NOFX a madhouse in Edmonton

NOFX GigCity EdmontonFat Mike is an unlikely catalyst for the furious blast of disturbing male energy that greeted NOFX at the Union Hall Monday night. He’s so laid back – but he seems to be holding a lot of anger inside.

Turning 50 in January, Mike Burkett is a big hairy tattooed guy with a disheveled Mohawk – wearing a black cocktail dress for the occasion of the band’s show in Edmonton. Lost a football bet, he said. Also he’d sprained his ankle and wasn’t “stamping around” too well. But he still performed with relaxed surety and supreme confidence. His laconic presence on stage complimented his aura of smirk, coupled with a mastery of showmanship from decades of experience. It felt as if he were holding forth in his own living room. Not much of a rabble-rouser.

And yet the place was a madhouse. It was a huge drunken blowout rife with douchebags of all stripes. You know who you are, dudes. The sold-out crowd, 90% guys, went apeshit over this band – the great punk hope from California that somehow missed the train to the mainstream millions with Green Day and the Offspring. NOFX is still proudly independent after all these years.

It was the music that made the impact. From more than a dozen albums since 1988, the songs were fast and aggressive hardcore with melodic tendencies, with occasional forays into other genres. The excitement was delirious, sometimes frightening.

“If there were black people in Edmonton, they would like this song,” said Fat Mike, not the first or last jab of the night. He was introducing We March to the Beat of an Indifferent Drum with its deep reggae beat. The trombone came out in that one. At other times, the feel was almost Celtic. Punk, folk, reggae, ska, it all comes together at some point in the end.

The song selection read like an unhinged Washington Post editorial haiku on the eve of election day: Murder the Government, Idiots are Taking Over, and the controversial 72 Hookers, which some have called anti-Muslim.

The crowd knew all the words to just about every song. Seriously. All of them. Key parts – “Why must we stay when we don’t belong?!” – were echoed by hundreds of pumped-up punks, many of them slamming each other to nasty bruises in the circle pit.

A madhouse, I say! At one point, there was a chicken fight between a woman on a guy’s shoulders and a man on another person’s shoulders. Not clear who won. Fat Mike called the girl “rude” for blocking the view of other fans, and said that if she was going to do that, she had to flash her breasts. She didn’t – and the pile of people soon collapsed as the next song fired up. Security was busy.

Between songs, Fat Mike resumed the role of the passive aggressive uncle with too much to drink at Christmas dinner. He burned Edmonton’s punk pride SNFU; he vented his acidic wit on various aforementioned douchebags in the mosh pit; he said out of all the places he’s played, “Edmonton is better than Winnipeg.” Not sure how to take that.

Perhaps we should take the teasing in the spirit with which it was intended. A lot of love in the room. The fans’ devotion to this band was obvious in the stupidly crammed and sweaty bar, despite the odd twists to the night – including an uncalled-for encore. Some punk schtick, too, like Fat Mike pretending to be surprised as the band suddenly broke into some corny jazz tune – and then back into the roaring hardcore with perfect timing. In another universe, Fat Mike is Frank Sinatra.

Of course in perfect punk tradition the singer turned scorn upon himself in tunes like I Don’t Like Me Anymore. He also admitted, “It’s kind of embarrassing being American right now.”

NOFX plays another sold-out show at the Union Hall Tuesday night. You can bet the election results will have an effect on this concert. It’s going to be a madhouse either way!