In the late 90s, it was difficult to immerse yourself in the punk world without being exposed to Pennywise. Not only were they one of the most ubiquitous punk bands of the 90s, but they also have maintained a legendary status in the scene on par with stalwarts like NOFX and The Vandals. I’ve always considered Pennywise to be the type of band that most people don’t jump right into listening to them right away. Whereas bands like Blink 182 and Green Day are gateway drugs to punk rock, Pennywise has always been a couple tiers high and you may have to ease up to them. I remember hearing “Bro-Hymn” for the first time and feeling like I wasn’t punk rock enough for it. Between Punk O Rama compilations and scouring my uncle’s CD collection, Pennywise was a constant. They transitioned me further into the punk rock world and after listening to them through my teenage years made me feel more like I could hang. Seeing Pennywise play at Alamo City Music Hall on Nov. 3 was not only a long time coming for me, but it was also a reminder of how I submerged myself into the punk rock world.
I arrived as Unwritten Law was a couple of songs into their set. Middle school, for me, revolved around trying (and mostly failing) to land kickflips and listening to songs like their biggest hit “Seein’ Red” and low key solid hit “Up All Night.” In addition to being half of the bands name dropped in Blink 182’s “Josie,” they’re also responsible for one of my favorite songs on Fat Wreck Chords essential Short Songs for Short People. I saw them earlier this year on tour with Fenix TX, and although this time around they were opening, they definitely felt a lot more on. They were great when I saw them before, but this time around felt a lot more energetic. I didn’t get off work in time to see the first band, so Unwritten Law was a nice jumpstart to the show.
As much as San Antonio gets stereotyped as a metal, the punk following is pretty alive and well. I like to think that Strung Out kind of embodies the sound amalgam that describes San Antonio’s music taste best. I’ve joked that Strung Out sounds like either a metal band that plays pop punk songs or a pop punk band that plays metal songs and to be honest, their sound was such a fresh take that I wasn’t ready for them when I first heard them in the late 90s. They’re a band that I kinda slept on because I heard one song I wasn’t really about and shelved them away. Years later I heard the song “Analog” and it blew my mind. The guitarists shred. I can’t think of a better guitar duo of any band on this level of punkdom. The best part is they know when to bring it and when to scale it back like on songs like “The Exhumation of Virginia Madison.” They didn’t play either of these songs, but they did break into a rendition of “Walk” by Pantera which was not only solid, but exemplified why they are the perfect band to play San Antonio.
And the Pennywise played. I really feel like I can’t say enough about the legacy Pennywise has built. They do this cover of “Stand By Me” that manages to stay punk rock while maintaining the essence of the original song and then out of nowhere Fletcher throws down this cool solo that is so unnecessary and yet so perfect that it almost feels like you can’t have that cover any other way. That guitar solo is part of what made me want to learn to play guitar. They played their fourth album About Time all the way through and reminisced on their three-decade run. My favorite thing about Pennywise is they just kill it. They’ve been touring and releasing albums consistently for so long and they still go all out. When they talk about the subject matters of songs they wrote 20 years ago, it still feels relevant and it doesn’t feel forced like they’re trying to exploit nostalgia. It feels so genuine and endearing that seeing them live for the first time nearly two decades after I first heard them makes me feel like I had the same experience I would have had I seen them as a teenager. There’s nothing more you could ask for from a band.