So, I’m pretty sure I saw Subhumans on their 1999 reunion tour when I was living in Austin, Texas – either them or Culture Shock, who ended up playing a lot of Subhumans songs – as they were functionally the same band. And my history with the Subhumans goes back to the beginning for sure. I probably heard them first in 1986 and instantly loved their intelligence, wit, sound and the fact that they’d shift from raging punk to down tempo reggae. I still like all of that, but find that those who have come after have left a bit of a bad taste for the genre exercise. With all that said, the too long, didn’t read summary is “pretty good for a bunch of old duffers”.
Here’s the longer version.
The show was at the Horseshoe Tavern, which is a good room for sound. I can’t say I was ever in the Horseshoe for a show, but did spend a few shows in the 90’s at it’s neighbour, the 360. We arrived as Brutal Youth were starting their set – and they reminded me of a heavier Doughboys. Imagine the poppy punk songs with occasional palm muted power chords, and melodic vocals. Perfectly competent, but didn’t move me. I can see why they are popular, but didn’t really strike me as anything that I would be into – but of course, I’m less interested in a band the further away from sounding like a jet engine taking off they get.
Up next were Fea from San Antonio, on tour with the Subhumans. Again, melodic punk, heavily influenced by Dangerhouse Records (Alley Cats, The Bags) bands – would definitely be in familiar territory with a lot of the more melodic Southern Californian bands. While they were perfectly competent musically, and generated some head nods and a few boisterous individuals looking to slamdance throughout the audience, nothing they could have done could really have moved the majority of the crowd to more than polite acceptance. I feel for the band too, because they’re up against it hard – the audience is mostly biding time until they see the Subhumans, and nothing anyone can do will change that fact. You’d have to practically behead a baby to get anyone to notice. I often wonder whether it’s worth it opening for these large bands. With all that said, Fea definitely put in a set that was worth listening too, if a touch too long.
Finally, Subhumans set up, and fire up a set including only a couple new songs. And I have to say, I’ve seen reunions (and while this doesn’t really qualify as that anymore) I’ve also seen bands phone it in. This is not a band that phones it in. The set included pretty much every song you’d want to hear (except Susan and maybe The Day The Country Died), and I resisted the desire to yell out “Stupid Humans” (Subhumans before they were Subhumans).
There’s also a bunch of people out there who also think that punk shouldn’t be political, so when a singer or someone else starts talking about politics, lots of times people shit-talk. That’s bullshit, and almost 100% of good punk is somehow talking about political issues. Subhumans aren’t going to shy away from politics, understanding that the politics of everyday life (something, somewhere just ain’t right) are inextricably linked to the politcs of power and greed. Calling that out in 2019 may seem redundant, but at some point, someone has to introduce you to the point. The only thing about the set was that it indeed flew through the 50 minutes like it was a blink of the eye. Thoroughly enjoyable.
The only remotely bad thing about it was that it was a 21+ show, which in thinking about the politics of the band, struck me as perhaps a bit at odds. Nevertheless, it was a good show, and if you were debating about seeing them on this tour thinking that they would be old and slowing down, that though should be dismissed immediately. I’m sure the band is pushing up against being 50 – or shortly thereafter. So don’t put off seeing them this time round. Well worth the ticket price, especially if you like the band to begin with.