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Lagwagon and Face to Face still going strong after all these years

Lagwagon. Photo: Ilkay Karakurt.

Review–Lagwagon and Face to Face at the Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver, Sept. 28 2019

– by Gavin Reid

Two of California’s most iconic punk rock bands invaded Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Saturday night at The Rickshaw Theatre. To borrow a sports cliché, Lagwagon and Face To Face left it all on the stage. Their fans were sent home with lasting memories. Perhaps in the form of ripped shirts, sore necks, and mystery bruises. 

The Rickshaw gig was the pair’s second stop on a double headline tour that sees them playing 25 shows in 29 nights. Both bands have endless energy on stage and still have the stamina after nearly 30 years to keep the engine revving and the tour bus rolling.

Lagwagon is led by singer/songwriter Joey Cape. One of the most beloved acts to come out of the Cali skate punk subgenre of the early 1990s, they have been cited by many as a major influence. While they never climbed to the peak of mainstream attention they are appreciated as pioneers. This month they released their ninth album, Railer through iconic label Fat Wreck Chords. The group played several cuts off of Railer including the nostalgic and somewhat romantic (if that’s even a thing in punk) “Bubble.” In it, Cape declares that they are proud to remain true to a unique style and sound and perhaps also are proud of their underground legacy. “We still stow away/grateful for our home in our bubble.”

The set was like one chaotic singalong. The same energy that Lagwagon brought to Warped Tour at Thunderbird Stadium back in 2002 was on full display. It has to be noted just how good this crowd was for the entirety of the evening. There was a noticeable absence of people standing stationary with a cell phone. Far from the new normal: hundreds of zombies mindlessly posing as social media documentarians. Rather, The Rickshaw shook all night long with controlled aggression mixed with joyous singing. Pure punk rock spirit – no BS.

Lagwagon’s music is a captivating blend of melodic arrangements and bittersweet lyrics. The band’s power is generated by rapid-fire drums and double-time tempos. The songs are high octane and heart-wrenching at once.

Case in point: “Sleep” from 1995’s Hoss. A confession from Cape that he is sick of the road, he admits that life and love are miles away: “Everyone has got the flu/I’d rather be sick of you/I’d rather be asleep.”

Toward the end of their set, the band dropped “Razor Burn.” The track also can be found on Hoss. Another melancholy song, this one is about a breakup that leads Cape to grow a “beard of shame.” The contrast between Cape’s depressing lyrics and a sampling of the hymn “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” is pure Lagwagon. It’s a  song only this band could create.

It was then time for Face To Face to hit the stage and bring the evening to a close. Newsflash: the passage of time hasn’t slowed these guys down either. The driving energy is alive and well in 2019.

Breaking onto the scene in ‘91, the band has released 11 albums to date, none bigger than 1995’s Big Choice. Songs from that record featured prominently throughout the night. Frontman Trevor Keith’s commanding bass voice had the packed house in a frenzy on “It’s Not Over,” “You Lied” and their hit single “Disconnected.” With fists clenched, fans shouted their appreciation and adoration for their punk rock heroes.

The double-bill tour is just kicking off for Lagwagon and Face to Face. If every show over the next month has the strength of Saturday, lots of nostalgic punk fans south of the border are in for a treat.

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