Down in Clifton Park, Rancid’s Playing Kill Number 20
(by the guy in The Sports who can’t play an instrument for shit)
There’s this gothic building in downtown Albany you can see looming over whatever expressway it is that cuts through downtown Albany. No idea what purpose it serves, or served, but as our Zipcar sped past it on the way to the Rancid 20th Anniversary show, Jake, Christine and I all agreed that it most likely only existed so that people who’ve passed through Albany could have something to talk about when they met Albanians in other cities.
“Oh, yeah, I know Albany. You’ve got that sweet gothic building. What the fuck is that thing for?”
The show wasn’t actually in the state capital. It was in Clifton Park, a shitty suburb that really isn’t shittier than any other suburb. The trip up took four hours, an hour of it spent start-stopping our way out of Manhattan. Rancid was headlining the Black N’ Blue Bowl the next night at Webster Hall, which is two blocks away from my apartment, but Jake’s band Tragedy: All Metal Tribute to the Bee Gees had a conflicting show in Jersey, and regardless, at my age it somehow makes more sense to see punk acts in just-past-Albany than it does at Webster Hall.
Clifton Park has one of every single chain restaurant there is, like a Noah’s Ark of places that serve blandly prepared dead passengers from Noah’s Ark. We ate at a non-chain that called itself Sushi Thai @ The Park, even though it actually sat in the middle of “The Shops”. The ceiling tiles could’ve been stolen from my old middle school, but the food more than lived up to its Yelp billing, so if you’re in Clifton Park and want sushi, Thai, or both, you can’t go wrong with Sushi Thai @ The Park in The Shops.
(look how good that fucking Thai looks! they also have sushi)
We planned on driving back right after the show, and I had a 9:30am pre- Great Googa Mooga beer breakfast the next morning, so when our kimono’d waitress came for our drink order, I asked for a Coke and proudly proclaimed myself “straight-edge.” Christine and Jake proudly proclaimed me full of shit. Jake also said that in the punk community, if you fall off the wagon after declaring yourself straight-edge, you’re never allowed to call yourself that again. So I had a little over 12 hours to stupidly misuse a term some guys take deadly serious.
Northern Lights is a surprisingly persistent venue on a lot of bands’ tour schedules. It’s in a much crappier strip mall than Sushi Thai’s, far enough off the main thoroughfare that the good people of Clifton Park can conveniently forget it exists, unless they’ve got kids who attend Cartwheels Gymnastics, or earn walking-around money by turning in bottles at NY State’s most desperate-looking recycling center. In a lot of ways, though, the location was perfect. Why the fuck would you want to see Rancid in a nice strip mall?
The line situation looked dire. There were also lots of dudes walking around without their shirts on. I probably shouldn’t have worn a western shirt with snap buttons – there’s a school of thought that says defiantly wearing whatever you want to wear is punk, but it’s a remedial school of thought you’d be ashamed to admit your children attended. Once things started moving along, one of the dozen huge security guys frisked me, and pulled a grape blow-pop my dry cleaner’d given me out of my pocket. He laughed and said, “Man, that’s kind of creepy, there ain’t no kids in here!” I offered him the blow-pop, but he declined, and as soon as I walked inside I realized there were a lot of kids in here. The place was packing in 1100, at least half of them barely- or not-born the last time I saw Rancid, in ‘95 at Trees in Dallas. Still, I figured I should keep my sucker to myself.
We walked to the right of the main floor, past the bar, and through an area that looked like a food court for the filthy mall where Valley Girl Nic Cage would’ve bought a birthday present for the girl he banged in bathrooms before meeting Julie, and then one more time after meeting Julie. Jake handles Rancid promotion in the greater NYC area, so he had us down for backstage, even though we were well outside the greater NYC area. We got momentarily stymied by two of the most junior security staffers I’ve ever been denied by, but only because they had no idea what their own club’s VIP wristbands looked like. I’m pretty sure if I come back for Rancid’s 40th Anniversary they still won’t have been promoted.
Backstage was actually the back parking lot, filled up by equipment trucks and a bunch of friends-of-the-band who were so goddamn big and tough looking they’d make Ron Jeremy’s dick terror-shrink to the size of an edamame bean from Clifton Park’s number one sushi and Thai restaurant, Sushi Thai.
at The Park, at The Shops.
They actually all seemed pretty nice, albeit the kind of nice you can afford to be when you know you can single-handedly populate an entire emergency room. I got to very quickly meet Tim Armstrong, who I can say with certainty was pretty nice, very nice even. He’s got a quiet way of letting you know he regards you as a full-fledged human being even though he’s a legend who’s got nothing in common with you other than the fact that you bought some of his records back in the 90s, and you recently donated a bunch of shoes to the place he was forced to sleep for a year. I didn’t mention either of those things, but they were pretty obvious, because I was wearing a snap-button western shirt.
(the view from the side - notice that the camera isn’t smashed under some dude’s foot)
We caught the show from the side of the stage. Not actually on the stage though – that’s where CM Punk was hanging out. The WWE was filming a documentary on him, and he’s the world’s biggest Rancid fan, so he spent the entire hour and a half never-stopping-bouncing and singing literally every single word to every single song. It was pretty fucking impressive, as were his abs. Seriously dude, how many crunches do you do? Or is there a better exercise than crunches? I need to know.
Also fucking impressive: the band, and the mosh pit. At that Dallas show I’d been 23 and already felt too old to thrust myself into the scrum, which explains why I’d watched from a balcony seat while saying things like “I’m too old for that shit, blah blah blah, I’m like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon”. Anyway, the band kicked just as much ass as they did back then, the mosh pit – which starred this amazing kid who’d clearly stolen Tim Armstrong’s 1990s mohawk – was just as fraternally ferocious. And I am still exactly as big of a pussy.
So Armstrong had his hat slanted over his spiderweb head tattoo, and was ska-jumping about with a wry little hunch, like some super-cool Quasimodo. Lars Frederiksen was hoarse-voice screaming like Gale Force Rod Stewart, Matt Freeman was hoarse-voice screaming with only slightly less power, the drummer was doing something I couldn’t see because there was a big pillar in the way, and the mosh pit was getting frantic. One fan jumped the stage and got powerfully shoved off by the band’s private muscle, an impassive giant who looked very much like Khal Drago from Game of Thrones, and should definitely be cast on Sons of Anarchy if they ever need somebody to go toe-to-toe with Opie. A couple of fights broke out, or at least some moshing that the bouncers superhumanly perceived had crossed the line from good violence to bad violence. They neck-dragged a few guys out the door, moving so fast that, if you were in the way, you had to make like a goalie during a free kick: guess which way the action was flowing, and sprint the opposite direction. At one point I spun Christine around towards the wall and stood my ground protectively with my hands on her shoulders, and my back to a 400lb juggernaut of bouncer+jackass. The incident taught both of us that the better part of valor is “what-the-fuck-just-happened?”.
Lars addressed the situation:
“Hey, I don’t know what those flashlights mean, but I can guess,” he said in a tone that resonated with camaraderie, authority, and brawling cred (basically the opposite of Mick Jagger in Gimme Shelter). “If any of you guys feel like you have to fight, or if any of you chicks feel like you have to fight, please go to the bathroom, jerk off, and come back and join the party.”
Everybody cheered. Then the rest of the band left the stage and Lars played “War’s End” solo. Everybody sang along, and if after that there was one person in the room not blown away from thinking “I’ve never seen a tougher man perform a more tender song,” then that person was as out-of-place as a gothic building in Albany, and as stupid as all the rest of the buildings in Albany that just aren’t gothic enough.