Anti-Flag, The Max Levine Ensemble, Mischief Brew, the Mezingers at St. Stephen’s

This show was put on by the venerable activist organization Positive Force D.C. For a short story on what PF has been up to as of late, click here.
As the long story of the Force has been adequately told by many other scribes, I will simply offer a humble review of this show. One day I will post my long interview with PF mainstay Mark Andersen here (for his take on the best punk shows in 2008, click here.
This was the second time I’d seen the Max Levine Ensemble open for a popular national act at St. Stephen’s – in 2008 they played there with Magrudergrind and Leftover Crack.
TMLE has been around forever (like over a decade), and a lot of people in D.C. enjoy this band but also take it for granted because of its remarkable longevity and the consistency with which they gig locally. Almost every month of almost every year, you can catch a TMLE show in the Washington region. Take them in at a club, house, warehouse, church, or dodgy internet cafe – the choice is up to you! So, a TMLE set is NBD.
In my roughly seven years on the scene, I’ve seen TMLE a dozen or so times, maybe more. The band keeps it intricate, catchy and speedy enough to keep me interested.
At St. Steve’s I was struck by how dynamic and complex, yet lean, their songs are. Axeman David Combs deftly shows flashes of guitar heroism or anti-heroism, and TMLE throws hooks and variations on hooks at the crowd continually, rarely flogging a beat or a progression for long as you try to keep up. It’s smart and unique without being overkill or dull. It’s good punk.
Playing locally all the time makes yr shows less of a special event, but consistent gigging has its virtues: A bunch of kids hopped along to the pop-punk beat throughout TMLE’s set, shouting the words (to tracks both newish and vintage) at each other.
The prolific, versatile act played a new song about the oil spill, a track that I thought could self-identify as hardcore punk, and their decade-old classic, “Fuck You, I’m Not P.C.,” which got the crowd dancing hard. Lead singer David “Max Levine” Spoonboy included a nice shout-out to Positive Force and pitched some anarchist literature from the stage.
Other notes: I’m not an expert, but it seems the band’s songs have grown darker in recent years; bassist Bepstein is a good co-frontman, and Spoons and the Bep switch off on vocals within some of their songs, adding another variant to the band’s arsenal. A.

I can’t say that Mischief Brew was my cup of tea (ha). This group purveys gruff, poppy, roots rock with occasional punk flourishes. It wasn’t bad, just too Jammin’ Java for my taste (ha). I guess the dude has credibility because his web site says he did a split with the guy from the Dead Milkmen. Mischief Brew reminded me strongly of Against Me! and gets rave reviews from other journalists. Many teens were way into it. C+.

The Mezingers are a study in what Anti-Flag would be like without the style. The Ms basically sounded like a slightly more grim Anti-Flag, playing rock, hard-ska and straight-up punk with very occasional weird elements. But without the style and sloganeering, the Mezingers ultimately weren’t particularly memorable. Show us yr shtick! (ha). B-.

PF mainstay and accomplished author Mark Anderson made a long, impassioned speech before Anti-Flag played, while the band relaxed onstage. He talked a lot about America’s revolutionary heritage, expressing sentiments such as “Let’s take back our country!” and “You know what?! They won! And we can win!”
Mark is the most articulate person I’ve ever interviewed, but he is not the most compelling public speaker.
He said that it would be hard for him to pick a band he’d rather have play PF’s 25th anniversary celebration than AF: “They’re still up for a motherfucking fight! They’re still Anti-Flag!”

Anti-Flag lead-yelper Justin Sane is 37, according to Wikipedia, and he and drummer Pat Thetic formed their band in 1993, according to allmusicguide.com. From allmusicguide.com:
1997, after releasing a handful of singles, opening for their idols the U.K. Subs, the Exploited, and the Circle Jerks, and briefly touring the East Coast, “Die for the Government” was released, and 20,000 copies, four bassists, and four North American tours later, Anti-Flag gained their reputation for recapturing the old-school ethics of punk: fast, loud, obnoxious, and anti-everything that ends with an “ism.”

Anti-Flag’s first album was a treat, as I recall: a few funny tracks, a few fun tracks, a cool punk anthem (“Die for the Government”) – but since then the band has veered toward being insufferably corny, cheesy, glossy, and otherwise over-the-top. Among the punk cognoscenti (my friends) they have been considered either a joke or a guilty pleasure for a long time.
Anti-Flag has been on A-F Records, Fat Wreck Chords (2000-2004), token corporate behemoth RCA (2005-2009), and now releases its work on SideOneDummy.
The band experimented with a widely enlarged musical palette on its RCA Records (for my interview with Pat Thetic during that era click here), but apparently is back to old-school punk-pop on its latest album, “The People or the Gun,” which was released in June of 2009.
At the Positive Force show they had a new record for sale called “The Second Coming of Nothing,” which featured a funny caricature of Jesus on the cross. The clever, crass illustration made me LoL a few times, and it gave me hope that Anti-Flag were getting back to their roots, because when they first started out they had some pretty funny songs mixed in with the serious ones, and I enjoyed that stuff a lot more than, say, “Power to the peaceful, whoa!” (srsly a lyric of theirs)

Back in 2008 I asked Pat Thetic about Anti-Flag’s relationship with Positive Force D.C. He said: “Positive Force was one of our heroes back when we were really young, back when D.C. was the main focus of all of punk rock. Positive Force, for us, was the other component of the D.C. community that made it make sense to us. It was music and activism. We were always in awe of what they were doing.”

From the stage at St. Stevie’s, Sane said that he wrote a letter to PF about 15 years ago and was touched that Andersen took the time to respond.

At this D.I.Y. show in a three-quarters-full room, playing to a few hundred kids, Anti-Flag seemed relevant, even if only as a crucial gateway into the scene. The audience skewed quite young, and there were probably a dozen kids there who will soon put on shows of their own, play in bands that get some notice, go to a few Positive Force meetings, and otherwise keep punk alive.

Seen on the Scene: James “The Guiltiest” Doubek, Darrin Keller, Brad Napier, Christine Cuniff, Ambrose “The Dick” Nazims, Mark Andersen. I swear to Christ some of these people were observed singing along to A-F’s “Fuck Police Brutality.”

Was Pat Vogel there? No.

Free DC! benefit for We Are Family with:
Anti-Flag (Side One Dummy) http://www.anti-flag.com
The Menzingers (Red Scare Industries) http://www.myspace.com/themenzingers
The Max Levine Ensemble (local boys made good) Mischief Brew (Philly acoustic punk vaudeville) http://www.mischiefbrew.com

At St. Stephens Church 1525 Newton Ave, NW
Doors at 6:00pm, Music at 7:00pm. $10, 9 with a can.
St. Stephens Church is located just blocks away from the Columbia Heights Metro/S2, S4, 42 Bus

Advance tickets will be available at Smash! Records (www.smashrecords.com) 2314 18th Street Northwest

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