Live in a Dive (Fat)
by Tim Den
The almighty Lagwagon are not as active as they once were (the inlay/accompanying comic book humorously pokes fun at this), so even when they release a live record (albeit a long-awaited one) it feels like a monumental event. As it should, since (how many times have I uttered these words in print? I’ve lost count) they are by far one of the best living songsmiths of our generation, punk rock or not. For over a decade now, Lagwagon have penned the soundtracks of our lives. And having seen the band countless times over said decade, I can concretely say that not much comes close to a Lagwagon show. Not only are they sickeningly tight and the songs a direct injection of adrenaline to the bloodstream, they always change up the setlist so as to never bore the diehards. I remember seeing them in ’94 when they opened with “Inspector Gadget”… Ah, those were the days.
So I had two questions going into Live in a Dive: 1) How well is Ryan Greene going to capture Lagwagon live, and 2) What songs are they going to bust out? After all, I’ve seen them perform “Wind in Your Sail,” but who knows if they’re just going to stick to the ol’ standards? Well, let’s tackle one question at a time, shall we?
Longtime SoCal sound god Ryan Greene captures Lagwagon, as he does with almost every band he works with, perfectly and pristinely. This almost sounds like a studio recording, which makes me and lots of other fans (check out the band’s message board) wonder if post-production was involved. The live energy is real, most of the tightness is real (you’d believe it if you’ve ever seen them live), but what about AutoTune? Beat Doctor? Were these filters used to give the performances a gloss-over after the fact? It would only make sense, since there are literally no missed notes whatsoever, vocally or musically. NONE. And I, for one, don’t remember guitarist/backup vocalist Chris “Leon” Rest being that good of a harmonizer. Something was definitely fooled with.
But do you care? I sure as fuck don’t. The songs sound SICK! The momentum and execution practically nails you against the wall! Not to mention it’s fantastic to finally hear versions of classics such as “Violins” and “Island of Shame” with Dave Raun on the skins. Even though the man doesn’t always duplicate the recordings, his whirlwind speed and fills more than make up for it (and let’s not forget that, when he first joined the band, he could barely play “Lagwagon speed.” Let’s hear it for hard work, eh?).
Ah yes, the classics. Shit, that’s all of ’em, isn’t it? While some are always present (the aforementioned “Violins,” “Alien 8,” “May 16th”), I was surprised to see that they dropped others from the set. No “Brown Eyed Girl” (thank god), “Know it All,” or “Kids Don’t Like to Share,” but amazingly enough “Beer Goggles!” Even the band states how infrequently they play this gem (I’ve only seen them do it once). As for other surprises, they do Trashed rarities “Stokin’ the Neighbors” and “Give it Back,” but no “Lazy” or “Dis’Chords;” Let’s Talk About Feelings opener “After You My Friend” but no “Leave the Light On;” Hoss favorites “Bombs Away” and “Razor Burn” but no “Shaving Your Head;” and sadly nothing from Let’s Talk About Leftovers or the underrated Double Plaidinum tracks (“Unfurnished,” “One Thing to Live,” “Confession,” “Smile,” “To All My Friends”). If it were up to me, I would’ve definitely included a few more from Blaze, “Whipping Boy,” “No One” (never seen this one either), and “Bye For Now,” but hey, if it were up to me, I’d have them play their entire catalog! I’m just thankful “Bad Moon Rising” wasn’t included!
Not to mention the new song “The Chemist” absolutely SMOKES. Now if the band can get it together for a new album before 2010 (don’t hold your breath)…
Curious note… Though the inlay claims that Leon is “left guitar” and Chris “Big Bitch” Flippin is “right guitar,” it’s not hard to decipher the opposite immediately. At one point, Joey even yells “Leon!” before the right guitar solos. Misprint maybe?