Sweat dripped through my gray Anti-Flag t-shirt as I marched from the 15 yard-line to the 20 yard-line in eight steps. I held my instrument in place and played along trying to look at the drum major while my feet dropped heel-to-toe, heel-to-toe.1The flutes marched in front of us and stepping right into my periphery was a girl who struck me for her eccentric style and overwhelming attractiveness. She was wearing plaid pants, Chuck Taylor’s and a navy blue MxPx t-shirt. Five days into my freshman year of high school and I had already laid eyes on the girl I would spend the next four years crushing on, and it all started with that shirt.
MxPx is what I like to think of as a gateway drug to the addictive sounds of punk rock. They were edgy enough to distinguish themselves from the radio-friendly alternative rock that was ubiquitous on the radio, yet innocent enough to make punk rock seem less intimidating than the perceived nature of kids cutting each other with razor blades and knives. I discovered them fairly early in my adolescence, via the song “Responsibility,” while watching the X Games. Much like Green Day had struck a nerve with kids my age years prior and how Blink 182 would do the same with kids my age years later, MxPx lead me down the rabbit hole of punk rock. By the time I was a freshman, I was so submerged that seeing a pretty girl wearing a shirt of a band I love made me fall in love with her.2
We would become best friends and I don’t think I would’ve been able to get through high school without her. We shared bands we liked with each other, went to Warped Tour together and even ended up going to the same University. One of the first bands she introduced me to was the Christian ska outfit Five Iron Frenzy. Third wave ska was still a thing in the mid 2000s and the band satisfied all of my music needs at the time. It came as quite a serendipitous surprise that Five Iron Frenzy would be making a stop in San Antonio opening up for MxPx in 2016, the ten-year3 anniversary of us graduating high school.
I never had the opportunity to see Five Iron Frenzy in high school, by the time I was introduced to them, they had broken up and although they did get back together, they toured sporadically and to my knowledge never came back to San Antonio. They took the Paper Tiger stage with the enthusiasm of a band half their age. I’ve seen a lot of bands reunion tours in the last few years and where most bands, you can see get easily drained after the first couple of songs, Five Iron Frenzy maintained a frenetic pace the entire show and only briefly did they take breathers. The band performs with the energy of a bunch of marching band nerds who like punk rock and wanted to start a band. As a former band nerd who loves punk rock, their enthusiasm spoke to me the same way it did over a decade ago.
Decked out in a Stussy4 T-shirt, lead singer Reese Roper comes across as a hybrid of Milo from the Descendents5 and Bruce Campbell in his stage presence. He is charmingly goofy and full of energy, running around stage and belting song after song with the conviction of a frontman who gives 110% of his soul to his craft. In the midst of dancing around during my favorite song “Milestone,” his wireless monitor tangled up with tenor sax player Leanor Ortega’s sax. I grew a little concerned this might ruin the song, but he kept on singing, basically tied up to her and she continued playing, having to lean in to him, while roadies and other band members attempted to untangle them.
Watching Five Iron Frenzy was everything I wanted it to be. My eyes glowed and a shit-eating grin grew on my face the same way it did when I listened to them on my high school crush’s Walkman at lunch. It was exactly the blast from the past I needed to prep me for MxPx. This was going to be the third time I’d seen them and the first time in ten years. In that decade, they’ve released a handful of new material I wasn’t too familiar with, much less interested in, so I grew a little worried I wouldn’t have as much fun. Then original drummer Yuri came to the stage for sound check. While I’d be lying if I said I’ve kept tabs on the band recently, the last I remember reading was that Yuri wasn’t going to tour with the band anymore, just record. Seeing him take the drum throne reignited the 12-year-old6 kid in my soul that perked up seeing the trio steal golf carts in their “Responsibility” music video.
As the band took stage, the pit immediately erupted. Crowd surfers were pretty common and the barrage of crowd movement sent some uncomfortable front rowers to get on stage so they could walk off to the sides. The band fed off of the crowd energy and returned the favor with a hyperactive display of 90s punk rock stage antics. They ran up and down the stage and frontman Mike Herrera even threw out a couple of Mike Ness-inspired guitar jumps much to the chagrin of the hyperactive crowd.
In the myriad of bands that have managed to stay relevant over the last two decades, it’s always interesting to see the crowds that show up to these shows. I saw Saves the Day a couple of years ago and the crowd was full of late 20/early 30-somethings nostalgizing7 about their teenage years. The same kind of crowd showed up for The Get Up Kids 20th Anniversary Tour last September. I was surprised to see a lot of X’s on hands as the band took the stage. The crowd was very diverse to say the least. I was standing next to a punker kid, about my age, who was wasted and looking to destroy people in the pit. In front of me was an underage couple holding on to each other bracing as the pit pushed forward. To my left was a teenage girl who, if I’m not mistaken, brought her dad along and dragged him to the front; although I will say, he looked like he was about it. Behind me was a very large man, in his mid 30s, who had hair everywhere except his head. He kept on leaning on me during songs and as we all jumped and danced around his stomach pressed into my back with every pogo and smashed me into the couple in front of me with every crowd movement. Needless to say, I don’t need to see the beginning of The Revenant because I experienced it first-hand.
The band managed to tap each era of their discography, saving the majority of the classics for last but even the newer stuff that I wasn’t too familiar with had me dancing along. It was interesting to see Mike go from revving up the crowd to wincing when somebody would take a fall crowd surfing. Obviously, the dude is not the same teenager who wrote a lot of these songs anymore and it was cool to see him transition from energetic punk bassist to concerned observer. I don’t know if this is an effect of aging or maturing or whatever, but it was cool to see somebody with this kind of punk legacy not try to show how punk he is.8
They ended the show with “Punk Rawk Show,” a song that has withstood the test of time over the last two decades. While a song with a basic power chord progression about being bored and going to a punk show isn’t revolutionary by any standard, the song has developed into a punk rock tradition especially in the late 90s/early 00s. The crowd was at its most energetic during this sendoff, singing along to every word and dancing to every beat. I momentarily lost my voice partaking in the sing-along.9 Never mind the fact that my legs were cramping and my lungs were grasping for air, the two and a half minutes this song was playing I was possessed by my dumb teenage self whose biggest concerns were the girls I crushed on and breaking curfew to go to punk rock shows.
This is what makes bands like MxPx and Five Iron Frenzy so special to people my age; they shaped our adolescence and brought us together. If it wasn’t for them, there’s a good chance I would have never become friends with one of the most important people I’ve met in my life. For that, these bands will always have a special place in my heart no matter how old I am.
1. This might be the most hyphenated words I’ve ever written into one paragraph.↩ 2. By high school standards, at least.↩ 3. Seriously, these hyphens are getting out of control↩ 4. A brand I like to think is exclusively worn by third wave ska bands and bands on Fat Wreck Chords in the early aughts.↩ 5. There’s a possibility this observation was based solely on his awesome glasses, but he did do that thing Milo does where he wraps the chord around his forearm and sings into it punk-style.↩ 6. If you’ve turned this hyphen thing into a drinking game, tread lightly, my friend we’re only at the half way mark.↩ 7. I know this isn’t a real word, but it should be.↩ 8. I could be reading too much into this, but Herrera seemed genuinely stoked by the crowd even allowing a few stage-invaders to snap a selfie with him while playing. While allowing that is a debate of its own, I feel if he’s cool with it, I’m cool with it. IF he wasn’t I wouldn’t have been mad if he responded like this.↩ 9. Last one, I swear. ↩