Naked Raygun

Knitting Factory, Dec. 7

“Anyone ever tell you you look like Steve Albini?”

“We were just talking about Albini! Did you know that he re-recorded Cheap Trick's album In Color back in '99 or something – when he was working with them on a new album?”

“No! That's my favorite Cheap Trick album!”

“Do you have the shirt with the black and white flag of Chicago on the front?”

“No man. That was this year's Riot Fest shirt. You had to be there to get that.”

These are some of the very Midwest-centric conversation snippets overheard at the other big reunion show that happened Friday night, a land where Cheap Trick still walk the earth as gods, Pegboy is big enough to get its own tribute album (on sale tonight at the merch booth), and talk of old punk shows in Chicago are divided between having taken place at the Exit's old location on Wells or their “new” location, since 1994, on North Avenue.

Naked Raygun never got to play the new Exit. After six albums, they broke up in late 90 or 91, still very much a local cult. But after their out of print Homestead albums got re-issued on Touch & Go, the label it seems like they should have always been on in the first place, their tuneful brand of punk seems to have filtered through to at least a few hundred punk kids willing to overlook the fact that this music is as old as they are.

It's surprising how many young kids fill the mosh pit at the Knit tonight. Some are dressed in absolutely ridiculous costumes, like a Halloween get-up of Sid Vicious or another deluded child with shaved head, white shirt and thin red suspenders. But a lot more just bounce around on the floor and balcony singing along with every song, just as familiar with the Regan-era lyrics as Jeff Pezzati is at the mic, if not more so.

The band seems a little… slow to react to its surroundings. Pezzati in particular wears a blank expression on his face and lowers the mic into the crowd like a dentist with a drill to let fans shout the chorus or the “Whoa oh oh” that fills many of the songs. When a guitar tech hands an instrument to him about half a dozen songs in, he acts like he has never seen the thing before, and only reluctantly takes the pick into his hand. Maybe they always showed this weird detachment when playing. Or after 15 years away, things look a little different from on stage.

They didn't play badly at all though, and the crowd completely dug it. There are strong melodies in these songs and that goes a long way. They ran through songs from early records like “Potential Rapist” from Basement Screams to later goodies like “Treason” from Understand?. “Surf Combat” and “I Don't Know” from Throb Throb, and finally “Blacklash Jack” after a guy in the balcony screamed himself hoarse for it after the ending of every song.

There's something a little odd about seeing these reunion shows by bands that disappeared more than 15 years ago. But then again, a few miles away the Spice Girls are playing the Staples Center for $125 a ticket, and that seems more foreign, more of a relic of a world long since past, then Naked Raygun. Check out these lyrics from “Peacemaker” on 1987's All Rise. Who knew 20 years later we'd have Bush and Cheney who would take these words so literally:

I am the peacemaker

I'll pound sand right up your ass

Our moral codes differ

You are scum… that's all

Your number's up

We've got your name and your middle name

I am the peacemaker

I am right and you are wrong.

I am the peacemaker

You are wrong

that is all

Not from Friday's show at the Knitting Factory:

Naked Raygun – Treason 05/05/07 Triple Rock Social Club Minneapolis, MN

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