To say that Gordon Gano, lead singer of the hugely influential Violent Femmes, has completely eschewed the lazy exclusivist aspect of being an artistic icon of post punk and an originator alternative rock would be a monumental understatement. Though you could have found him collaborating with icons like John Cale, Lou Reed, PJ Harvey and Frank Black about ten years ago, yesterday’s performance on the Le Flambeau Preservation Hall stage with Pilette, LA-based Lost Bayou Ramblers made it clear that 2002’s Hitting the Ground chronicled the restless evolution of a man who has no intention of stopping his musical edification. Coming off less like a front man or celebrity cameo than a bona fide sixth band member, when he wasn’t backing up Louis Michot as he sang entirely in Cajun French Gano was ripping through dueling fiddle solos with him. And somehow they meshed perfectly, even for a modest take on “Blister in the Sun”.
Elswhere on the Le Carnival Bingo! Parlor stage, classic punk band X proved that age can’t kill a consummate live chemistry. Though you could easily get a good glimpse of X in their prime in the seminal 1981 rock doc The Decline of Western Civilization, this now much older band – with a 55-year youngest member and a 63-year oldest – is still drilling through song after song in the great Ramones tradition, and they haven’t lost much of a step if any at all. The towering and aggressive bassist/singer John Doe still plays up the greaser look and hops from one side of the stage to the other while fellow vocalist Exene Cervenka ungracefully flails and nails every purposeful, imperfect note. Genuinely revelatory though was underratedest guitar player of all time Billy Zoom, who effortlessly tore through fast, complex punk and rock n’ roll riffs with a flawlessness rarely heard in either genre – all without moving from his hilariously wide yoga stance or changing the blithe, Gomer Pyle-like expression from his face.
Finally, headliners Blink 182 surprisingly became the first band of the weekend to successfully brave the fritzy sound system of the Le Ritual Voodoo main stage. Though they were an undeniable smash success of the late 1990s and early 2000s, I had always credited Blink 182’s platinum-selling ascendancy to the late Jerry Finn, who – being one of the aural architects of the era along with Stephen Street, John Leckie and Dave Fridmann – managed to take a novelty pop punk act from Dude Ranch and give them the larger-than-life-on-record sound of Enema of the State and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.
And while it still may be true that Finn’s presence in the studio helped Blink 182 realize their trajectory as a hot-ticket live act, last night at Voodoo this band laid to waste my preconceived notion that a three-man pop punk act doesn’t have what it takes to fill not just a massive festival stage but one that had been less than kind to the likes of Soundgarden and Mastodon. Also surprising was how arena-ready many of these songs were, from quick simplistic punk numbers like “Dumpweed” to more overwrought material like “Stay Together For The Kids”. Along the way, guitarist Tom DeLonge and bassist Mark Hoppus smoothly riffed off of each other, providing for great vocal harmonies and their still relatively endearing dick and fart humor between songs. And with Travis Barker not hurting his case for greatest active punk drummer by basically laying on a lightning-fast drum roll for the duration of the set, it’s difficult to even think of Blink 182 as a pop punk band any more because that was a straight up arena rock concert.