WASHINGTON, D.C. -- One month before they unleash Life Won't Wait (June 30), the most
ambitious and stylistically diverse album of their career, punk-rock
torchbearers Rancid rumbled through an unannounced set at Washington,
D.C.'s Black Cat club on Monday.
The show, one of a select few secret concerts before the band sets out for
this summer's Warped tour, surprised many at the club, which was packed
with kids anxious to see hometown ska heroes the Pietasters. During the
55-minute, 18-song set, Rancid debuted several songs from Life Won't
Wait, but they also took time to slam through crowd favorites from ...
And Out Come The Wolves (1995) and earlier albums.
Sitting in the basement backstage before the show, guitarist Lars
Frederiksen said Rancid strive to maintain their connection with the scene
that gave rise to the East Bay, Calif., band in the early 1990s.
"I think a lot of people came under the impression that we all have huge
mansions on the top of this hill in Venezuela and totally disassociated
ourselves," said the 26-year-old singer and guitarist as he gulped a cup of
coffee, still bleary-eyed from a hectic drive through rush-hour congestion.
"But the truth of the matter is that we've actually stayed closer to the
scene that gave us so much ... Once you get out there and think that you're
some big-fucking-success rock star, that's when I think you lose it and
"That's when you start believing your own hype and taking yourself too
seriously," added boy-faced bassist Matt Freeman, 32, who co-founded Rancid
with guitarist Tim Armstrong in 1992.
Onstage, the bandmembers did nothing of the sort, attacking the rallying
opener "Roots Radicals" with ferocity. Armstrong, clad in a bomber jacket
with a tightly wrapped blue bandana covering his head, bounced and careened
all over the stage. By set's end, Armstrong appeared worn out, though he
mustered the energy to flash the audience with knowing looks whenever he
approached the mic.
If neither Armstrong nor Frederiksen owns an outstanding voice as a solo
singer, on wax and in person their vocals lock together like puzzle pieces.
On new songs such as "Warsaw" and "Life Won't Wait," as well as older
tracks such as "Salvation" and "Avenues & Alleyways," Frederiksen's
gravelly throat complemented Armstrong's leathery sound to create a pure,
albeit rough, meld.
Though observers often depict Rancid as Armstrong's vehicle because of his
history with Freeman and his songwriting credits, during Monday's show,
Frederiksen assumed primary control of the helm, introducing songs and
chatting with audience. By the time he announced "Bloodclot," Life
Won't Wait's adamant first single, Frederiksen's 5-inch spiked hair
was matted flat against his head.
"We know the Tibetan Freedom Concert is happening soon," he said, referring
to the all-star June benefit being held this year in Washington. "We were
part of that last year and it's a great fucking thing. This is for the
Chinese government, it's called 'Bloodclot,' and that means 'motherfucker.' "
Throughout the set, the crowd took quickly to Rancid's new songs,
especially ska-soaked tracks such as "Hooligans." The Pietasters' horn
section joined the band for an impromptu run through the Stax-flavored
"Backslide," which, judging from audience reaction, would make a fine
candidate for the album's second single.
While "Take Warning" scored high marks for sentimental reasons (the song,
sung by Freeman, dates to the pre-Rancid band Operation Ivy), the
adrenaline-charged "Brothels" best highlighted the currents of brotherhood
that run through Rancid's work. With Frederiksen bobbing his head at the
mic stand, a sweat-slick Armstrong threw an arm around him, holding a mic
in each hand for both of them in what seemed to be a display of genuine
respect and affection.
It's such infectious admiration that spills over from the stage and stereo
into their audience when Rancid are at their peak.
"We've all been going to shows since we were kids," Frederiksen said before
the show. "It gave us a place to go. You gotta always remember how close
to home you really are."