Lagwagon/ Transplants / Irving Plaza / May 5, 2002

A few stalwart Cali-punk veterans trekked East for Manhattan’s Irving Plaza to unleash highly energetic sets of post-hardcore aggression this warm spring night. East Bay guitarist-singer Tim Armstrong (ex-Operation Ivy punk-ska progenitor and present Rancid frontman) hooked up with former AFI roadie Rob Ashton for transitional quartet, the Transplants, a stylish working class outfit inspired by punk hellraisers G.B.H. and The Sham. Meanwhile, Santa Barbara’s decade-old Lagwagon relied on the amusing, easily digested pop-punk NOFX helped make semi-popular in the ‘90s to headline the show.

Though Armstrong received MTV exposure and sundry accolades fronting Rancid during the ‘90s, tour mates Lagwagon had only developed a cult fan base despite the fact that Blink 182 (whose drummer, Travis Barker, ironically anchors the Transplants) and their glossy ilk seemed to adapt their self-deprecating humor to invariable success. Vocalist Joey Cape’s sly wry wit and derelict attitude give a serrated edge to Lagwagon’s loud, catchy melodicism, avoiding the watered down, shallow-minded indifference of their compromising candy-coated copycats.

On-stage, Lagwagon’s precise stop ‘n’ go arrangements, twin turbo guitar fervor, and rubbery bass boom powered gleefully celebratory chants. Cape’s savage lyrical bite, crowd-baiting banter, and prancing stage prowl kept the crushed front-stage fans alert and the massive moshpit buzzing. Though ‘98s fiery Let’s Talk About Feelings may still be their pinnacle achievement, the newly waxed Blaze is no slouch, as this resounding one-hour set certainly proved.

As for Armstrong, after Rancid’s formative self-titled ’93 debut fully exploited his notable Clash fixation, ex-UK Subs guitarist Lars Frederiksen joined the fold for ‘94s economical Let’s Go (which reached exalted underground status with the rousing “Salvation”). ‘95s even better And Out Come The Wolves continued Rancid’s ceaseless entourage of quirky 2-minute rants, highlighted by the hooky ska anthem “Time Bomb” and the climactic Clash knockoff, “Ruby Soho.” While ‘98s horn-doused Life Won’t Wait held its ground, ‘00s vehement self-titled follow-up contained the cocky quartet’s strongest political messages and most pungently efficient playing.

Teamed with bald-headed vocalist Rob Ashton, guitarist Craig Fairbaugh (of the Forgotten), and the aforementioned Barker, Armstrong’s Transplants retain a more sophisticated, controlled restraint in the studio, incorporating hip-hop breakdowns, punctual piano, and electronic affects.

But live, they concentrated on tearing the house down. Tempestuous sing-a-long fuck-offs like “We Trusted You” re-created late ‘70s punk action with pinpoint accuracy and authoritative verve. They saluted like-minded bands Agnostic Front, the Ramones, H20, and Sick Of It All mid-set, then dedicated “Hard Luck Street” to respected deceased rockers. The ska-driven guttersnipe “Rude Boys” and the kitsch-y bluebeat catwalk “Johnny 2 Bad” may have lacked the vibrancy of the Transplants studio versions, but both burst forth with frenetic determination. And the snubbing Beastie Boys-derived closer, “Tall Cans In the Air,” despite drowned out vocals, crackled with undeterred resolve as Ashton got fevered fans to wave middle fingers at unspecified squares.

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