White Oak Music Hall
October 23, 2018
Storming the Los Angeles rock scene in 2011 with their aggression-fueled brand of “skate punk,” Fidlar wasted little time in solidifying a reputation for must-see live shows, a hedonistic party-centric lifestyle, and a wildly devoted following of rabid, angst-ridden kids that seem to have been searching for something just like this band to fill the void in what was then an anemic scene of cautious pop-rock (think Foster the People).
Further playing into this reputation, however, has been the band’s oft-lyricized history with drug-use—notably lead singer Zac Carper’s struggle with everything from heroin to methamphetamine, which in 2015, after the death of his then pregnant girlfriend, forced the band into a break and he into rehab.
Arising out of the hiatus came the band’s well-received “sober” album (in 2015’s Too), an abundance of music publications jumping at such an effortless redemption story, and an overall expansion in both the audience and the mystique surrounding the group. It’s an arc familiar to many rock and roll bio-reading nuts who revel in attaching backstory to the music in the hopes of attaining some heightened experience with the art or artist.
Considering that I happen to be part of this contingent, I couldn’t help but expect Fidlar’s reputation for unpredictability and general disorder to play out at last night’s show at White Oak Music Hall. However, what I quickly learned was that all assumptions about the band should be put on hold, because no interview, YouTube video, or rumor-fueled Reddit board can prepare you for the adrenaline-wrenching show this band is capable of rolling out on any given night.
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The band came out swinging with “Alcohol,” an already-released single off their forthcoming full-length due next January, which aside from immediately putting the band’s well-noted energy on display, quickly let all in attendance know that the band won’t be shying away from their substance-ridden image anytime soon. Just a couple lines in, Carper, in his somehow volatile yet melodic tone, is yelling about taking his “Adderall with milk and sugar,” and begging for anyone to give him some “ALCOHOLLLLL!,” which is repeated throughout the one-worded chorus in a unified chant by the crowd (who have already skipped the part about getting warmed up).
This theme continued throughout the first half hour, where anthemic sing-a-longs such as “No Waves” and “40oz. On Repeat” came one after the other, each met with the audience’s full participation (consisting of everything from stage diving to throwing beers to attempting a beach ball effect with blown up condoms). It may have been a Tuesday night, but neither Fidlar nor the Houston crowd were showing any signs of it.
On paper, lines like "I just wanna get really high/Smoke weed until I die” (from “Stoked and Broke”), or choruses that shout “Wake! Bake! Skate!” (from a title I bet you could guess), might come off like a campy reiteration of the ever-too-popular pop-punk wave dominated by MTV in the early-2000s. Throw in the band’s name (an acronym for “Fuck It, Dog, Life’s A Risk”), and it may be reasonable to assume that substance isn’t the priority here.
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Yet, when presented in live setting with this push and pull of intensity between the stage and crowd, by an embattled group of musicians that seem to be holding onto each word, you’ll quickly find yourself buying in and realizing that this band is channeling something far beyond some surface level gimmick. Throw in Carper’s tongue and cheek demeanor, and these elementary words evolve into a credible form of music that’s about feeling rather than thinking (which explains the general appeal behind punk music in the first place). For proof: the wide age gap of those in attendance on Tuesday night. Whether for means of aggression, stress, or simple fun, all in attendance (whether 13 or 33) were there to get their own hour and a half release in one of the few socially acceptable ways of doing so.
This credibility rang true even when departing from fan-favorite chants. Songs like “Can’t You See,” a pop-driven jam more reminiscent of the Arctic Monkeys than oft-compared contemporaries like the Black Lips, effectively displayed the band’s underrated level of musicality and ability to construct a song. This is largely due to guitarist and part-time vocalist, Elvis Kuehn, whose lead ability far surpassed what you hear on record, making for yet another surprising facit to Fidlar’s live show.
In a time when an untold number of music careers revolve around securing a public image for the purposes of streams or views, Fidlar continues to not give a damn. They embrace their label as the ironic dirtbags of punk teetering on the edge of addiction and implosion, and simply ask that their crowd “Don’t Fear The Weird,” a slogan emblazoned on the bass of Brandon Schwartzel throughout the night.
Although it at times feels a bit afflicting to champion these songs so directly related to such an alarming case of substance abuse, you can’t help but sense that it’s these shows that are pushing Carper and the band through—and it’s these situations of attaching the art to the artist that fans can get behind. They definitely were on Tuesday night.