I'll admit, it was difficult for me to tear myself away from a late afternoon/early evening nap yesterday and walk over to Coventry for the PUSA show at the Grog. Had it not been for CB good buddy Leia Alligator being the opening act, I quite likely would've blown the whole thing off.
I'm so happy I didn't do that.
Last night's show was the first of two concerts this summer that take me right back to my high school music days (the other being Cracker's gig later this month at the Beachland). Thirteen years ago (the last time PUSA played in Cleveland), I was a graduated senior, killing the summer weeks until it was time to go away to school in the fall. The President's debut album was one of the tapes I kept in the perfectly sized arm rest storage component of my beloved white four-door Ford Taurus. I'd bought the car, my first, a year or so before with my own money, saved from summers delivering furniture and selling produce and from winters selling Christmas trees, and though it was technically my cash, my father had veto power over my selection. He approved the Taurus because he liked the solid sound he apparently heard when the doors shut. I spent many hours cruising the greater Chicagoland area with my best pal at the time, taking turns playing music we'd been getting (by this point on CD, but then dubbing onto cassette since neither of our vehicles had a CD player), and though the tunes ranged from the Chili Peppers to Weezer to Phish, tracks like "Lump" and "Peaches" were frequently fast-forwarded/reverse-rewinded to.
Nowadays I'm not too much on catching shows on the basis of sentimentality alone, and the post-Pure Frosting catalog is totally foreign to me. Yet, for an hour or so last night, in the midst of the thickest and most diverse crowd I've seen yet in my two years hitting Grog shows, I was totally transported. I didn't always remember the lyrics - in fact, other than "Lump" and the "Peaches" chorus, I had no clear memory other than recognition - but that wasn't the point. In fact, at one point I heard one guy standing behind me admit to his buddy that he kept mixing lyrics up when trying to sing along. His buddy, as a good friend should, replies, "That's ok - we all fuck it up." True quote.
By the time the band's main set was winding down, I was three sheets in and glazingingly gazing around, spotting couples that might not have been out like that in a decade and a half stone making out in the crowd and laughing to the point of near disaster as I heard, whilst in the men's room, the singer ask the crowd between songs who in the audience was there to have an affair. The euphoria in the room was infectious, and while there were a few hold-outs (i.e., the douchebags heckling puppets and the Warehouse District rats standing in a huddle with box-out elbows akimbo, making life miserable for anyone trying to get past), the number of shared smiles vastly outweighed the hard looks exchanged between strangers jostling one another on beer runs.
The sound itself was surprisingly punk, more than I ever recall, but it completely worked and I'm convinced that band founder and frontman Chris Ballew hasn't lost a step in the band's sixteen years together. For the record, original drummer Jason Finn had his set under full control and guitbass master Andrew McKeag (with whom I recently conducted this interview) has crazy chops.
The band played all the songs the audience craved, and while it was gratifying to hear "Lump" and "Peaches" the highlight of the evening was absolutely "Stranger" (aka the "Carla the Stripper" song). As I predicted, the band busted out "Cleveland Rocks," which when hearing it was choppy to the point of surprise. Later, talking with McKeag post-show, I learned that they had never before played that live. He even told a story about how, when he first started playing with the band, they told him certain songs he wouldn't have to learn, "Cleveland Rocks" being one of them. As they prepped for this show, however, they knew they had to give it to the fans, and were rewarded by a roar that rivaled the reception to any other song they played throughout the well-received evening.
Finishing the main set with a rousing "Video Killed the Radio Star" cover, which featured a dope "Under Pressure" hook lead-in, after a quick pro-forma "thank you and good night" break, the band returned to the stage for a blistering encore, ripping through the aforementioned "Cleveland Rocks" and moving quickly through "Body," Schoolhouse Rock classic "Three is the Magic Number," and a classic covers medley consisting of refrains from Snoop's "Gin & Juice" and and Tom Petty's "Free Falling." Ballew wound things down with a crowd sing along to "Not Gonna Make It" and a freestyle rap in which he gave a shout out to his girlfriend running the merch table and suggested everyone make their way over to buy some of their shirts.
We were standing in that area anyway and not soon after Ballew spoke a crush of consumer madness headed our way. I stuck around long enough to hear my second-favorite moment of the night (the first being Leia Alligator's deft response to the earlier referenced douche-hecklers), when a large-ish guy convinced his girlfriend (wife?) to give him $20 to get a shirt. He got the cash and went to the booth like a Charlie buying his first Wonka bar and asked for an XL. Told that the largest they had in that size was a medium, he said "I'll take it" before the girlfriend/wife could snatch her money back. With eyes wide open, she gave him a true "WTF?" look and as he walked away, shirt in hand, the last thing I heard him say was a promise to her: "I'll lose weight to wear this shirt."