The evening of October 23, 2009 started with me reading a book on the couch in the SLUG office. If I had thought that activity would be an indication of the excitement level for the rest of the night’s activities, I suppose I would have remained on SLUG’s couch or relocated to my own couch to continue reading. I knew what was up though. Youth Brigade was coming to town that night and also screening their documentary Let Them Know, which is a history of Youth Brigade and BYO Records.
So, I closed my book and made my way over to In the Venue and caught the last few songs from a band whose name I just can’t remember—I suppose that may tip you off to the impression they made upon me. In the interim, I was slightly starstruck when I saw Shawn Stern and I approached him for an autograph, something I really hate doing. Before too long, like a flash, Youth Brigade was on and well into their first song. I was surprised when I found out that the people on the stage who I assumed were roadies were the new bass and guitar players for the band. Immediately, an energy that all punk rock bands aspire to achieve came over the crowd and a circle pit promptly began. I was content to sing along and take pictures by the stage, though. They played a slew of undeniably stand out tracks, like “I Hate My Life,” “Sick,” “Fight to Unite” and quite a few others. They also played “Punk Rock Mom,” which probably ranks somewhere in my top five list of all-time most hated songs. Can’t win ‘em all. Noticeably absent from the set was “Men in Blue,” which I assumed was a staple of every Youth Brigade show. Lastly, they didn’t do an encore, which was both very surprising and a little disappointing. These things by no means put a damper on the overall experience, however. Youth Brigade killed it that night.
After the show, it was time to wander over to Spy Hop to view Let Them Know. Initially, the place seemed pretty empty, because I think most people thought it was a somewhat private event. Eventually, the word that it wasn’t must have spread, because most of the seats were gradually filled.
I’ve never seen American Hardcore, but from most accounts that I’ve heard, it focuses on Bad Brains and gets facts mostly wrong when it comes to other bands. Punk’s Not Dead is a solid documentary, but it spends way too much time focusing on bands that no punk rocker gives a fuck about. Overall, though, the problem with these films seems to be that the scope of material they try to cover is much too large.
Let Them Know doesn’t really suffer that problem and is the gem of punk rock documentaries because of it. It just focuses on the L.A. punk rock scene, Youth Brigade, BYO Records and the bands on BYO. Also, it doesn’t even really presuppose that you know anything about any of those subjects. It thoroughly tells the tales of the bands and their ups and downs. It does the same for the label and it also compares the L.A. scene to other scenes that were going on at the same time around the country. It doesn’t really leave any blanks unfilled. However, those who are familiar with the subjects will undoubtedly find the film more rewarding than the uninitiated. I would surely assume that the Sterns are very pleased with the final product, because it really is a prime example of how a punk rock documentary should be done.
After the screening, Shawn and Mark Stern had a short Q and A session. It seemed like people had a hard time coming up with questions, probably because the movie answered a lot of them, so it wasn’t terribly productive. Essentially, they answered questions about specific moments that the film couldn’t possibly have had enough time to detail.
After the Q and A, the band sold Let Them Know box sets and chatted with fans. Shawn seemed pretty eager to get to the bar and Mark just seemed stoked to hang out. With this, the evening’s events came to a close.
All in all, it was a night with a legendary band. The nature of the experience had a very personal feel to it, which is rare with bands these days, even within punk rock. It’s easy to see why Youth Brigade and BYO have the amount of respect they do: the degree of concern they have for punk rock in general is simply unmatched.