FIDLAR, a garage-punk group notoriously known for putting on amazing live shows, headlined Varsity Theater this past Saturday with support from punk rockers the Frights and from SWMRS, a band impossible to lump into a single genre. The sold-out “Too Much” tour stop in Dinkytown presented the perfect opportunity for punk fans of all ages to unplug from recent events and embrace live music in an environment that was both safe and stimulating.
While the Frights and SWMRS were supporting acts, it was abundantly clear each band had its following and that there was massive overlap among the fandoms—creating an event with cohesion and high energy from start to finish. The mosh pit was working all night, and crowd surfing was met with all smiles and support from bouncers ensuring safety risks didn’t reach the stage or threaten the show’s easygoing vibe.
Oakland-based SWMRS, known as Emily’s Army until last year, profiled their signature raw-yet-refined, edgy sound. From Cole Becker’s bold lyrics and “Fuck Trump” T-shirt to his brother Max’s thundering guitar riffs, and from the commanding beats of drummer Joey Armstrong (son of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong) to the gritty lines of bassist Seb Mueller, the band made concertgoers forget all their troubles throughout the blistering set. Supporting the release of the band’s most recent LP, Drive North, Cole took a break from the album’s modern grunge pop vibe to rest his pipes late in the set. Instead of wailing into a microphone with the standard generic plug that acknowledges the city the band is performing in, he profiled his self-designed anti-Trump shirt, announcing he had more to sell to help raise money for charities and other causes—including the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.
In addition to fueling the growing mosh pit and never-ending crowd surfing, FIDLAR’s turn to showcase their newest album, Too, was met with the overwhelming aroma of weed spreading throughout the venue’s eclectic two levels—the general standing-room-only area on the ground floor and the comfortable mezzanine balcony level overhead (which features arguably the most fun and interesting bathroom arrangement to be found in the Twin Cities). With plenty of interesting things going on, including the sound engineer taking a quick break from his station to motorboat a middle-aged woman and the band’s vocalist introducing their manager as Gimli from The Lord of the Rings, the crowd met FIDLAR’s “Cheap Beer,” “40oz. on Repeat,” “West Coast,” and “Bad Habits” with exuberant sing-alongs and thunderous applause.
The crowd’s energy achieved a new level of elation when singer Zac Carper asked the audience to sit on the floor before bringing the room back up with a dynamic performance of one of the band’s signature songs, “Cocaine.” Rounding out FIDLAR’s polished-by-punk-standards sound are bassist Brandon Schwartzel and brothers Elvis and Max Kuehn, playing guitar and drums, respectively—a group that’s been with Carper performing as Fuck it Dog, Life’s a Risk since 2009.
FIDLAR’s Too was released last year. The band’s first, eponymous studio album was hailed by Rolling Stone as a top debut of 2013, listing it at 13 on its top 20 list and stating, “Sometimes a little California guitar chiming pokes through the stoner-thrash haze. Mostly, though, it’s all blitzkrieg slop all the time.”
While Saturday’s show came near the end of the tour, neither SWMRS and FIDLAR are strangers to performing in the Twin Cities area, with SWMRS having played the Garage in Burnsville last spring and FIDLAR having played both Varsity Theater and First Avenue/7th Street Entry in Minneapolis last year.