The Avengers, Pansy Division, Paul Collins Beat at The Uptown Nightclub, 9/17/09

by Dakin Hardwick on September 18, 2009

After the car crash...

After the car crash...

So much notoriety on this bill! Every single act on this bill has been a major part of musical history, yet none of them have experienced much in the lines of commercial success. We have The Paul Collins Beat, featuring Paul Collins of The Nerves. Classic power pop band best unknown for originally recording “Hanging On The Telephone,” later made in to a monster hit by Blondie. (If you ever listen to Sound Opinions, their version is the one they sometimes play before going to the listener feedback portion of the show.) Pansy Division’s claim to fame is being the all-gay pop-punk band with innuendo filled lyrics that Green Day selected as the opening act for the big Dookie tour in 1994. It seems that the parents weren’t very happy with them in the Midwest. The Avengers were the band that opened for the Sex Pistols at Winterland Ballroom in 1978, which of course was the last show the Sex Pistols ever played. (We do not discuss the Sex Pistols reunion.)

That being said, I walked in to the club to see Paul Collins Beat doing there thing. They sound like a fusion of alt.country and power pop, much like an older, gruffer version of the Old 97’s. The crowd is really small, but the few people there were really in to him. They even inspired an encore, which is rare for an opener.

Next up, Pansy Division. They are one of those bands that seem to never stop. Even during periods of “down time,” they are more active than most hard working bands. In fact, they are touring to support three different releases: a book written by founding member Jon Ginoli, a live DVD covering the history of the band, and a studio record. Not too shabby for a band where everyone pretty much still works day jobs.

Tonight’s set starts out relatively mellow. The crowd is still meager, but the few that are there are amped beyond belief. Despite their consistent hard work, it’s been a number of years since Pansy Division have played a full set in the Bay Area. Lately, their live appearances have been reduced to short sets at gay pride events. Early on, they pull out guaranteed crowd pleaser “Dick Of Death.” There are about 6 or so people dancing frantically, while the rest of the crowd looks on curiously.

The early portion of the set leaned heavier on the more “grown up” side of the band. The songs were slower, the harmonies were tighter, and the lyrical content (with the exception of the aforementioned “Dick…”) less profane. Bassist Chris Freeman handled most of the talking with the crowd, and proved that he has a mighty stage presence, even without much of the shtick the band had used in past tours. It was good and pure. It felt like a band that had nothing to prove, but enjoyed playing these songs and wanted everyone else to enjoy it as well.

But, since this is show business, you have to always leave them guessing. During the song “Obsessed With Me,” Freeman walks off stage only to return wearing a sparkly dress:

IMG_0662With the sparkly silver dress in play, the band amps things up more than a bit. They go from delightful power-pop vocal group to aggressive pop-punk band with an obsession with penis jokes. It’s also very adolescent, but in a good way. Even stranger, a group of girls come out of nowhere to hug the stage where Freeman is playing bass in his dress. (Later these same girls start hovering around hunky guitarist Joel Reader, who describes himself as the only straight guy in the band) We get an epic version of “James Bondage,” which is complete with Freeman playing the roles of both Bond and Bond Girl.  It was equal parts disturbing and amazing. Later, Freeman ripped a bible to shred, thus making them  the perkiest band in history to do so. The energy in the room increases rapidly, and everyone seems to be having the time of their lives.

I stole a set list, so you may peruse:IMG_0700

The Avengers take the stage at the stroke of midnight, and run straight in to “We Are The One,” the opening track off of their only studio album, which was released 1983, four years after the band initially broke up.

This isn’t the original line up of the band. Drummer Danny Furious and bassist James Wilsey have all moved on from music, and had no interest in participating in the band again. This tour, instead, features Pansy Division’s guitarist Joel Reader on bass and Luis Illades of drums. It made for an easy set change, since nothing moved. Not only did Pansy Division share members, they also share equipment.

The band is tight and furious. They run through nearly every song in their catalog with an energy that makes you forget that this is a band from the 70’s. Original guitarist Greg Ingraham never stops jumping, and plays each song with the ferocity of a young punk. You aren’t going to see playing with this much passion on the Warped Tour, that’s for sure.

They tear through nearly every song they know with little conversation. They sound exactly as they did 30 years ago, only slightly more refined, primarily due to the fact that vocalist Penelope Houston has learned how to sing properly, and Reader takes his role on back up vocals very seriously. The few times they strayed from the original arrangements of the songs, it was subtle, and had a positive effect. They did “White Nigger” as a big arena rock song, with more complex singing and cranking up the guitars even more intensely. Their cover of “Paint It Black” felt almost metal, where the original record was very much garage punk.

They closed the main set with “The American In Me,” the great political anthem that Pearl Jam would cover during the W. Bush administration. (Chorus: “Ask Not What You Can Do For Your Country, Ask What Your Country Is Doing To You”) It’s an epic shout along, and the crowd kept up the pogo. They encored with a cover of “Money (That’s What I Want)” that was soulful and punky all at once. Then, the sweaty masses walked out in to the balmy Oakland night.IMG_0670

(Avengers, Pansy Division, Paul Collins Beat tour winds down this weekend: 9/18 at Bottom Of The Hill in San Francisco, then they head down south to play the Galaxy Theater in Santa Ana on 9/19 and Echo in LA on 9/20)

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Brian September 18, 2009 at 10:47 pm

I saw two-thirds of this lineup at 924 Gilman early this year, and I’m pretty sure Pansy Division played a full set, but I could me misremembering things; I don’t have a setlist to prove it. In any case, nice review!

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