He comes stumbling up to us, pint in hand cuz that’s just how Brits are. He apologises to my mate for running into her during the opening band in a Cockney accent that’s been softened and cleared up some by years of living in America.
He’s wearing a grey flat cap, checkered loafers and cargo shorts. His punk-rock denim with the standard cut-off sleeves, patches and pins, is older than the youngest generation in tonight’s crowd. He tells us about meeting Subhumans’ frontman Dick Lucas at a show in London when he was 9 (he’s now 41), that Dick sent him to the wrong venue for tonight’s gig (I explained the Grog Shop also hosts shows here), and then he calls Dick and his mates “twit-cocking fuckknobs” for not having their shit straight. The most East London thing ever has just occurred at a hole-in-the-wall punk club in the Midwestern United States.
I’m still laughing over that when from about ten feet away, a flamboyant-looking man comes barreling out the front door of the Hawk, the very gay bar next door to Now That’s Class, arms flying everywhere, and he’s yelling, “It smells like baloney! It smells like baloney!” and runs off down Detroit Road.
The English chap moves on and a man has come up to us looking for his date. Her name is “Jennifer” but it’s not me. He’s convinced she’s left and is quite dramatic and distraught about all this. After a few minutes he asks me if I can be her replacement because I’m also a “Jennifer”. I explained that I’m a “Gennifer”, suggested he go back inside and see if he can find one with a “J” first and let me know how it works out.
This is gonna be a weird night….
The Great Britain that spawned Dick Lucas and other frontrunners of the punk movement was a nation economically divided and under a constant threat of war and terrorism with a powerful conservative base and loud, angry leftists fighting back, not unlike the Britain we have today. Punk was the largest cultural pushback against the establishment. While the Sex Pistols used shock value and all-encompassing lyrics to get their point across, many punk bands that followed wrote lyrics pointing the finger directly at specific ideologies in a way that was more focused and showed a clear in-depth understanding of who and what they were up against. Johnny Rotten screeched “Anarchy In The U.K.”; ‘anarcho-punk’ bands like the Subhumans give us the college explanation.
Age mellows us all physically, but has not had much effect on the Subhumans. Lucas is still wired and frantic; guitarist Bruce Treasure may be in the best physical shape of his life. Lucas’s unfiltered rants were no less heated. He tends to talk at crowds rather than to them (see Mark E. Smith of The Fall), so his rants between songs sometimes went places you wouldn’t expect. Lucas dedicated “This Is Not An Advert” to “all of you stuck…in corporate London…” as if many in this crowd could actually relate to that environment. But it ultimately makes the Subhumans no less accessible to the crowd – even if you’re too young to know who Margaret Thatcher is or too American to know what “like hell the North will rise again” means, you’ll still understand the spirit and the anger that created it.
The Subhumans were never afraid to experiment, unlike a lot of punk bands of the time who stuck with the standard ‘2-3-4’ style of play. Deep, melodic guitar solos and slow, sludgy rhythms out of the bass and drums often come out of nowhere, turning otherwise classically punk songs into heavy-metal bangers. “Subvert City”, one of the Subhumans’ most significantly varied tracks, inspired one of the largest sing-alongs from the nearly 200 fans in attendance, as did the most-popular “Mickey Mouse Is Dead”, and “No Thanks”, a testament to the struggle to not sell out as a music artist. “Pigman” is a brave choice to play in America these days, but the Subhumans and their crowd seemed not to mind. After a short break, they returned for an encore, ending with “No”, the final “fuck you” from a united band and audience against the establishment, just as much Trump as Thatcher.
Local rockers The Snakes, and War on Women, opened the show. Drummer Dave Breda says his band has a punk influence but he likes to refer to it more as “aggressive rock”. Singer Nicolette Ironwing has a vocal range you don’t expect to hear from the frontwoman of any band, more or less a punk one. Their melodic mix of punk and aggro-rock made them quite a suitable opener for the Subhumans, and the audience agreed.
I assume our lost soul in search of a Jennifer found his match, I never saw him again. The bloke from East London, Ipswich if you’re familiar, carried on at the front of the stage most of the night like he was at reunion with classmates. No chance of finding out what it was at The Hawk that smelled so much like baloney but that may be something we want to stay secret anyway.