I made it out to Aura last Saturday for one of the coolest lineups I’ve seen in a while: Flat Duo Jets, punk legends Agent Orange, and the always rockin’ headliners, Reverend Horton Heat. What a three-pack!
As I walked in it was clear to see this wasn’t a 21+ crowd. It was more like a 31+ crowd. It was so refreshing to see more folks swearing off Netflix and couches for the night. Cool sexy gals with Social Distortion t-shirts on and hair all done up in bandanas with their jeans rolled up high. A lot of the fellas looking like they came from a hot rod expo. This lineup was sure to bring out the wonderful crossover crowd of punk rock/rockabilly fans. None of the bands disappointed.
The two-man punch of the Flat Duo Jets slugged away as frontman Dexter Romweber laid out their brand of psychobilly/rockin’ bluegrass to a cheering crowd. It was easy to tell why — since the late '80s — the North Carolina act was a major influence on people like Jack White.
Orange County punk act Agent Orange (featuring only remaining original member Mike Palm) ripped through a solid hour set of originals and covers that shook the room up a bit. Well, as much as that older crowd could shake. A small, four-man mosh pit formed only to cave in due to the boredom and exhaustion of its participants. Yet there was some slight pogo action by fans going on closer to the stage. When the band blasted into the classic “Bloodstains”, the dust shook off a few more people.
The Reverend played the same as always, absolutely fantastic. Rock 'n’ roll origins. With the recent passing of Chuck Berry and the current state of dog shit the music industry is in, watching the Reverend was like charging a battery. Time has only made this band better, the music richer, the presentation more striking. Jim Heath prowled the stage with that comic book bad guy grin and managed to lay out some of the most faith-restoring guitar sounds anyone ever heard. They ended paying tribute to Lemmy with a nice story and then diving into Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.” I say this with all respect folks, all respect; the Reverend owns that song now. Really. If there was ever a perfect fit and someone to carry on such a tradition, it’s them and this song. It was everything the song is supposed to be: Heath’s screeching vocals, ear-ripping Gretsch's guitar-playing and Jimbo Wallace’s manic stand-up bass-slapping. Lemmy was smirking on the Rev from wherever he’s drinking these days.
As I watched this whole show from start to finish, I think about these cats and what they’ve been through. I watched Agent Orange who started in 1979 in California and thought to myself, kindly, should a punk rock band be playing almost 40 years later?
Punk rock is an immediate thing. It’s hasty and impatient. It happens because it has to happen, right then and there. It explodes onto all of us and what's to follow is of no one’s concern. It’s do or die music. Punk bands who played years ago, like Agent Orange, did it to live. Not to be able to make a career, but because it was their only way to exist in this world. Those bands weren’t filled with great musicians. They weren’t looking for the golden ring as they circled around the country time and again in busted-up vans littered with taco wrappers and dirty socks. They didn’t do it for record deals or money. It just had to be done, and they'd be fooling themselves if they didn’t deliver it, usually on their own dime and sleeping on someone else’s living room floor.
I then saw Agent Orange that night and thought ... why do it now? I’m not complaining. I’m psyched to be able to see them, but why do they need to do this? I can imagine there’s more pressure on them now more than ever. Now they need the money, they need to pay bills, they need to feed others. It’s weird to think, but now these older bands, punk bands specifically, are doing it to make a living. How ironic to see a band decide in their later years to make a go of it.
Reality set in though when Dexter from Flat Duo Jets mentioned on stage that their check from the previous night’s gig bounced and they had $300 between the two of them. Yet there they were, still playing. It's what you have to do, right? Try to get paid, sell shirts, and put gas in the tank to make it to the next city to do the same thing. They play to get paid to play again. Amazing. Even 30 or 40 years later, some of these acts are still living the right way.
Mark Curdo is the director of lifestyle & entertainment branding for Shipyard Brewing Company and longtime host of the Spinout radio show now on Sunday nights from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on 94.3 WCYY.