Updated: Jan 3
So…I have a confession to make: Lagwagon is my “least favorite band.” However, that might make me the most qualified person to review their show because I will not bring any bias to the table. But I must clarify something. Lagwagon being my least favorite band isn’t a reflection of the quality of their music. They aren’t my most hated band. Actually, it means quite the opposite. The phrase “least favorite band” still features one keyword, and that is “favorite.”
Despite not getting the appeal of Lagwagon, they have managed to grow on me. In part because many of the most amazing, talented, and fun-loving people I have met in the past five years have been Lagwagon super fans. If the measure of a band’s “greatness” was based on the people in their fanbase, Lagwagon could compete to be the GOAT. Before this particular show, I had already seen Lagwagon live on two separate occasions. I was beginning to think that perhaps there was something wrong with me for not understanding the immense amount of love that my husband, among others, have for this band. However, this show clarified so many things for me…but more on that later.
After a two-and-a-half-hour drive, we found ourselves at the Grog Shop, which easily ranks as one of Cleveland’s most iconic music venues, especially within the punk scene. The Grog Shop has been featured in numerous music videos. It is the setting of some of my most legendary stories. And after two tumultuous years of living through a pandemic, there couldn’t have been a better combination of a band and a venue to bring back a sense of normalcy that we haven’t experienced since December of 2019.
We arrived early to check out the opening bands, Heart & Lung and Red City Radio. Both attracted a respectable number of local fans and earned themselves their own review based on how they succeeded in their task of gradually escalating the crowd’s energy, getting us all hyped for Lagwagon.
As the stage was being set for the headlining band, I quickly realized that this would not go down like other punk shows that followed the tragedy at Astroworld. Despite being around for over 30 years, Lagwagon draws a pretty young crowd that is further energized by diehard veteran punks who still feel pretty young at heart—if only for the night. If you are among my regular readership, you know I love to get as close as possible. Live music is even more electric when you can see the tiniest details.
That being said, if you have been to the Grog Shop, you know that there is no buffer between the floor and the stage. So, as I stood there with my toes touching the stage, my back started to ache in anticipation of the beating my body was about to take. The crowd’s excitement was palpable as the members of Lagwagon stood ready to take the stage and play the entirety of their beloved Double Plaidinum album cover to cover.
However, I underestimated the showmanship and professionalism of THE Joey Cape, who took the stage alone to serenade us to the acoustic opening of Alien 8, which satiated the impatient crowd. Cape’s melodic intro contained the tenderness of a lullaby. It created a moment so magically transcendental that it almost eludes words. The entire audience, excluding myself and a handful of puppy punks, was instantly transported back in time to the fall of 1997.
And, as the band joined him on stage and the tempo kicked up, I had my first of two critical revelations: the appeal of Lagwagon is the experience of youthfulness in motion. Their fans aren’t looking for musical growth or in-depth political commentary. They are looking to recapture the more carefree moments of their formidable years that have been lost to the ravenous sands of time.
So, if one wants to understand the punk phenomenon that is Lagwagon, you have to see them live, and more importantly, you have to see them up close. I mean, really close. I have seen them perform at a music festival and in a classical indoor amphitheater and didn’t get it. But I have never seen them this close in such an intimate setting…and I mean incredibly intimate setting.
As the crowd swirled, swelled, and pulsated, I was knocked onto the stage more than once. Joey Cape even gave me a raised eyebrow and a nod during “Making Friends” to confirm that I was okay. The energy is different when you are upfront. It feels more kinetic and fluid and less over the top. You get to see the personalities and mannerisms of the band members shine through the noise as they work together to put on the show, and the members of Lagwagon have plenty of personality to go around.
That personality has built their legacy. Joey Cape’s chill professionalism shines as he gently corrected Chris Rest when he started a song on the wrong note. Chris Rest’s played the most beat-up Les Paul I have ever seen played by a professional musician. The bassist, Joe Raposo, gave a diehard fan in a wheelchair a fist bump. Or the awe created by 6’8” guitarist, Chris Flippen, as he entertained the crowd by handling his instrument as effortlessly as a child with a ragdoll as he made it swim across the stage like a dolphin. Somehow after more than a quarter of a century, Lagwagon has become the Peter Pan of punk, still juvenile yet remarkably unrefined in the best of ways.
After five songs, I decided to head to the back of the venue to join my husband’s unofficial high school reunion, which included three members of the local Cleveland band, Firebarker: Tim Kelly, Nathan Torok, and Dan Wilson. Strangely enough, Firebarker is largely responsible for me even developing a healthy appreciation of Lagwagon through reverse osmosis. I was lucky enough to attend a handful of Firebarker shows before seeing Lagwagon for the first time in 2018. It wasn’t until after seeing Lagwagon at Camp Anarchy that I realized how much Firebarker was influenced by Lagwagon. From their breakneck transitions featuring melodic guitar licks to their unassuming lyrical patterns, Firebarker features some of the most remarkable qualities from Lagwagon’s deep cuts, with a healthy dose of rustbelt grit for spice and edgier metal undertones for depth.
But I digress...Let’s get back to the show…
Speaking of deep cuts, I was mingling with my husband’s old friends in the back by the bar when I was struck by yet another incredible revelation. Double Plaidinum is actually an exceptionally good album. In fact, it just might be a masterpiece, with each song building on the foundation of the previous track. I know this isn’t some well-kept secret, especially when we bought tickets to a punk show and ended up at a high school reunion. However, despite having heard every song on the album, I had never listened to it cover to cover until that night. But now that I was hearing it live, I finally got it.
Remember how I said that many of the most amazing, talented, and fun-loving people I have met in the past five years have been Lagwagon super fans? Well, all of those people have something else in common—they are all approximately seven years my senior. Seven years doesn’t sound that significant, but it’s the difference between listening to your favorite albums on C.D. and listening to an eclectic myriad of unrelated singles on your computer. Lagwagon was one of the last bands that genuinely had the opportunity to explore the art of the full-length album in its total capacity before the digital music industry diminished its influence and importance. Their songs aren’t meant for the randomness of streaming. They are meant to be parts of a whole, and the whole album is far greater than the sum of its parts.
So in closing, when an elder punk recommends a band, instead of just streaming their songs on Spotify, ask them for their favorite album and go listen to it cover to cover. Before the vinyl revival, the art of the album was almost lost. Still, as Lagwagon so effectively showcased, sometimes the best way forward is going back to simpler unadulterated times. I know this trend of artists performing entire albums started with mainstream music festivals. Still, I think we should put forth our best effort to own it. Especially if it allows younger punks to redefine their expectations while experiencing the magic that brought the genre into the 21st century.
(If you love Lagwagon and are in the Cleveland area, I encourage you to come out to The Five O’Clock Lounge on March 5th to see one of my favorite bands, Firebarker, perform live. Supporting local artists is instrumental to keeping your local punk scene alive and helps attract more prominent national acts.)