusty fish hooks” and “shockers” from the family’s favorite punk band. Young punks with a healthy appreciation for the classics.
Random Notebook Dump: Here’s your setlist sans the encores, which we had to run out on, though we have it on good authority the encore included “Reeko” and “Bob” and finished with “The Brews.”
Dinosaurs Will Die
Seeing Double at The Triple Rock
Fuck The Kids
Murder the Government
Leave It Alone
Eat The Meek
I Believe In Goddess
Quart In Session
What’s The Matter With Parents Today?
I’m Sorry Tony
Stickin’ In My Eye
Radio (Rancid cover)
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.