ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT at SUMMIT MUSIC HALL | 2/1/14 Rather than linger through decades of drama and/or mediocrity, Rocket From the Crypt rose to fame in the 1990s with bonafide big-band punk, but chose to disband in 2005, despite continued acclaim. Notoriously busy frontman John Reis (aka Speedo) had found himself too distracted by other music projects, and the job of running Swami Records.
Horn sections were ubiquitous in '90s punk groups, but virtually all of them were doing ska. Rocket from the Crypt, which amusingly reunited in 2011 to perform on Yo Gabba Gabba! (on which Reis regularly plays a character called "the Swami"), instead uses trumpet and sax to add class to tough, soulful Phil Spector-influenced rock and roll that happens to include a generous helping of SoCal hardcore.
The Summit's huge, clear soundsystem lent itself perfectly to Reis and Co.'s big wall of sound, just as Reis' infectious enthusiasm ("I'm so horny to be here," he said at one point, "Happy and horny.) matched itself well with the packed Denver crowd's Super Bowl Eve excitement over seeing one of the '90s' most underrated bands returned, nearly, to the top of its game.
After an opening set by Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, Rocket sunk its teeth into a ninety-minute-plus set with the lamenting rocker "Young Livers." The response was loving and energetic. "The goodwill is palpable," Reis said at one point. Drummer Mario Rubalcaba, a professional skateboarder who's played with everyone from Pinkback to the Black Heart Procession, led Rocket through the heart of its impressively dud-free seven-album catalog with a combination power and perceptiveness; dynamics weren't so much necessary with the Summit's giant, clear volume, but Rubalcaba (aka "Ruby Mars") has the kind of solid, explosive (yet thoroughly tasteful) chops that make any song seem anthemic.
Reis, meanwhile, has lost a smidgen of the vibrant projection of his voice, but not the toughness or the soul necessary to carry classic "emotional" sections of Rocket favorites like the "no no no please no!" bridge from "On a Rope," which the group nailed as part of a three-song Scream Dracula Scream! suite. San Diego seems to have kept the whole band healthy; Reis, at 44, looked like a fitter, happier Jello Biafra. There really wasn't a dull moment in Rocket's set.
Personal Bias: My first Rocket from the Crypt show was in 1996, when the Warped Tour stopped at I.C. Light Amphitheatre along the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh. Seeing Rocket at the Summit over the weekend took me back to that unforgettable teenage day having my mind blown by the likes of NOFX, Pennywise and tons of other punk greats. These days it seemingly takes minutes of scrolling through Warped Tour's lineup online to find even one actual punk band. Random Detail: Known for wearing matching outfits, the six members of Rocket sported black floral-print shirts and pants in Denver. By The Way: In a few weeks, Rocket embarks on its first real headlining tour in a decade. Reis is clearly up to the task of sustained entertaining, tossing out such gems as "I wear earplugs to protect us from requests for 'Freebird.'"