SAN FRANCISCO -- Usually when you enter the legendary Fillmore, you are greeted by a man with a pony tail who says, "Welcome to the Fillmore," and a metal trough filled with shiny apples for the taking.
But Chumbawamba's performance Sunday night offered something more than kind words and colorful fruit.
Sitting next to the apples was someone handing out literature for the Industrial Workers of the World. A few steps away, right beside the T-shirt stand, was an information table for Food Not Bombs. Upstairs, another table was selling alternative press magazines and newspapers with editorial policies that ranged from the far left to anarchy.
And if you could tear yourself away from the onslaught of political literature, there was a pretty good rock show to watch too.
The lightning-hot eight-piece band played to a sold-out auditorium that greeted each of their political statements with a rousing cheer. While the majority of the crowd was obviously most familiar with the songs off the new hit album Tubthumper, older, more outwardly political songs such as "Enough Is Enough" and "Ugh! Your Ugly Houses!" did not exactly go unnoticed.
At times, it seemed that these guys, who only recently discovered some measure of commercial success with their major label debut, were simply running through their classics.
Still, it was "Tubthumping," the mega-selling punk dance hit, which got the audience jumping and hollering like rowdy football fans. The song's theme of survival against the odds seemed particularly striking juxtaposed by such message-based songs as the homelessness sucks manifesto of "The Big Issue" and the daring commentary of "The Anti-Nazi Song."
Chumbawamba have taken some licks from the leftist community for dumbing down their political side on the new LP, but that was not clear at all Sunday.
While making their points crystal clear time and again, Chumbawamba kept the pace lively and played a good mix of their music, some of which dates as far back as the mid '80s when few in the States had even heard of them. If you couldn't groove off songs about English labor struggles, you most certainly could be entertained by the mock-sexy dancing of singers Danbert "The Cat" Nobacon and Alice Nutter. If jumping up and down like a mad fool wasn't your cup of tea, their was ample opportunity to enjoy lush background harmonies.
In fact, the harmonies of guitarist Boff, trumpeter Jude Abbott and keyboardist Lou Watts were often the most impressive part of the show. Already the best part of Tubthumper, especially when competing against the circus barking of Nobacon and percussionist Dunstan Bruce, the threesome really reach in and grab you, in effect pulling you into the energy on stage. The a capella presentations of "Homophobia" and "The Anti-Nazi Song" were filled with anger and passion tempered by intelligent lyrics, a fact that made it easy to see that they cut their teeth on British folk songs.
And the trio did an excellent job of making their presence felt underneath the driving drums and guitar of such songs as "Mary, Mary" and "I Want More," giving the ears a place to relax when tired of slamming into the person next to you in the name of political change.
Early on, though, someone up front slammed a little too hard. "We seem to have had a fight up here in front," Nutter commented from the stage. "It looks to be over now. The women seem to have sorted it out. If you're looking for a fight," she continued, "please go somewhere else. We don't need to be fighting each other tonight.”
Chumbawamba had other people to attack that night. Nutter came out dressed in boxing gloves for the race-against-the-biological-clock-thriller "Timebomb." At about the mid-way point, Bruce announced the location of a protest which would address the recent use of pepper spray on anti-logging activists. Boff sang a few bars of "Candle in The Wind '97" (which he told the audience was one of their most requested songs.) before launching into the pop-punk song against the aristocracy, "Ugh! Your Ugly Houses!"
The show’s closer, "I Never Gave Up," was a stirring call to arms against those who oppress. Those in-the-know continued singing the political anthem while the band rested between sets.
Chumbawamba had done their job.
An excited group gathered outside John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom Room, just down the block from the Fillmore, after the show. There they stood talking about what had just happened inside the club. "Never give up. Never. Give. Up!" Simone Hug, 26, said, summing up what she felt was the band's message that night.
"It was excellent and very inspiring" her sister Dominik Hug, 27 continued.
Another friend, 27-year-old Angie De Roche, put it another way, "It's just like Dominik said a few minutes ago: If Chumbawamba ran the world, everything would be OK!" [Wed., Nov. 5, 1997, 9:00 a.m. PST]