Death and All Their Friends: Tween Watching and Wig Tossing at Burgerama
A summer festival well before summer.
Burgerama, the two day music festival put on by Burger Records, is an ice cold beer in the stifling hellscape that is the corporate summer festival calendar. Considering all the tweens I saw, maybe it was more likely a flavored vodka hidden in a sprite bottle. Regardless, it was refreshing as hell no matter how old I felt. Located in the middle of an unassuming Orange County office park, the festival is exactly the right size. I’ve never seen that before at a festival. They’ve all been too big or too small, but this was Goldilocks: just right.
The first thing I saw when approaching the outdoor festival grounds was a big tent for hilariously out of place UFC clothing manufacturer Affliction. I’m not sure why Affliction had such a big presence at Burgerama, because none of the Michael Ceras and Aubrey Plazas that make up Burger Records’ target audience would ever purchase any of their products. Maybe Affliction has a really progressive irony department? I could see a Big Dawg or even No Fear tent getting some good business—hell, a WB store hawking denim jackets with Taz dunking on Tweety would sell out in a heartbeat—but Affliction? It remained the biggest mystery of Day 1.
The festival is made up of three stages, one of which I never actually saw. I don’t know if that says more about me, the great lineup on the other two stages, or the layout. Inside at the Observatory, I caught up with my friend and King Tuff/The Memories drummer Garett Goddard. He told me to check out the band onstage, a rollicking road trip of a girl group called Habibi, who were exactly what I wanted them to be: head-bopping, sun-drenched, and in complete control. (A feeling best represented by the pink-haired, high-waisted pants wearing, lady drummer.)
After taking a break to drink a few beers and watch the tweens with my friend, I emerged outside to catch some of the dirty barbed-wire magic carpet that is Hunx and his Punx. Between tight, crisp, short tracks, Hunx had the best stage banter of any band I saw. After a 30 second, self-proclaimed political song called “Don’t Call Me Fabulous” Hunx laughed, "That's a dumb stupid song.” He then turned to the crowd and asked, “Are we the best band at this festival? Are we the best band you've ever seen? Imagine you're in hell and you have to hear that song forever, and if you don't love it twenty times you're gonna go to a worse hell."
It’s safe to say John Waters would’ve loved the queercore lightning of Hunx and his Punx, but something tells me Waters would’ve liked Hunx bassist Shannon Shaw’s other outfit Shannon and the Clams even more. I’m already a huge fan of Shannon and the Clams, but seeing them again just solidified it. If you took the B-52s, a DVD of Hairspray, and a generous dollop of vanilla ice cream, and blended it into a milkshake, that would come close to approaching Shannon and the Clams. They are the hammock of bands—I just wanna chill inside them forever.
Guitarist Cody Blanchard was responsible for another festival first for me, being the first person to request a wig from the audience. This may sound weird if you weren’t there, but the kids in the crowd threw a myriad of the weirdest shit I’ve ever seen at the stage. Shoes, blow-up dolls, giant paper lollipops taped to broomsticks, crutches, and even a Westboro-esque sign reading “GOD HATES BURGER.”
Three songs after the request, they still hadn’t received the wig, which at that point, was the worst thing that happened at the fest. Finally, a tween relented and tossed the wig at Cody, who promptly wrapped it around the mic stand a la a freaky Steven Tyler. Did I want him to put the wig on? Of course I did. Do I understand why he didn’t? Obviously. These schoolchildren are probably filthy with lice. (Full disclosure: My autocorrect initially changed the word “lice” to the word “love” and it took a lot of effort not to leave it that way.)
I walked past a dog with a GoPro on it to get back to the Observatory stage in time to see Punk Rock innovators/former Jesus Reggae band Death. I made it in time to catch the end of the DJs set that preceded them. The DJs at this festival were on point, by the way, keeping the vibe going in between each act, but the dude DJing before Death was literally on his phone texting someone in front of a packed house. In a way, that makes him the greatest DJ I've ever seen.
Death, complete with matching tunics, had the most fun onstage of any band I saw at the fest. That says a lot considering they're middle-aged perennial underdogs who quite possibly invented a genre and have heretofore been ignored for it. The crowd was thirsty for Death, and they were an oasis of unironic joy. (One unsung victory for Death is, by my estimation, they are single-handedly bring back the Avril Lavigne forearm warmer.)
What's weirder for Death: Seeing crowdsurfing tweens at their concert in 2014 or having a crowd in the first place? When they envisioned fame, did they think their audience would take the form of George Michael Bluth? A parade of bony awkwardness in plaid shirts rushed the stage and flipped into the crowd. I wonder if the comfort of these privileged brace-faces is alien to Death. One can only assume that nobody who looks like these kids would’ve attended a 70s era death show in Detroit-- not because ironic T-shirts weren’t popular, but because of the staunch boundaries in the music industry that prevented Death from becoming famous in the first place. Their whole set I was trying to think of their songs coming out of poor 20-somethings and honestly I think their tunes are actually better coming from the mouths of dads.
I went back outside to see Day 1 headliner The Black Lips. As I found a spot, I watched a young roadie climb over the lip of the stage to turn on a pair of fog machines. Man, watching a dude turn on a fog machine really takes away the mystique of fog machines.
I love The Black Lips, though. I love them more now that I saw them live. I found myself singing along and actually dancing for the first time all festival. It could’ve been the booze, but I think it was them. They make it so goddamned easy to let go and enjoy yourself. Their three song run of Dirty Hands, Katrina, and Bad Kids was my favorite of the festival. They had an informality to them which was contagious. One can only assume they would act the same onstage headlining a festival as they do in a basement.
Mid-way through their set, however, the bony teens took over my enjoyment of the band. I don’t know when I got so old. You could’ve replaced a couple of the Black Lips songs with the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme, and I wouldn’t have known the difference, because I became Larry fucking David for about fifteen minutes. I suddenly felt like because I wouldn’t let a pair of Perfect Aryan Children finger each other on top of me, I was the bad guy. I’d understand being elbowed for 45 minutes if I was in the pit, but I was to the side of the goddamned stage. I tried to shake off my newly-intense Judaism, and enjoy the band. No, handsome freshman yelling “Fag-gots” to the tune of “Bad Kids,” I will not let you ruin this for me.
I got back into it and basked in the casual twang of the rest of their set. After they concluded I smoked a cigarette and returned backstage. I got there just in time to see Perfect Aryan Children being shoved out of the backstage area by two beefy security guards. It's not often that there’s a perfect bookend to finish a night, but what better way to end this story than with justice?
Photos by Cornell Reid
Josh Androsky is not a cop, but he is a teen. He's on Twitter. - @ShutUpAndrosky