Rancid in The Academy on November 29th 2012
The music industry has moved light years since Rancid emerged from the glorious scraps of punk innovators Operation Ivy two decades ago. Gone are the days of million-selling albums for bands still considered moderately ‘underground’, but these Californians positively ooze class.
Today’s 20th anniversary show is their first in Ireland since 2003. That last tour saw the peppier direction of ‘Indestructible’ and the all-out assault of its self-titled predecessor dominating the set list. I was a spiky-haired 19 year old wannabe skate punk at the time, and the step up from rural, regional kiddy-punk was a revelation. Tonight – a consistently poignant, ‘hit’-laden set – reaches another level entirely.
This is meant to be a celebration, and while Armstrong, Freeman, Fredericksen and Steineckert aren’t exactly the types to start throwing party popper moments into their personalized punk outbursts, this instantly offers a nostalgic glory. The uplifting vibe probably isn’t what Rancid set out to achieve, but such an array of sing-along hits just has that effect amongst a set riddled with highlights. Roots Radical, something of a punk-revival calling card, opens proceedings with a bearded Armstrong leading a sweaty call to arms and launching a mosh-pit that doesn’t abate even slightly for more than an hour. Rancid power through songs like it’s a contest to wedge in as many in as possible, but with Billie-Joe inspired Radio, the (marginally) calmer waters of Journey to the End of East Bay and powerful newbie Last One to Die all given early airings, there’s an unintended sense of loved-up alternative karaoke.
Nine years is a long time, but the hero worship going on down the front here must be intense even to Rancid. Every time Armstrong steps onto his wedge to slam through another riff, two punters on the front barrier are quite literally bowing down before him in praise, while Fredericksen is an imposing back up. Lars’ stunningly adept vocals for side project Lars Fredericksen and the Bastards, incidentally, are an indicator of just how good Armstrong himself has had to be just to remain majority front man. The former slams his way through world class punk riffs whilst looking like the kind of stern street-character who could slay you with wit as well as power.
Like most great punk bands, Rancid peak when their lyrics are only a touch short of incitement, be it political or emotional. 11th Hour, during which Armstrong screams “Do you know where the power lies? I say it starts and ends with you” is a stark call that – be it over a decade old – seems targeted right at Ireland’s mellow political acceptance. Nihilism sees the band stick a label on their own (thankfully fading) alcoholic/ destructive tendencies, while Maxwell Murders is a grim glance at societal woes. Olympia WA stands out above them all, filtered through big city dissatisfaction and romantic imbalance. It’s as soulful as punk comes, playing up that unique, growly vocal edge. Lyrically, Armstrong buries his urban loneliness in meaningless afflictions, an apt sentiment for the genre’s aggressively downbeat world view.
What makes tonight, though, is in more than the sensational highs of tracks like encore selection Poison Time Bomb, Tenderloin and Ruby Soho; it’s in how clear it is that they can still mean so much to so many. Even a near-decade from their last appearance, it’s clear from crowd interactions that Rancid still have a home in Dublin that’s more community than fan base. Where many of their pop-punk counterparts have failed, they’ve clung fast to an audience that’s aged with them, one that continues to connect with their messages of societal contempt. It’s hard to imagine a more moving, euphoric return.