The Restarts @ East Side Joe's 6/12/08
Posted Jul 10, 2008, by The Bear.
Featured Artists: The Restarts; Genre: Punk;
The Restarts are one of my favorite Punk bands from the U.K. I first saw them at CBGB’s in March of 2004 and have liked them ever since. But they rarely come to the U.S. Since forming in 1995 they’d only been over here once in 1997, and once in 2004. Despite that they have a considerable following over here; when I saw them at CB’s a common question I heard kids asking them was “we’ve been waiting years for you to come. Why didn’t you come sooner?” Now that they’ve finally come back to the U.S. for a third time I again heard a bunch of similar comments at the show in Las Vegas that I caught on Thursday, June 12th, at East Side Joe’s.
So what is it about the Restarts that people like so much over here even though they come here so rarely? Simple: they’re fantastic! They play British Punk in a classic style, which tends to be a somewhat slower, more melodic type than a lot of American Old-School bands do, but they mix it up a lot, infusing elements of the faster old-school style, and a healthy dose of ska, and touches of reggae in a lot of the songs. All of which combines to make a much more diverse, melodic, listenable, and over all fun band (even if they are heavily political in their lyrics) than you might expect on first glance.
Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay them is that they are one of the very few bands that I’ve ever arranged (or rearranged) major travel plans to see. I began currently writing this review on June 14th in Valdez, Alaska. I arrived there on the 13th for a conference and stayed until the 21st. Unfortunately, as I knew weeks before, the Restarts’ dates in Los Angeles were scheduled for the 13th when I’d have to travel north, and the 15th – neither of which I’d be able to catch. For most bands I’d chalk that up to “oh well, that’s life” however until I heard there was going to be a Las Vegas show on the 12th I was actually giving serious consideration to going to Phoenix, AZ, for their show on the 11th and then coming back to L.A. before going north. The Las Vegas show on the 12th was much more manageable, however, and I immediately changed my travel plans to leave L.A. on the 12th and divert to Vegas for one night before heading north just so I could see them. I have been waiting four years for them to come back – and oh boy was it worth it!
But first a few words about the Las Vegas underground Punk Scene itself. Despite views of Las Vegas as one big glitzy strip mall of casinos and amusements a real city does exist there, although it’s one that most visitors rarely venture out to. The place I was headed for was three lengthy bus rides away from the strip and took me far out into the sprawl of the regular city. Once beyond all the climate control of the casinos it really does hit you that this city is located in the desert. It was, as one might expect in June, excruciatingly hot during the day, and not much cooler once the sun went down, although at least it was a dry heat, which made it a little more bearable.
One might wonder how in a city where gambling and tourist amusements are the main industry a genuine underground Punk scene can exist – but it does, oh yes it does. And the right shows or parties will bring out the kids. This was one of those occasions. Even though it was a week night and it was an early show (scheduled to start at 5 PM) there were still at least 80 to 90 people at the venue.
There aren’t many music venues away from either the strip or the older downtown area, and of course a lot of venues don’t hold all ages shows. In fact one thing I heard repeatedly from people I met at the show was that there were no permanent underground all-age Punk clubs. Whenever someone tries to start one it gets shut down after a couple of months. The main reason for this (so I was told) would be kids loitering around outside the venue; kids not necessarily there to see the show but to hang out at the scene with friends, often drinking (illegally), or just basically causing trouble, leading to eventual complaints, the arrival of the police, and finally the shutting down of the club.
To be fair this is a problem that is definitely NOT unique to Las Vegas, but is quite common at shows. Clubs have different ways of dealing with it (not always effectively). The bouncers at CBGB’s used to tell kids hanging out on the sidewalk to “move down the block” and not loiter in front of the club. A lot of clubs have a “no ins and outs” policy, meaning once you’re inside you can’t enter and leave the club at will. But the luckiest clubs in this regard are probably the ones that have extra space, say an inside courtyard or extra room away from the show area where people can go and hang out between bands, or if they want to skip whoever is currently playing on the stage.
Which brings us to East Side Joe’s, a still new venue in Sin City (it’s only been open for a couple of months as of this writing) which, due to its unusual set-up just “might” be able to stay in existence for a longer period of time. It’s mostly an empty outdoor lot. The only “front door” so to speak is an old-fashioned mail-box at the edge of the street with the street address on it. The lot has a wall on either side; on one side is a low housing complex, on the other is some sort of industrial site which includes a lot of large trucks. Down a driveway, set back from the street one sees a small shed; immediately behind it is a house which is uninhabited and used mainly for storage. It also happens to be where the shows are held (more on that in a bit). Some distance behind that house is a second house. This is where the person who runs the club lives and works. It also contains a small half-pipe in the main room which is actively used.
The stage area is located against the side of the front house which faces the trucking area (mostly unseen behind the border wall). There’s a very low porch on that side of the house that’s used mostly for setting up drums, with the rest of the band using the area right in front of the porch. Because it’s the desert the people who run the club try to minimize dust clouds from moshing by putting down large rugs in the central dance area in front of the stage (this is only partly successful).
The whole compound is spread out over a couple of acres and the biggest benefit of it all (as far as its chances of surviving are concerned) is that if people in the crowd aren’t interested in whoever’s on stage at a given moment and/or just want hang out with their friends there’s plenty of extra space for them to do that inside the venue, thereby hopefully avoiding the “loitering and trouble-making” on the street problems that have brought down other clubs.
Yet somehow we still had a visit from the police, who showed up at one point because of some kids who had been making graffiti on the street. The cops came in to East Side Joe’s thinking it was people there doing it (they even put someone in handcuffs for a bit, but eventually released him) but it turned out they were wrong, and the kids they were looking for were not part of the show crowd. Eventually they left without further incident.
So after all this, what about the show itself? It was awesome, naturally. The whole experience was almost exactly what one would hope to see at a real underground Punk show (although thankfully without any rioting). Despite it being an early show (5 PM doors [such as they were]) on a week night in the blistering upper 90s - low 100s degree heat of the Nevada desert in mid-June, with the sun still high in the sky when the venue opened, and no air-conditioning since it was outdoors, the show still attracted about 90 fans. The Restarts themselves said it was one of their favorite shows of the tour up until then.
There were supposed to be five bands playing (three local bands first, and then the two touring bands), but only three actually did. The first band on the bill, local band the Infested, had to cancel because their leader had been arrested and was in jail. The second band, the Death Kids, also a local band, had their set pulled at the last minute by the guy putting on the show because everything was running very late and either there was an underage curfew in effect, or he just didn’t want the show to run past 10 PM (also the fact that the band was missing some drum equipment and wanted to borrow from the other bands played a role too). At any rate they didn’t play, which didn’t sit too well with their fans, of whom they have a fairly sizable number, and whom the out-of-town bands knew too. Some of the kids tried to start a “Death Kids” chant at the end of the show, but they never did get to play.
So the first band that actually performed was the Murder Majesty, the third local band, who’s leader was the one putting on the show. They only played a few songs because it was already pushing 8 PM by the time they started playing and they wanted to get to the touring bands. Unfortunately I didn’t really see enough of them to form a real impression of what they’re like.
All this sounds like the makings of a first rate fiasco of a show, but the last two bands more than made up for it. The main support band was Mouth Sewn Shut, who was doing the tour with The Restarts. Mouth Sewn Shut comes from the Boston area and two of the members are also members of Toxic Narcotic whom I saw a couple of times several years ago. I never really cared for Toxic Narcotic all that much, so didn’t think I would especially care for Mouth Sewn Shut either. Boy was I wrong! A couple of songs into their set the lead singer announced they were going to do a song called “Drunk White Jesus.” That caused me to turn my head towards the stage in a “hmm, what have we here?” kind of way. When the song started I liked the opening riff at once. After that they had my full attention and they didn’t lose it for the rest of their set.
Mouth Sewn Shut played an excellent set combining the East Coast Hardcore style with reggae and ska; they describe themselves over on their myspace site as “Bombastic Hardcore Reggae Ska Crust Punk” and that’s as good a description of them as any other that I could think of. They certainly got the crowd going – there was an impressive circle pit during their set which kicked up a big desert dust cloud despite the rugs on the ground.
So then it was finally time for the Restarts. It was about 9:15 when they went on. Despite the heat and the dust they played an amazing set. One might expect the set list to lean heavily on the newest album, Outsider, and there were plenty of songs from that record, but they mixed it up with good representation from their other albums, System Error, and Slumworld as well. I was especially pleased to hear such classics as “Legacy of Bigotry,” “Timewaster,” “Crucified,” and “Outsider,” which although new is already considered a classic by the fans and drew a big response from the crowd. All three of the Restarts share vocal duties which allows them to switch off on songs or combine and sing together for extra impact.
Their set was extremely tight and there was usually a pit going, but the highest point of the show came at the end. The formal finale was “Frustration” a very old song of theirs that’s a general favorite of fans (but which unfortunately can never be played on the radio). The added jolt of adrenaline during this song caused the crowd to start flooding the stage and grabbing at the microphones to sing the lyrics themselves much much more than they were already doing. This song was followed by the encore, “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” another crowd favorite that kids had been screaming for all during the set (and which Kieran at one point had assured everyone “was coming”). If “Frustration had caused the crowd to start flooding the stage “Big Rock Candy Mountain” completed the fusion of band and fans to such a degree that Kieran and Robin essentially stepped back from the mics. and let the crowd do a lot of the singing for them while they played their instruments. It was a perfect ending to wild show with a wild pit and fans jumping on each other to grab the mics. And yet no one got hurt.
After it was over The Restarts were kind enough to give me a lift back to the strip and we, and several other punks, hung out until the wee hours of the morning. A few of the people in our crowd were from Georgia and apparently they had been following the Restarts on the road since the Atlanta show (yes, just as if they were the Grateful Dead), and were going to continue doing that for several more shows. Eventually the band and I wound up at the Slots-A-Fun casino where I discovered that Robin’s choice of game was Roulette, and Darragh ad Kieran both eventually joined him. For a while I remember attempting to explain to Kieran the basics of how Craps is played, but I think it was too late, and we were all a bit too frazzled by then for the lesson to be effective.
We said good-by around 4 AM as they went off to crash before having to drive to Los Angeles later that day for their next show. I went back to my room, packed, crashed for a couple of hours, went to the airport, and got on a flight to Alaska. The conference I was headed to is a theatre conference that I go to every year and it’s a highlight of the year. This year, however, as I got on the plane to Anchorage, I actually found myself wondering if the whole rest of my trip would be an anti-climax to the Restarts show. For the record it wasn’t, and it was silly of me to think it would be. But the mere fact that the thought even crossed my mind is a testament to just how amazing that show was.
So the Restarts have come and gone from America for the first time in four years. If you got to see them you know how great they are. If you didn’t, well make sure you don’t miss them the next time they come over to this part of the world, which I hope will be just a little sooner than another four years!