From the very beginning of its New Year's Eve set at Casselman's Bar & Venue in Denver, Five Iron Frenzy brought an enormous amount of energy, fueled by a clear sense of joy in performing. The old fans were incredibly happy to get to see the band again, and the fans who never got to see the band the first time around were equally charged, with their enthusiasm matched by the enthusiasm coming off the stage. The exuberance was infectious. Even if this was your first time seeing the group, it felt like seeing friends you haven't seen in a while.
See also: - Five Iron Frenzy: An extensive oral history of the band - They're punk. They're ska. They're Christian. They're Denver's Five Iron Frenzy - Five Iron Frenzy reunion: FIF posts new song, announces plans for new album
Things got going with "The Phantom Mulle,t" and the act cut up the set with liberal doses of self-deprecating humor, which didn't let up until the end. Everyone came on stage in some get-up: Andy Verdecchio was made up like Jerry Only from the Misfits; Sonnie Johnston looked like he had stepped out of a Flying Burrito Brothers video; Micah Ortega looked like he were playing in a sinister rockabilly band; Leanor Till Ortega looked like she had stepped out of a door from a 1920s speakeasy; Scott Kerr looked like he was channeling Alex from A Clockwork Orange: Brad Dunham was dressed like a card shark out of a long lost S.E. Hinton novel; Reese Roper was in a suit jacket, sunglasses and a skirt (not a kilt -- we were all corrected on this later). Dennis Culp, meanwhile, was dressed like a normal person -- someone's got to keep a sense of sanity, right?
The horn section sounded richly layered and dynamic. The three players all danced and jumped around in sync with the rhythm and sang with an unfeigned exuberance. Johnson and Ortega played guitar parts together that went far beyond the usual clipped guitar riffing you hear in a lot of ska bands -- proving succinctly that this band is more than just that. Verdecchio's percussive accents propelled the band into great heights of energy and movement, while Kerr's bass lines buoyed the sound overall.
"You Can't Handle This," which made you want to jump around, was followed by "Where the Zero Meets the Fifteen," and rarely has a simple and happy horn part been able to carry the force of the melody so well in the context of a rock song. In the middle, Till Ortega acknowledged the oral history of the band that appeared on Backbeat and dedicated what sounded like "When I Go Out" to yours truly and Dave Herrera. The song is a bit like Napalm Death's "You Suffer" (though roughly six times as long) in that there's not much in the way of lyrics and it's amped up to a super intense moment. Till Ortega belted out the word in something like a half growl punk rock style, and then Culp suggested that she should do it again, only in Spanish, and she did.
There was a lot of joking on stage between members, including lighthearted jabs at Roper, who would just own the put down and smile. One thing that was striking about the jokes between the band members and of Roper's joking, specifically, is the members' ability to really sell the bad, borderline lame joke as a joke about owning up to how lame it was and laughing at that. At the sheer stupidity and ridiculousness and goofiness of the moment, some artists try to seem so cool. Roper and this band, on the other hand, seem to find humor in being so not cool. It made the bad jokes funnier and it was an endearing element of the show overall.
Musically, the set comprised all the act's hits, including the especially spirited "One Girl Army" and a couple of songs that will be appearing on the new album, including "To Build A Fire" (appropriate for the Jack London-story-esque temperatures outside) and "Between Pavement and Stars." The fun and games came to a close with the genuinely uplifting "Every New Day," the sincerity and sentimentality of which moved even this decidedly secular humanist reviewer.
The audience clearly wasn't leaving, so Verdecchio came back out and explained how the band has never done encores, and they all wanted to hang out for the 45 minutes left before the bar closed and spend time talking to the fans instead of "stroking our egos up here." It was not an offhand evasion, but an honest statement of intent. Clearly not your typical band beyond having just performed a superlative show.
The night opened with a band called Showbread, which offered up a good mixture of borderline screamo emo and melodic punk. Showbread even had Reese Roper from Five Iron guest on a song or two. The singer told us later on that even though the songs were in part inspired by Jesus that the message had been co-opted and twisted to conveniently leave out that bit about compassion and unity with the poor and oppressed. Message aside, the guys in the band played with a lot of energy, and the vocals had some real force.
Project 86 played in the middle slot. Apparently the band was filming for a video for the song "Fall, Goliath, Fall," from its 2012 album Wait for the Siren. While the music sounded a lot like some late '90s nü metal with way thicker low end, Andrew Schwab was a lightning rod of energy, and he did some crowd surfing here and there for more than a few seconds while still singing. A lot of the people in attendance were familiar with the group's music, as evidenced by the set-long sing-a-longs. Schwab also joked that "SOTS" was a Mumford and Sons cover because they were going to get a little mellow. The band closed its set with "Fall, Goliath, Fall," for the filming evidently, and it seemed to put even more into that performance, getting from the crowd as good as it gave.
Personal Bias: Five Iron Frenzy should be everything I don't like in music (ska, lyrics often informed by obvious religious convictions, exuberantly happy), but the talent, the sincerity, the fantastic sense of humor and the great songwriting are undeniable. Plus, it's one of the best live bands around.
Random Detail: The in between set music included "Titanium Exposé" by Sonic Youth, a lot of music by the Cure and "The Killing Moon" by Echo and the Bunnymen.
By the Way: This was one of the best crowds for any show I've seen in a long time. They knew the words, participated in the fun in a real way and were generally cool and considerate of one another.
Five Iron Frenzy Casselman's Bar &Venue - 12/31/12 Denver, CO
The Phantom Mullet American Kryptonite Four-Fifty-One You Can't Handle This Where the Zero Meets the Fifteen Handbook For the Sellout Pre-Ex-Girlfriend Fistful of Sand Hope Still Flies No Grandma = Know Grandma [?] New Years Eve To Build A Fire [new] At Least I'm Not Like All Those Other Old Guys Juggernaut Blue Comb '78 You Probably Shouldn't Move Here Between Pavement and Stars [new] My Evil Plan To Save the Word Farsighted Every New Day
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