Gin and soda," I tell the waiting bartender.
"Gin and tonic?" she smirks.
"Nope," I repeat. "Gin and soda."
I'm killing time at the Meridian (1503 Chartres), waiting for 2007 Warped Tour co-headliners and pseudobilly superstars Tiger Army. Imperative Reaction just finished and Boston's Street Dogs are setting up.
Like most everyone else, I'm here of my own accord. When I heard Tiger Army's newest album, Music From Regions Beyond, I was fresh off a five-week residency in what passes for Houston's psychobilly scene, and I only met one person who displayed any real affinity for the band, someone whose attitude (and band) left me entirely nonplussed. When Regions Beyond touched my ears, I thought it the most overproduced punk-related aural abomination since New Found Glory. I needed to look this monster in the eye, holding onto the hope that Tiger Army's live show would somehow help me look beyond everything that's happened since Tiger Army II: The Power of Moonlite.
Street Dogs' music edges up on what I refer to as "eyeliner punk." They say things like "Do you remember back in high school" while the majority of the most enthusiastic audience members are still in high school. Regardless, they play a tight set despite stopping between every second or third tune to dedicate the next one to troops in Iraq, troops in Afghanistan, the "fading American Dream," Johnny Cash or their guitarist, Tobe Bean, who happens to be a native Houstonian.
Jimmy leans over. "What do you think about these guys?"
"Not my thing. I'd think it was awesome if I were 12. And drunk."
The Dogs grow on me, though. A solid, circular pit forms in the middle of the room and stays going throughout their performance. The eyeliner-punk connection is dispelled by what appears to be the band's fairly pure spirit, and anthem after anthem of working-class disgust with war, the government, the economy and sundry injustices stoke the crowd's fires and keep its energy up. At the end of the set, singer Mike McColgan impressively manages to crowd-surf from the stage to the bar. Then the band hangs at the merch table; I'm not buying their records, but I'm glad groups like them exist.
Tiger Army hits the stage with "Afterworld," and the pit gets going. Girls scream, boys scream, many boys scream like girls. One of those screamers rams me, jarring my camera from my grip, but I manage to catch it before it hits the floor. A drunk guy on my left sees this, laughs and slaps me on the back.
The pit etiquette is lax tonight. While the majority seem to understand the idea of stopping when someone hits the floor, there is little concept of the actual boundaries. That means keep the pit in the pit. Do not launch yourself three feet into the perimeter and try bringing people back with you. The pit doesn't need missionaries; let those who seek slam-dance salvation come to it on their own.
Meanwhile, Tiger Army seems to have thoroughly exhausted any leftover potential from their pre-Power of Moonlite days. They have a highly marketable emblem, a stand-up bass — for cosmetic purposes only, considering they've shunned all psychobilly pretense — and a strong desire for fame. They briefly had the opportunity to play in their own niche, but are now firmly woven into the fabric of arena-ready pop-punk that will, with a little luck, fade into the hollow area between apathy and irrelevance.
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This thought is still depressing me when I look up and see my tattooed barber, holding a Lone Star and smiling mischievously, coming toward my station near the bar. He takes a decent stride and punches me square in the heart; the resulting adrenaline rush is the best part of the entire set.
Tiger Army finishes and leaves the audience rapt for all of 19 seconds before returning for the obligatory encore. "We've been to Austin and San Antonio, guys," the singer says. "This is our favorite trip to Texas, and I don't just say that stuff all the time."
The band plays "Never Die" and "Annabel Lee," then heads backstage while the crowd makes a rush for the back door. I descend the steps and find Jimmy G at a table in the smoking section with three women, one of whom has GG Allin and Black Flag tats on one forearm. It's official: one Scotch-sipping lady with Black Flag bars on her wrist carries more pure punk weight than ten Tiger Army shows.