30footFALL at Fitzgerald's, 7/20/2013

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30footFALL, Bickley, the Smiffs, Skeleton Dick Fitzgerald's July 19, 2013

What exactly does it take to keep a punk rock band in Houston, Texas, together for 20 years? Well, delivering the goods onstage year in and year out is certainly one crucial ingredient. That's what has kept 30footFALL fans coming back Christmas after Christmas, and it's what packed 'em in at Fitzgerald's on Saturday to celebrate the local punk troupe's 20th anniversary together.

In When We Ruled H-Town, last year's excellent documentary on Houston's '90s rock scene, a shot was taken at 30footFALL by one of their peers over their perceived booking of inferior opening acts -- ostensibly to make themselves look better by comparison. Nobody could have levied that claim with a straight face on Saturday. In addition to current faves Skeleton Dick, 30FF also managed to corral fellow '90s mainstays Bickley out of super-extended hiatus and even brought along front man Butch Klotz's Smiths cover band, the Smiffs, from Charlottesville, Va.

If that lineup did nothing for you, it's highly possible you have never been nor likely shall be punk, sir.

Opening a show for the first time in a long time, Skeleton Dick got the night off to a predictably raucous start. Speedy, well-rehearsed and fully engaged, the band was a hard act to follow, sporting twin-guitar leads that put most metal bands to shame. They rewarded the early birds with favorite cuts like "Family Day at the Clinic" and even dragged Klotz on stage to provide vocals on a thoroughly punked-out version of the Smiths' "There is a Light That Never Goes Out." Highly fitting for the occasion.

If that tune had left any doubt as to whether Klotz could pull off an entire set of Smiths songs, the Smiffs erased it conclusively. If a bunch of stylish '80s alternative tracks from Manchester weren't exactly what the die-hard punkers in the crowd had signed up for, fans were certainly on their best behavior, cheering and applauding politely for each number. The Virginians played tightly and with passion, quite possibly introducing a few of the crowd's younger members to a whole new obsession.

It wasn't until Bickley took the stage next that things really got going, though. Appearances by the band are rare, indeed, these days, and they were greeted with great enthusiasm. Suddenly, the floor of the dank old club was packed and rowdy as hell.

Hands, beers and cameras went up and stayed up as Bickley tore through delightfully scatalogical old chestnuts like "Fuckwall" and "Pink Power Ranger." A shambling mosh pit roiled in abject celebration of the group's refusal to grow up... or grow old. By the time the band finished up with "Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight," the audience appeared ready to block the stage's exits, ensuring that Bickley wouldn't disappear back into the memories from which they'd so suddenly sprung.

"See you in 15 years," joked guitarist Uncle Dig. "Don't die!"

As for the headliners? Well, they've got a knack for making it feel as if they've never been away at all. If there's ever been a band more at home upstairs at Fitzgerald's I can't claim to have seen 'em. Their annual Christmas Day throwdowns have evolved into large, family-and-friends affairs over the years, and Saturday night's party was no different.

You only turn 20 once, and for a band now spread out across two states, 30footFALL managed to find the time and opportunity to work up a lengthy set list for the occasion. The local heroes seemed to play through not only every song they'd ever written on Saturday, but every song they'd ever heard.

If you haven't seen 30footFALL in a few years, rest assured that they've still got it. The tempos still snap, the guitar riffs still crackle and Butch still bounces around onstage like a much younger man. Their loyal crowd responded as if there'd never been any doubt, because let's face it: there wasn't.

After teasing the audience with the opening strains of Metallica's "Battery," the band tore through an exhaustive mix of old favorites like "Divided We Stand" and newer cuts like "Jesus, Elvis, and Richard Petty." Rolls of toilet paper sailed through the air during "Sabine Street Bridge" as the band's kids dove off the stage. It takes no less than two decades to achieve a bit of madness that charming, one imagines.

30footFALL seemed determined to spend another 20 consecutive years up on that stage on Saturday, playing long into the night. The crowd began to thin out a bit after 1 a.m., but the mosh pit never did. When the performance was over, it was easy to imagine the band heading straight back to Francisco Studios, ready to get to work on a new set list for their next show in December.

See you there.

Personal Bias: Houstonian.

The Crowd: Punks of all ages.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Dude, I had this on cassette.

Random Notebook Dump: With respect to Omar Afra and Jagi Katial, 30footFALL owns Fitzgerald's.

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