The sun wasn't even down, but there was already a sizable crowd of punk rock types pouring into Fort Lauderdale's Revolution. It was going to be an early show, but she-it... it was only 7 o'clock! Didn't people understand that punctuality was for losers? It wasn't like the show's main attraction, Miami punk-ska veterans Against All Authority, was about to hit the stage any time soon. Maybe these kids didn't get the memo you know, the one that says South Florida's music scene is deader than disco, lamer than lamé. But hell, that was the reason ol' Fats was here to find out what makes the natives restless, one show at a time. And because AAA's as much a national band as a local one, I figured its first gig at Revolution since the club became Revolution would be a good way to take a pulse. Besides, it was a CD-release show for AAA's new album, The Restoration of Chaos & Order. And it was a Saturday night, with three opening bands. So if the place wasn't wall-to-wall with a hyperactive, tattooed throng, then, South Florida, we have a problem. Thankfully, that wasn't the case... not even close.
"This song's about those fucking assholes who come to shows just to start fights," AAA frontman Danny Lore barked into the mic midset, firing up the already-amped crowd on the floor below; I could see the adrenaline pouring out of their skin or maybe it was just sweat. Lore was testifyin': "The punk rock show is a sanctuary. No one should be afraid when they're here. Everyone should be able to cut loose and have a good time." And the ruckus was good, brothers and sisters.
By now, it was 9:30, and the place was packed. Most were teenagers, though a handful of over 21'ers (and a couple of under 12'ers) lurked about. Perched on the first-floor balcony, I looked down at the pit-dwellers, scanning the ratty band T's (Unseen, Lawrence Arms), clever "message" shirts ("I voted and all I got was this lousy president"), and a few homemade outfits ("Crack Kills" and other illegible scribblings drawn on a yellow-checkered shirt). These were not mall punks dressed in shiny new Hot Topic gear, nor were they maladjusted boneheads there to start trouble. These were the kids, the legendary creatures of rock mythology, the well-intentioned, young idealists whose minds and wallets the nabobs of popular culture so desperately seek.
And then there was Mark.
One of the few crowd members old enough to order something harder than root beer, the 43-year-old Hollywood resident could be mistaken for a parent who was there to keep an eye on the little ones. But his black Dwarves T-shirt and laid-back countenance told a different story. I asked when he'd first seen AAA. "It was '92 or '93, and they were at Tavern 213," he answered, noting that as a WSRF DJ (DJ Skidmark), he played AAA's records on his now-defunct show, The Zero Zone. "The last time I saw them was a few years ago at the State Theater in St. Pete. It was just as packed as here at Revolution."
And according to AAA guitarist Joe Koontz, it's been equally as long since the band played this venue, which, at the time, was called Club Venu/Star Bar. "That was the third La Fiesta de Punk Rock, which was huge," he said of 2003's massive local music fest. "When we played the first two, [the club] was still called the Chili Pepper."
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My own recollections of AAA's early days include a particularly disastrous gig in 1994 at the long-deceased Mud House in Fort Lauderdale. The show was cut short when some nut threatened the crowd with a gun. I ran. Fast. I still don't know what happened, but that kind of thing seemed remote at Revolution. Sure, the circle pit resembled a human hurricane, full of flailing arms and falling bodies. But I didn't see any of the burly dudes with attitudes Lore was railing against. Shit, at one point, some kid held up a black Converse sneaker he found. Pit manners now that's rich.
The show ended in time for the weekly Evolution night, so the kids were out well before 11. And because they didn't spend the evening at the bar, there was still plenty of leftover energy. Once outside, I was greeted by a sprightly group of young ones who were handing out fliers for an upcoming anti-Bush protest on Las Olas Boulevard. A pair of giggly girls saw my press pass and, for some reason, thought I was with the band. Before I had a chance to explain myself, one of 'em took my pen, turned my hand over, wrote "I Love You" on it, and scurried away. It's moments like these when the reality of the all-ages show comes to light. And it's a good thing Fats never leaves Pompano without a backup pen.
Scanning the outside throng for a less mischievous group to chat with, I spotted a trio of young mohicans seated against the club's front wall. Donning a well-worn and heavily patched jean jacket and an Exploited shirt, 16-year-old Sebs said he was glad AAA did the show at an all-ages venue like Revolution. Sure, he had to ride up from Miami, but it beat the alternative. "If they did the show at Churchill's, we wouldn't be able to get in we're too young," Sebs said. "And we'd rather not have to climb the fence to get in." Yeah, good call there, dude.
On my trek back up to the 33060, I couldn't help thinking how dedicated AAA's fans were. Since I was a little Fats, I've had to endure whining from the grass-is-greener-elsewhere folks about South Florida's alleged suckitude. Sure, we've got our geographical issues to deal with (hey, touring bands what about us?). But after spending time in this refreshingly non-jaded environment, it's clear that this particular corner of the scene, at least, is in damned good shape. So, yes, the kids are all right. Well, except for that chick who took my pen.