[For more exclusive photos, see Timothy Norris' slideshow "Rancid @ The Music Box".]
Last Friday night the Music Box was stuffed to the brim with the unwashed masses of Los Angeles. Rainbow mohawks, black leather jackets, safety pins securely in body parts, and tattoos of every shape and color were festooned upon the naked arms of most of the attendees of Rancid's sold out benefit show. The legendary punk band did a two night stint at the Music Box donating some of the proceeds to The Silverlake Conservatory of Music, a local nonprofit that specializes in music lessons for underprivileged children.
This was an especially appropriate cause considering the surprising number of children who had come with their parents to see the show. Rancid's crowd is no longer just young men looking to jump around, although they do count for a huge chunk of attendees. No, it is now comprised of the kids who went to see them in the early nineties and their spouses and their children.
Punk rock has officially become a family affair.
It has also become a peculiarly sanitized event. The Music Box, after all, is too classy a theater to be holding a straight-up punk show. Years ago it would have been held in some tiny little club that smelled of the holy trinity of sweat, beer, and urine. Perhaps the oddest thing of all was the booths that were set up along the walls of the theater. Yes, there was a VIP section for a Rancid show where people could sit in comfy chairs and have drinks, elevated from the rest. However, I suppose in the name of charity, anyone who wants to pay a little extra cash to sit down at a show should do so.
After seven albums and countless tours, Rancid put together a set that was worthy of their magnitude. Decked out in all black, the quartet strode out on stage with all the pomp and circumstance of punk royalty. "Los Angeles, how the fuck are you guys doing?" guitarist, Lars Fredricksen demanded of the crowd while he picked his nose with his other hand. "I want to see the biggest circle pit!"
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He got his wish. As the first chords of "It's Quite Alright" began, a giant whirlpool of sweaty scamps opened up in the middle of the floor and sucked up any bystander that got in its path.
The key to Rancid's success is their ability to evolve and diversify with each album. They can play as fast as anyone, but they're also not afraid to venture from their meat-and-potatoes punk ("I Want A Riot" or "Salvation") into upbeat, poppier numbers, ("Fall Back Down" or "Last One To Die") or ska ("Timebomb" or "Ruby Soho"), or even politics ("New Orleans"). They really cover the whole gamut. Hell, even classic folk wasn't out of the question at the Music Box. Seriously, half way through the set, Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame (and the man behind the Silverlake Conservatory), came out and played Bob Dylan's "On A Night Like This" with the band.
The reward? These guys had an entire room who knew the lyrics to every single song. Most of the time Tim Armstrong didn't even have to sing because the chorus came bellowing out of the belly of the crowd. By the time the encore rolled around and they played "Timebomb," Armstrong's voice had all but given out, but it didn't matter. The people were there to back him up. It may have been fifteen years since that song first graced the airwaves, but the energy from the crowd made it feel like it had just been written yesterday.
Usually punk doesn't often age gracefully. Rancid may be that rare exception.