“Most bands from the ’90s got lame and fired their horn section, BUT NOT LESS THAN JAKE!!” yelled Less Than Jake’s singer and guitarist Chris DeMakes before launching into another of the Florida band’s punchy ska punk songs. It was just one of the flood of ’90s references that occurred throughout the night at the Sacramento stop of the Punk In Drublic Festival.
Organized by NOFX singer Fat Mike, the festival lineup was a throwback to the 1990s when the bands on the bill – Less Than Jake, Goldfinger and NOFX — were at their height, and the festival’s 21+ age restriction certainly wasn’t adding any youthfulness to the crowd.
In an event billed as a craft beer and music festival, the afternoon bands took the stage at the Cal Expo Center field while a collection of tents belonging to different craft breweries harbored vendors freely filling up attendees’ complimentary beer snifters with samples. As an editorial note, it’s about time someone figured out a way to merge concerts with free beer! And while the musical lineup may have harkened back to the punk heyday of quite a few of those in attendance, let that not take away from the fact that these bands continue to play today because they know how to put on a show.
Goldfinger was the surprise of the afternoon, as singer/guitarist John Feldmann took the stage like a hurricane, his excitement and passion for performing infectious, beyond his alternative radio hooks. Fronting a band made up of MXPX and New Found Glory members, Feldmann jumped circles around the stage, hung from scaffolding, and performed entire songs while surfing atop the crowd. His vitriolic dismissals of Jennifer Lopez for wearing fox-fur eyelashes and Ted Nugent for being Ted Nugent riled up the crowd up that braved the shadeless afternoon heat.
Celtic-punk band Flogging Molly was easily the day’s most refined performance. The 7-piece mixed brand new songs with selections dating back to its first album, 2000’s “Swagger.” Holding the stage as the sun set and the lights began to dance across the Cal Expo’s 6,000-person crowd, Flogging Molly’s hard pub energy was stoked by frontman Dave King throwing cans of Guinness into the audience every few songs. Slowing things down from its frantic set, the band’s performance of “If I Ever Leave This World Alive” near the end of their show inspired a crowd singalong audible over the instruments and echoing throughout the bleachers.
Headliners, NOFX, whose members were already well into their late 20’s in the 1990’s, took the stage, backed by a small poster-board sized scribbled banner hoisted from the rafters that had draped the much larger backdrops for each of the day’s other bands. Singer Fat Mike donned a form-fitting dress showing off his ample mid-section, led the band through a set list spanning their 13 records.
A typical NOFX show will have plenty of banter between band members, commentary over who messed up on what song, teasing and antagonistic barbs directed at the audience, and varying amounts of jokes about the current presidential administration relative to the degree of conservatism shown by each respective administration. Meanwhile, the band frequently writes songs about the watering down and sanitizing of punk music. This evening, after guitarist, El Hefe, told the crowd he had lived in Sacramento, the band struggled to name any punk band’s from the area, before Jefe Hettled on the best thing about the city being Jimboy’s tacos.
Among NOFX addressing controversial race and religious issues with songs like “72 Hookers” (religious edict-inspired terrorism) and “Kill All The White Man” (self-explanatory, and a crowd favorite), maybe the most disturbing part of the band’s set may have been the giant inflatable branded energy drink cans beside the stage. As NOFX lyrics often talk about the commercialization of punk, the Fat Mike Presents Punk In Drublic Craft Beer And Music Festival in a sense embraced a large degree of commercialization in order to create the festival environment.
In what may have been the band’s final act of sending out mixed messages on keeping punk dangerous yet throwing a sanitized gathering, the musicians finished their hour-long set and were offstage just a few minutes after 9 p.m. The stadium lights came on, the free beer tents were gone, and the concertgoers collectively walked away from their rebellious high school soundtrack in order to Lyft back home and pay off the babysitters.