As funerals go, there was no need for tears at the first of two farewell shows for D.O.A. at the Rickshaw. A capacity crowd showed up Friday to say goodbye to Joe Keithley’s iconic punk band. Nice to see the curtains lifted and the venue packed– upstairs and down – for a local show.
The run-up to D.O.A. taking the stage was steeped in politics, with a recording of Keithley reading a speech that could easily have prefaced a show by the MC5: “Are you on the side of joy, or are you on the side of fear, doubt, confusion, sexism, racism…? I want you to come on over! Come on over to freedom…!”
Once they plugged in, it took Keithley, bassist “Dirty” Dan Yaremko, and drummer FloorTom Jones a few songs—“New Age,” “He’s Got a Gun”, and “World War 3”—to find their stride. Jones had a bit of a rough time capturing the flavour of that last song’s complex rhythms. By the fourth number in, “Human Bomb”, D.O.A. found a way in, with kids moshing furiously to new numbers as well as old. A slightly sped-up “2+2” was followed by “Slumlord”.
Then came “I’m Right You’re Wrong”, off Keithley’s favourite D.O.A. release, War on 45, the band eventually trotting out almost the entire EP, including the Dils’ “Class War”.
Some poor schmuck kept trying to crowd-surf from a standing start in the pit, then tried to stage-dive when the band wasn’t actually playing; alcohol and moshing can be a bad combination.
Yaremko has nothing on legendary former D.O.A. bassist Randy Rampage for charisma, but he more than proved his talent as a bassist during a super-cool cover of the Wailing Souls’ “War in the East”, with Jones imitating dubby drum effects and Joe adding echo to his guitar and vocals. Yaremko also graciously shook hands with Rampage, '80s-era bassist Wimpy Roy, and other members of D.O.A. who appeared on-stage over the course of the evening. He also shared the mike with Keithley’s son Clayton, who did backup vocals on “The Prisoner” near the end of the main set.
The sprawling encore saw J.J. Heath, Jesse Pinner, Wimpy Roy, Rampage, Zippy Pinhead, and an ebullient, bouncy Ford Pier getting on-stage with Keithley, whose energy flagged not once. After powering through “I Hate You”, with Wimpy on background vocals, Keithley gave a little pro-decriminalization speech before “Marijuana Motherfucker”, followed by “The Enemy”. At one point, Wimpy Roy, Keithley, and Pier all were lying flat on their backs, air-cycling as they played their instruments, old friends having an immense amount of fun together, and a delight to watch.
The highlight of the encore was an unexpected one. Rampage got on-stage to do a lead vocal on one of D.O.A.’s ruder tunes, “Thirteen”. Rampage described Joe as a “man who has been putting his heart and soul into music for 35 years” and encouraged the audience to “give the man a fuckin’ hand.”
As the night drew to a close, Keithley dedicated “Fucked Up Ronnie” to Ronald Reagan (“You may be dead but you’re still fucked up!”) and led a second lengthy encore of “Takin’ Care of Business” and “Fuck You”, with Wimpy Roy on bass. Things ended with “Disco Sucks”, the song that first made the band notorious. “It was $16 to get in, but it’s gonna be 50 to get out,” Joe said at one point, clearly relishing his time on-stage.
“One last thing I want to tellya,” he growled at the end. “Together we can, together we will, together we must make this world into a better place than it is now. Thanks. We’re D.O.A.”
Openers the Fierce Creep bassist said it all: “Give it up for Joey Shithead. We’re all going to move to Coquitlam and vote for him, aren’t we?” Hooky but sick bass lines played at speeds reminiscent of Flipper’s faster tunes (i.e., “not that fast”) gave the band an almost funky, nu-metal groove, but overall their songs were in KBD classic-punk mode, with a measure of no-wave ugliness thrown in. The female vocalist looked a bit like Sissy Spacek when she was at her youthful, waifish peak; at one time it might have been surprising to see people so wholesome and well-adjusted-looking in the audience at a punk show, let alone up on-stage. Guess punk isn’t just the music of malcontents and outsiders anymore.
Rampage’s new unit, with Zippy Pinhead on drums and two younger guys covering guitar and bass duties, upped the ugliness, and also the KBD factor; even their half-dozen original tunes were so steeped in classic '70s proto-punk (with an undeniable dollop of cock rock) that they sounded like covers of songs just obscure enough that you couldn’t put your finger on them (“Is this by the Nervous Eaters?”). Not that Rampage—in leather, bass-free, and whipping his long blond hair like K.K. Downing—didn’t offer a few covers as well.
Some idiot in the pit who looked a lot like me let out a throat-ripping cheer as the band kicked into “Sonic Reducer”; Rampage had joked in the intro that “some” of the audience would be old enough to remember it. The band also did Gerry Hannah’s timeless anthems “Slave to My Dick” and “Fuck You”—the first of two performances of that song during the night, this one with added background yelps from a former bandmate of Rampage’s, Heather Haley, standing in the audience. A Negative Trend song dedicated to Will Shatter also featured. Rampage’s voice sounded surprisingly great—snotty, growly, and raw; too bad his band abstained from doing “Livin’ on Borrowed Time”—a Rampage classic from back in the day, and streamable on Rampage’s official site.
There were only maybe a handful of true first-generation Vancouver punks present, all of whom stayed well clear of the exuberant mosh pit, dominated by 20-somethings, male and female.
The Rebel Spell, soon to be the greatest punk band in Vancouver if the old folks keep retiring, opened with violins and keyboards for the title track of their newest album, It’s a Beautiful Future. The expanded instrumentation also came in handy for the Euro-folk introduction to “Uncontrollable”, their cover of Leon Rosselson’s “The World Turned Upside Down”, and a rare performance of their reggae tune “They Know”.
Todd Serious had a Mohawk with a free-flying ponytail, a style that suggested an aboriginal warrior. (He has no First Nations blood, he’s told me. He’s strictly of “colonizer” stock, but has a passion for self-determination, name-checking everyone from the Zapatistas to Wolverine—the Gustafsen Lake warrior, not the X-Men comic hero—in his songs.) Wretched Erin, the guitarist, had a more overt sexiness to her presentation than usual, with slits in her leggings and a strap falling from her lacy top during her more furious riffing.
Elliot of the SSRIs on bass now seems a full-fledged member, two years into his tenure with the band, while Stepha’s husband Travis filled in on drums, with Stepha sidelined in Lillooet with a sick dog, a baby to care for, and carpal tunnel syndrome from her job as a seamstress. The high point, at least in terms of stoking the pit, was likely the inclusion of former bassist Chris Rebel’s “December 8th, 1980”, an overpowering anti-Reaganite anthem about the conspiracy to assassinate John Lennon. They may have had pamphlets on their merch table with titles like “Go Vegan Now” and “What’s Wrong With Leather”, but the seriousness of their politics never stops the Rebel Spell from being an immensely engaging live act.