The Dead Rabbits, 30footFALL, the Velostacks Griff's Irish Pub March 17, 2015
St. Patrick's Day can be a tough gig -- especially on a Tuesday. No matter how energized and well-rehearsed your band shows up, you're still always going to be playing second fiddle to sheer drunken revelry. If you can win the crowd over early, your set can become a triumphant, beer-soaked blast. If anything goes wrong, however, the shenanigans can turn into a shit-show in a hurry.
There was a little bit of both going on last night at Griff's, the long-cherished Montrose sports pub that was celebrating its 50th annual St. Paddy's Day blowout with a trio of quality punk-rock acts. The Velostacks, 30footFALL and the Dead Rabbits have all proven more than capable of delivering the goods over the years, but turning a parking-lot tent right next to a face-painting booth into a real-life rock concert on a Tuesday night proved a struggle. The musicians began the evening working hard to engage the crowd any way they could, and ended it just trying to survive.
The Velostacks, a collective of local punk-rock lifers, kicked off the punk portion of the evening a little after 7 p.m. with their signature brand of revved-up rock and roll. The group took a lengthy soundcheck, but it paid off: They had the best mix of the evening. A nice crowd bopped around down front to the Velostacks' simple, catchy guitar riffs, but the majority of the crowd at Griff's preferred to just kind of mill around, bouncing from beer line to porta-can to bar and back again. The 'Stacks were putting on a good show under the tent, but not a lot of folks seemed too interested.
30footFALL fared a bit better. After all, every gig they play these days seems to fall on a holiday, so a latter-day appearance from the ex-rulers of Houston's '90s punk scene is always cause for celebration. Fans down in front of the stage whooped it up as the band opened with a punky version of the "King of the Hill" theme song that segued into "Fuck You We're From Texas," but even with the band delivering a typically spry performance, the tent only really ever got half full.
It didn't help that the tent sounded like a tent. The PA for the gig was rather small and underpowered, to be kind. To their credit, 30footFALL still played as if they were headlining at the Astrodome, and their die-hard fans up front had no problem skanking on the beer-slicked pavement. There was no getting around the fact that the cheap audio robbed the band of a good bit of their typical punch, however.
Sadly, the headliners fared even worse in that department. The Dead Rabbits' set drew the biggest crowd of the night, filling up that blasted tent at last. And why not? The Rabbits' potent blend of Irish folk and punk rock is tailor-made for St. Pat's, and the swelling mob at Griff's was most definitely feeling the booze by the time the band cranked up.
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Unfortunately, they weren't able to crank up very loudly or clearly. Much of the Dead Rabbits' crucial acoustic instrumentation - the flute, mandolin and banjo that give them their folksy charm - was completely lost in the mix. Reduced essentially to guitar and drums, it was all-too-apparent that the band was having great difficulty hearing themselves onstage as well, further robbing them of their tight vocal harmonization.
What I'm saying is, the Dead Rabbits certainly didn't sound their best in that tent -- but that turned out to be the least of their concerns. Almost right off the bat, it seemed, the band took exception to the loutish behavior of a reveler or two near the front of the stage as the beer flew. As the Rabbits' banjo player grew increasingly incensed by something or other that only he could see happening, the gig suddenly seemed to spin out of control.
After a good bit of shouting, somebody in the crowd appeared to be removed from the premises, only to reappear a couple minutes later and hop on the stage to physically confront the band. The possibility of an all-out brawl seemed pretty real before the guy was finally wrestled offstage.
That was certainly pretty punk-rock, I guess, but it was also a drag. In the mayhem, one of the Rabbits' amps was taken out, necessitating a break to repair. Most of the audience took it in stride, taking the opportunity to load up on more booze and chat up their friends. Increasingly, the music felt like a strange sideshow, but it was hard to tell how many people actually noticed.
Luckily, the Rabbits rallied. As they put their heads down and plowed through the mess, the sound quality finally improved, with a much fuller and richer mix filling the tent at last. The rather inebriated crowd came together to help out on sing-alongs like "Get Back to Drinking" as the night finally began to feel like a Dead Rabbits show. There was fighting, there was singing and there was skanking enough to make any Irishman simultaneously proud and mortified - St. Pat's in a nutshell, maybe.
It was far from perfect, but aw, hell: here's to another 50 of these nutty things at Griff's. It could've been a lot worse, after all. At least we never ran out of beer.
Personal Bias: English descent.
The Crowd: Green, and slightly greener around the gills, now, I'd wager.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I thought you said these guys were good?"
Random Notebook Dump: Everything was a tad more low-key than I was expecting. Chalk it up to a Tuesday, I guess.
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