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I’ve always considered Chicago to be America’s storage for cold, wind and uhhh, The Cubs. So, what could possibly make me go endure temperatures that I have only read about in books (the low 30’s!)? Screeching Fucking Weasel.

That’s right, Ben Weasel’s wily ass got back up to bat, and you’re damned right I traveled 2,000 miles simply for the chance that I would be able to scream along to “My Right” with one of my childhood heroes. Yes, yes, I know he’s been an asshole lately, but like a spouse who has only been belittled versus abused, I stand by his trespasses…for the time being.

I met up with RacketLuke and some of his heavily tattooed cronies, and after a night of drinking til 5AM, we tried our best to figure out Chicago’s mass transit system. With Luke as my Sherpa, we made our way to the Congress Theatre on Friday night to catch Dead Milkmen for me, and Murder City Devils for Luke and the fellas.

I resent the suggestion that I was not there for the Dead Milkmen! Big Lizard in My Back Yard was one of my first cassettes and “Punk Rock Girl” is an old karaoke standby of mine. I was quite psyched at the thought of seeing “Beach Party Vietnam” live!

Before you click this link, mind you, this bitch covers three days!

Now, for you LA-types, The Congress Theatre most resembles the Henry Fonda Theatre, but is twice is ornate and it’s sound system half as good. Honestly, for as badass a venue as it was, and with punk music already not too hip to sound quality as it is, The Congress really let me down. Now, to be fair, trying to run sound in what is essentially a giant cave with hundreds of ravaged-looking youth is a challenge, but still.

With that major gripe out of the way, I can get down to business. I honestly booked this entire trip on two bands: Dead Milkmen and Screeching Weasel. When I was a little douchebag in high school, these were two bands I listened to on the regular, now that I’m technically a grown-up…I still listen to them on the regular. While I did see Apocalypse Hoboken, and found them enjoyable, me and my  Jack and Coke in the right hand and my double Jameson and coke in the left wanted them off the stage so I could get my Dead Milkmen on.

While I will miss the late Dave Blood’s sweet and sloppy bass lines, Dan Stevens did a solid job of keeping the rhythms with Dean Clean. But, with Rodney Anonymous and Joe Genaro still kicking as much ass as I could hope for, I felt that I was still watching the band I rocked out to over a decade ago. While they played the obligatory “Punk Rock Girl” and “Beach Party Vietnam” (One of muh favorites!), they also managed to miss not a line, but an entire verse in “Stuart,” much to the chagrin of the crowd. But, my life is that much more complete having seen “Bitchin’ Camaro” live.

After an expression of shock at the cost of drink prices stretched across my face, a friendly bartender informed Yost and I that doubles of Jameson offered the best bang for the buck. I heeded her advice and ordered her recommendation: a double Jameson and Coke with a splash of Sprite. She poured them quite strong, a fact that I was thankful for night-of, but regretted the morning after. A few of these rendered me basically useless, and while I recall Dead Milkmen’s set with near clarity, I was a mess for the Devils.

Murder City Devils popped in to close out the night, and while I have never been a huge fan, I’ve never disliked them. The energy and furor that they created made it obvious why they were polishing off the Congress on a Friday night. I couldn’t tell you crap for song titles, just that after a long night of hard drinking (hard drinking, indeed) and good times, It was a good ending.

Well, with my first time in the Windy City, I had tons of shit to do, and as I have seen NOFX before, and have no doubt I will see them again, I could care less about going with the rest of the crew to the show. Luke, why don’t you tell people what’s what?

Well, t’would be my pleasure. Considering the difficulties and expense of the night prior, the crew and I opted to head out early and do some pre-partying at a neighborhood bar. We settled on the Tap Room, a few streets down from the venue, and ordered up a round of libations.

By this time it must have been around mid-afternoon. The Emperor and I were waiting patiently for an interview that never transpired, but there was plenty of action in the Tap Room to keep us occupied. A local woman managed to get wasted by 3pm and was asked to leave, but not before she played “Hell’s Bells” twice on the jukebox and bared her elderly chest, perhaps in the hopes such a display would allow her some more bar time.

Yost parted ways to make one last ditch effort to get this interview to happen. I won’t recount who stood us up, but during a busy festival weekend like this, it’s understandable. Doors opened at 4pm at the Congress Theatre, but a lack of judgment on our parts prevented our departure for some time to come. We didn’t have a copy of the lineup on us and weren’t quite sure exactly who we would be missing.

At some point we heard back from Yost that we were missing Off With Their Heads. This was a little disappointing, but I’ve seen the band before and they tour incessantly so the loss was minimal. We honestly weren’t all that intoxicated and I know that eating was involved, but for whatever reason, we didn’t arrive at The Congress until midway through the Street Dogs’ set. That leaves a gap of two to three hours where I just don’t know how we wasted so much of our time.

The Street Dogs were, well, The Street Dogs. Former Dropkick Murphy vocalist Mike McColgan has a great stage presence and is always on point, however, due to our late arrival, their set was over before I knew it.

88 Fingers Louie was a bit of a treat. Not because they were particularly groundbreaking, nor because they feature founding member Mr. Precision of the popular Rise Against. It was noteworthy mostly because they disbanded ten years ago and this was their first show in as many years. If the band’s Myspace blog is any indication, it may not be their last. I was never a gigantic fan, but I do own an album or two and the set definitely took me back to my high school days.

Next up were the legendary Oi! band Cock Sparrer. In one of gossip’s finer moments, rumors from the previous year proved correct when these English working-class stalwarts showed up on this year’s bill. The crowd roared at the unveiling of Cock Sparrer’s banner and the theater erupted when the blokes (ah ha!) took the stage.

After the fest ended, my friend Chad commented that Cock Sparrer had been the biggest surprise for him. He had no idea what to expect from the band and was blown away. Listening to their records, I can understand where he’s coming from. While the hooks and catchiness of their recorded catalogue cannot be denied, when performed live the band plays the songs with an urgency and vigor the albums fail to reproduce.

They tore through classics like “England Belongs to Me,” “Take’em All.” “Working,” “Because You’re Young” and “Argy Bargy.” They played them like they were twenty years younger and there was no tomorrow. The whoa-ohs of numbers like “Riot Squad” whipped the punks and skinheads into a frenzy and the gang-style lyrics of anthems like “We’re Coming Back” and “Where Are They Now” had the walls reverberating as an enthusiastic crowd showed their thanks by singing every word back at vocalist Colin McFaull.

Never having achieved the fame of fellow Brits like The Clash, The Buzzcocks, or The Sex Pistols, Cock Sparrer has spent very little time in the United States. As they’ve realized their impact on the street punk seen here, they’ve begun to make more trips across the pond. In live footage, on recordings and in person they always seem surprised to realize we know all the words to every song they play. Well, boys, get used to it. You fucking rule.

Honestly, I don’t feel like I can even say much about NOFX. Cock Sparrer totally blew them out of the fucking water. Sure, they were tight as can be, but who wouldn’t be after 20 years of endless touring and recording? It was the same ole dog and pony show and I’ve seen it enough times already. Don’t mistake me, they were solid and funny as always. Next time they should just possibly reconsider top billing when the second top billing goes to a band as esteemed as Cock Sparrer.

Goddamn, this thing is getting lengthy, isn’t it? Well, it’s gonna get longer, because Sunday was by far the best. Everyone, from local boys She Likes Todd, to headliner Alkaline Trio put on a spectacular set. She Likes Todd were a solid opener, actually capturing my attention and not just making me feel like they were in the way. The Arrivals also put forth an exceptional effort leading into Pegboy’s set.

As Pegboy was giving their incendiary performance, I started getting ansty: “What if Ben Weasel starts going on tirades?”, “What if someone boos them and they give up and pack it in?!” Neither of these happened.

In fact, the noticeably Jughead-less band ripped through their set, tearing ass through “Cindy’s on Methadone” right off. While I have been to more than enough of my fair share of punk shows in recent months, I couldn’t stop smiling, except when to scream along at the top of my lungs. Pits, crowd surfers and linking arms with complete strangers are things that have been absent from a large percentage of shows I have been to lately. Ben Weasel ripped through song after song like a man possessed, and like a man who has never stopped.

While the absence of Jughead was noticeable, Screeching Weasel sounded as good as ever, maybe even better than their last reformation in 2000, a lineup that did feature Jughead. Aside from being the best backing vocalist in punk rock, I’ve always maintained that Dan Schafer, aka Danny Vapid, has been the talent that made Screeching Weasel so terrific. If you need proof just look at How to Make Enemies and Irritate People or Emo, two albums missing the man.

Sure, Ben has been an outspoken and visible figurehead, but he’s not exactly known for his musical abilities. Furthermore, the songs most closely associated with the Screeching Weasel “sound” date from Schafer’s time with the band. Their set was a testament to this fact as numbers like “Guest List” and “Totally” held sway over the crowd.

The latter half of the set featured introspective numbers like “Every Night,” “Acknowledge” and “What We Hate,” which closed the set, interspersed with more typical punk fare like “Dingbat” and “Teenage Freakshow.” The set was fantastic, featuring a couple of post-Vapid songs, as if to suggest the band was relevant without him, and plenty of hits, including a solid mix of fast, hard-edged numbers and catchy pop songs – and that’s really all anyone could have asked for.

Our first, and the last, after party we attended at shady Cobra Lounge was where some shitty Ramones cover band did quite the mediocre set to warm up the arriving crowd for Teenage Bottlerocket. With Jameson specials, the crew started getting liquored up, and Matt tried to cover up his Teenage Bottlerocket shirt, having decided to wear it before knowing that he was going to see them. No one wants to be THAT GUY.

My fellow native West Virginians and I thought we had missed our chance to see TBR by sticking strictly to the Congress shows. We thanked the heavens at our luck when it was revealed they were playing the secret after party.

Now, I’ve already apologized to their publicist, but I will repeat myself again here: I am sorry for referring to their latest album as “solid, but nothing to write home about.” Ten seconds into their set, I found myself squat dab in the middle of the pit, something that my old ass has not done in a while. Pushed, shoved, kicked and headbutted, I felt AMAZING.

Yost was not alone in this feeling. I have to admit that despite the powerful and commanding performance of Cock Sparrer and the youth I was reliving during every moment of Screeching Weasel’s set, Teenage Bottlerocket kind of snuck in there and stole the cake in terms of the overall feel-good vibe of the show.

The crowd was raucous and everyone, myself and the Emperor included, was treating our bodies as if they were a decade younger. Besides the douche with the pompadour, the crowd was a family of strangers, all united by hurried and slapdash music where you immediately know the words and you could count on everyone around you to pull you up should you fall. I suppose that could be said for the entire damned festival.

–Jonathan Yost and Luke Toney