Less Rock, More Talk... Part II

Life's a speech — and then you turn 30.

The first thing I saw when I entered the Culture Room was a giant banner that read "Resist the Green Scare." In the corner to my left, a small drum circle formed. Soon, a belly dancer joined in, as did a few more drummers. Several information booths were set up, offering loads of literature, mostly concerning animal rights and free-speech abuses. Gone were the typical band e-mail lists; in their place were petitions (a statewide land-use amendment) and sign-up sheets (FloridaHotSeat.org).

You'd be right to assume I wasn't at the October 5 Soulfly show. No, it was a day later, at the October 6 "Speak Up!" benefit show. After last week's column about cookie-cutter stage banter, I knew this was something I might dig — despite the constant whining by my cranky cohort, Duke Dubuque.

"This sucks," he said during the first band's performance. And the second. And about ten more times before the night ended. But hey — that's his freedom of speech, you know? Duke did, after all, throw down seven bucks to get in.

Musically, there was a good deal of spacy experimentalism, earthy jams, and singer/songwriter fare. The lineup included Teri Catlin, Xavier Hawk, Ana Kanpa, Fourth Dimension, Crazy Fingers (with the Heavy Pets' Jeff Lloyd), and Alonso the Poet, as well as intermittent speakers. Ana Kanpa, for instance, was heavy on the New Age theme, opening its set with a meditation in some language I didn't recognize. But when the music started, it was the kind of thing I'm familiar with — catchy, song-based alt-rock. Not bad, I thought. True, I generally like music that packs a little more of a punch. But I'll take anything with a hook and a melody. Besides, when the performances took a turn toward outer space — and a few of them did — there was enough going on in the patio to bring me back down to Earth. It was a busy night indeed.

For a local show, the 300-plus in attendance were proof that music for a cause isn't necessarily a lost cause. Organized by Ana Kanpa vocalist Val Silidker, the people involved with Speak Up! seemed like a close-knit group. Silidker herself is a member of numerous organizations like the Sierra Club, MoveOn.org, Sea Shepherd, Kinship Circle, Humane Society, and Rattle the Cage (she's the vice president), to name a few. Of course, Silidker was far from the only one reppin' those groups. There was a definite sense of cohesion, probably because the event broke the traditional band/audience dynamic. The drum circlers and animal rights people were as visible as the stage performers. After all, it was the activists who took in the evening's door money. The beneficiaries were six members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, who have been jailed for protesting the British animal-testing laboratory, Huntingdon Life Sciences. According to SHAC supporters, the group did nothing more than post information on the Internet that negatively affected the lab's business. For that, they were convicted under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Nothing was blown up. No one got naked and ran through a supermarket. No spray paint was involved. It was all a matter of speech (and money).

"Unfortunately, we are losing this right in a dark and manipulative manner," Silidker said. "And it is beginning with, but certainly not limited to, those who stand up for the voiceless — the animal activists."

Now, I'm not going to pretend I'm some kind of activist myself. Though I have taken part in my share of political benefit shows over the years. My fondest memories are still from my very first, an Amnesty International benefit. It was 1994, and Lake Worth's Bryant Park was packed with all manner of music fan. The show's lineup ran the gamut from ska-punk to metal to goth and, of course, whatever the hell my group at the time could have been categorized as (other than just plain obnoxious). It was a truly diverse set of bands. And then the cops came, putting an end to the "noise disturbance" and letting off a little tear gas along the way. (All I remember, at the very end, was the crowd chanting "Fuck the Po-lice!")

So yeah, it's been a while since I frequented such events. And sure, Fats would have enjoyed Speak Up! more if the music was a little livelier ("More talk and more rock!"). But that's not really the point of a benefit show. The cause comes first.

Just be sure to bring friends who might actually enjoy themselves.


And now on to the Vibrators show at Maguire's Hill 16 on October 8. Yes, those Vibrators — the legendary Brit punks who put out more than two dozen albums since the golden days of the late-'70s (including the classic track "Baby, Baby"). Unlike a lot of their peers, the Vibrators didn't break up when punk "died" and re-form in the mid-'90s to show all those snotty Green Day fans who's boss (and to make a quick buck).

These guys have been carrying the torch (and their own gear) for the past 30 years. That number was something I obsessed about all night. Yes, it was Fats' 30th birthday, that momentous occasion no one wants to think about (until ten years later, of course). But I wasn't worried. I didn't feel at all old. Maybe if I were at a Fall Out Boy show or something. But not here — how could I feel old when the guy rockin' the stage, guitarist/vocalist Ian "Knox" Conochan, is more than twice my age? The dude's in his early 60s, and he tore through a 40-minute set without pausing for a breather. The only noticeable breaks came when Eddie the Drummer chimed in with his colorfully British commentary. ("We thought Thatcher was bad, but at least a working man had a chance back then.") Hell, the band didn't even notice when some pushy asshole got headbutted by one of the opening band's managers. That was the single swiftest display of audience "troubleshooting" I've seen in years. But thanks to bands like the Vibrators, I feel like a freakin' baby... or is that "Baby, Baby"?

 
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