I’m a little late to the party on posting this concert review, but that’s not for a lack of interest on my end. It was a dark and beautiful Denver night, March 13 to be exact. Something amazing happened. Five Iron Frenzy played a show with MxPx. The A-OKs were there too, but they’re relatively unknown and don’t add to my nostalgia for the lineup. Pretty much every Christian kid in the 90s grew up listening to FIF and MxPx. To see them together in concert seemed unlikely, especially after the 2004 FIF breakup. Thankfully, FIF has been back from the dead for a couple years and got together with MxPx to do select locations with this show. The headliners remain the same at each location, but they cycle through the openers depending on location. If you’re reading this in preparation for an upcoming show, you won’t see The A-OKs, so we won’t focus too much on them in this review. To the people in Chicago, Portland, Cleveland, Santa Ana, and the surrounding areas: this will hopefully help you decide to go… or not. I’m just here for the music. Check out the scheduled dates here. Let’s dig into the March 13 performance.
The A-OKs at the Gothic Theater in Denver, Colorado
I wish I only had great things to say, but I don’t. Musically, The A-OKs seemed tight. Their arrangements were perfectly ska. Their lyrics and overall style, however, left me disappointed. I’ll admit I didn’t do my research beforehand; I should’ve known more about them. According to their ReverbNation bio, they call their style “PartyCore.” I guess that fits what I saw: lots of swearing, moshing, and angry lyrics. After talking with a few people in the crowd, it’s safe to say that none of us expected a band like The A-OKs to open a FIF show. Most of us know the headlining bands because of their Christian roots. Whether you’re on the wagon or off, it’s a little odd to add such an egregiously obscene opener to the mix. Would another Denver band fit their audience better than The A-OKs? Probably. The A-OKs are ska, so they fit, right? If that’s the only correlation you consider, sure. Personally, I think The A-OKs made things uncomfortable for a lot of people. If their lead signer didn’t call me a motherbleeper and curse in every sentence, it might have been a better set. That’s apparently their shtick. Sigh. If you can’t get your lyrical point across without the f-word, you shouldn’t be writing lyrics. The A-OKs are not a band I’d choose to see again.
MxPx at the Gothic Theater in Denver, Colorado
Ah, nostalgia. I grew up listening to MxPx. When I first heard about this show, I got more than a little excited. I’m super happy that FIF and MxPx started working together in the latest iterations of each band. As evident by the Denver sellout, they both still pull great numbers. It’s my understanding that they “co-headlined” the show with FIF in the closer spot for Denver. When you go to see this show, you’ll probably see the bands switch places, but I’m not sure if that’s true for every city.
So what did I see during the punk rawk show? Everything you’d expect from MxPx. It was a great show. They’re as polished as ever – probably even more so. Twenty-one years as a band will certainly get you there. It was awesome to stand in the crowd and listen to the audience sing every single lyric. They have some awesome fans. I spent most of the show bobbing my head and enjoying their wickedly punk rock guitar riffs. There aren’t any flashy theatrics here… just good, solid, rock-your-face-off music. Overall, I was very satisfied with their performance. If you expected something different, you’ve probably never seen MxPx.
It was actually great to see the full band at the show. By full band, I mean all the members as of 1995. Mike, Tom, and Yuri are actually doing shows together again. In 2012, Tom and Yuri decided to take a break from traveling. They still wrote stuff with Mike, but they weren’t touring any more. The “other guy” in the MxPx pictures is Jack Parker. He’s new to the lineup but has been Mike’s guitarist in Tumbledown (one of Mike’s side projects) for several years. None of MxPx’s current information lists him as a member of the band, but none of MxPx’s information is actually current. I’m not sure if they’ll maintain this lineup for the rest of the mini-tour, but I hope they do for your enjoyment. Everything was tight with a solid sound. I definitely recommend seeing MxPx.
Five Iron Frenzy at the Gothic Theater in Denver, Colorado
Oh, Five Iron. They’re like the lovable goofball cousin in your family that made reunions fun. Even though they faced some criticism for the darker sound of their newest album, Engine of a Million Plots, their part of the show was good and certainly entertaining. In my opinion, EOMP was the result of the goofball cousin growing up: not nearly as funny, but you quickly learn to love their newfound thoughtfulness. While it still has a few humorous moments, the album as a whole shows the maturity of a band that no one takes seriously.
The Denver show was a great mix of classic FIF songs and new tracks from EOMP. It was always high energy, but especially so when they busted out the ska. Their fans love the ska songs; they still skank and jump around like teenagers. Personally, I like EOMP more than the other albums. I still listen to their old stuff, but mostly for nostalgic reasons. Why do I love the new album? It shows the musical prowess and polish I’ve always wanted from FIF. I’ve studied music all my life; my tastes matured as I got older. I tend to appreciate a well-written melody more than a silly lyric. If you’re thinking I’m nuts and that FIF has never been about polish, you’re probably right. They’ve always been about having fun and putting on a great show.
That’s what they did March 13 at the Gothic. I saw Reese in a greenman suit once; it was traumatizing. Thankfully, he left the spandex at home and jumped around like a crazy person for most of the show. I’m beginning to think his only artistic goal is to hurt himself. Oh, and his vocals were actually good. What? Yeah, I know. Instead of being the scourge of the band, forgetting lyrics, and breaking stuff, he’s growing up too. Well, he still forgot lyrics, but it wouldn’t be a FIF show without that. Sure, he’s getting older, but that has nothing to do with his aversion to singing the right words. It’s part of his persona: silly and energetic. I don’t think Reese could do a slow song if he tried.
The rest of the band follows suit in energy and sound. Let’s talk about the guitars: extremely solid and better than ever. Micah, Sonny, and Scott are seasoned professionals at this point. With the help of a traveling in-ear rig, they’re also tighter than ever. They have the Kickstarter kids to thank for that hardware. I’m not going to justify their greatness with a piece of hardware, but the new rig brings a sense of control to every show. Instead of being at the mercy of the in-house sound engineer’s skill level, they control their monitor mix individually. A good monitor mix helps the band lock in, focus on the music, and enjoy the show. It doesn’t fix the house mix… that could still stink, but the Gothic engineer nailed it. I was up front taking photos for the first few songs, so I couldn’t hear everything initially. I went back to the “sweet spot” for a few songs, and everything sounded great. It was one of the only shows I’ve been to recently where I didn’t have to critique the mix. Kudos to the Gothic engineer, wherever he is.
The horns were on point as well. I think everyone’s finally settled into the new (and old) music. As a trumpet player, I know how hard it can be to get your embouchure back after not playing for a while. The same thing goes for trombone and saxophone. I’m happy to report that the horns sound better than ever. They’re prominently featured in the classic FIF songs and add wonderful depth to the new tracks: something you don’t get from a typical 3-piece rhythm section. AND – that’s where you’ll find the only good looking member of the band: Leanor. I have no idea how she puts up with those
Finally, you have their drummer, Andy. Andy is his own drum machine; the dude’s a pro. I’m not a drummer, nor do I claim to be an excellent judge of drummers. I’ll put it this way: I know a bad drummer when I hear it. I love Andy’s style and seriousness behind the drum set. Sure, he’ll make faces and interact with the other band members during the show, but he focuses on laying down the beat in a way I don’t see from most drummers. Also: his beats blow my mind. It takes a great drummer to keep ska bands together. Andy does that in his sleep.
As a whole, the band is rocking. If you’re ever going to see Five Iron Frenzy, now is the time. If you’ve never heard of them before, check them out. If you’re a seasoned veteran of the frenzy boards, get off your computer and into the venue. Old, new, something blue — in this musician’s opinion, there’s never been a better time to see FIF. That’s not because of MxPx, but it certainly plays a part in my recommendation.
Go grab your tickets and dance to a song about unicorns.
If you’d like a higher-resolution, un-watermarked version of any of these photos, please let us know via the email link.