After releasing a live album called “I Heard They Suck Live” 10 years ago and following it up with “They've Actually Gotten Worse Live” last year, NOFX are well aware of the criticism directed towards their live performances. Having only seen NOFX at a pair of Warped Tours, I was generally in agreement with the sentiments of their live albums' titles. However, there is a world of difference between an abbreviated, 25 minute Warped performance and the 90 minute set NOFX delivered at In the Venue. A lot of the same criticisms could be made (an almost equal ratio of “talk” to “rock” and less than perfect song performance chief among them), but part of what has made NOFX so endearing over the years is the fact that they simply don't give a shit. NOFX has always been something of a punk fan's punk band, simultaneously criticizing and embracing the movement in all of its incarnations. That said, a sometimes sloppy set combined with crass humor in front of hundreds of people who each paid twenty-five bucks to get in is right up their alley. NOFX accepts the not-so-new commercial nature of punk rock, but as long as they've got to be only slightly below the mainstream, they're gonna do it their own way.
Opening up this leg of the Fat Wreck Chords tour was the newly reunited American Steel, who have quickly become one of my favorite artists on the Fat roster. Their sound is raw without being sloppy and emotional without being whiny, recalling bands like Jawbreaker and Hot Water Music, but also bringing in the influence of '60s soul and folk. Their set drew largely from last year's “Destroy Their Future” which is a bit more polished than their earlier work, but still awesome. As is the case with most big shows, though, the crowd paid little attention to the opening band. Those who were into American Steel were having a good time, as a few people were singing along, throwing fists in the air and even moshing a little. Highlights included opener “Sons of Avarice” and the catchy as hell “Old Croy Road”, though vocalist/guitarist Ryan Massey's mic wasn't working for about half of the band's set. American Steel has always been one of the great unsung punk bands of the late '90s and early 2000s, and it looks like they might be destined to remain that way. They'll be coming back to town in August with Alkaline Trio, where they are likely to play in front of another large group of people who don't give a shit about them but definitely should.
No Use For a Name was up next. I've never really gotten into NUFAN, as I got into punk just as they're style was giving way to bands like Against Me! and The Lawrence Arms, but I've always been at least slightly entertained by their live performances. They opened with “The Biggest Lie” from their newest release, “The Feel Good Record of the Year”, and it sounded really good live. However, all of their songs began to blend together about halfway through their set, and the set carried on for about fifteen minutes too long. I was tucked into a back corner of the room during their set, so I couldn't really see how the crowd was reacting, but they at least sounded more into it than American Steel. NUFAN played alright, but they played too much.
Immediately after No Use For a Name departed the stage, everyone pushed forward, trying to get a good spot for NOFX. It took a long time for the band to emerge, but they were greeted with hearty cheers when they finally did take the stage. Vocalist/basisst Fat Mike immediately took to the mic and dedicated their Louis Armstrong-esque cover of Minor Threat's “Straight Edge” to the clean-living Mormon folk of Salt Lake only to be confronted by an onslaught of boos and middle fingers. It might not have been the best choice for a set opener, but he definitely got a large crowd reaction, and when the song was finished everyone had forgotten about the insults and cheered the band anyway. The next few songs were good ones, but the band really blew me away about six songs into the set when they busted into “The Decline”, a twenty-minute monster of a song that they've never played before in Salt Lake. Most of the people in the crowd didn't seem to be familiar with the song, but those who were went crazy, singing along to every word and moving throughout the lengthy song's duration. I probably could've left after “The Decline” and been satisfied, but NOFX kept delivering great songs, including their reggae-fied cover of Rancid's “Radio” and hits like “Bob”, “Linoleum” and “Seeing Double at the Triple Rock”. The band also kept me laughing, openly mocking a man with outfitted with a prosthetic hook (they later invited him onstage and hugged him) and refusing to play a song until an obviously underage girl put out a cigarette. Drummer Erik “Smelly” Standin was even given a siren to set off to let Fat Mike know when he was talking too much. All in all, this was a great performance from NOFX, and a much better one than I had expected. Sure, they may only tour three months out of a year, practice sparingly and drink a little too much before they get on stage, but none of that stuff keeps them from delivering entertaining if not virtuosic performances for the dozen or so shows they play annually.