This Little Underground: Sham 69 revives the Oi! Days 

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Photo b Jen Cray

Heads up, fam. TLU breaks next week to make room for a juicy blowout of the music section covering some emerging local scenes that should be on your radar. We'll hook back up the week after.

The Beat

It's big news any time a legendary first-wave Oi! band comes to play your town. When it's Sham 69, however, things get a little shaded. You see, they're one of those bands with a convoluted and contentious history involving infighting and shifting alliances that's resulted in multiple touring groups claiming the same name. If you've got an especially investigative interest in rock & roll soap operas and a shitload of free time, look it up.

The Sham 69 that came here (Sept. 26, Backbooth) is the "Tim V" version. As opposed to the so-called "original 1977 line-up" that features three OGs, this one's historical bona fides boast original guitarist Neil Harris, longtime drummer Ian Whitewood and singer Tim V, whose official affiliation began in 2007 as a replacement for the notoriously elusive Jimmy Pursey, who of course now fronts the 1977 line-up. Not confused enough yet? Well, the band that showed up here didn't even contain all the aforementioned. Their publicist confirmed with me that Harris had medical issues that precluded him from touring and Whitewood was actually refused a visa, but both are still official members. So in terms of seniority, all we're left with is the post-millennial Tim V. I'm cross-eyed at this point, so I'll let the punk-rock scholars debate the legitimacy of all that. It was reason enough, though, to go out and maybe catch a distant vignette of history and run with the bootboys for a night.

This was a true skinhead scene, which evokes lots of bad connotations around here because of the white-power hijacking of the subculture back in the '80s. But from the telltale signs and the familiar faces I saw, this was a gathering of more traditional heads. To hopefully further dispel some of the negative baggage, please note that Tim V stopped the whole show at one point because a girl in the front row lost her glasses. The violence and merrymaking halted, a search ensued and the specs were located and returned. See? Fucking sweethearts.

What can I say? It was a competent performance and a fun show. We're not talking Emerson, Lake & Palmer here. This is rock & roll at its most rowdy and rudimental. So when the crowd's there and the spirit's right, sometimes that's all you need. Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go order me some Oxbloods.

I am unquestionably a Helmet fan. But several reasons conspired to make me walk into their latest show (Sept. 26, the Social) with less than fanatical attitude. First, the focus was the 20th anniversary of Betty. While that album's in what is widely considered their prime early era, not everything old is necessarily classic. And Betty's no Meantime. More than that, though, some anemic performances over the past decade or so had me half-resigned to the prospect that they're on their denouement. In fact, during this show, bandleader Page Hamilton alluded to a dismal appearance 10 years ago at this very club where he was completely fubar.

But this time, at a show completely their own (no openers even), in an up-close venue, Helmet sounded absolutely virile, their controlled fury a respectable, concentrated brute once again. For the first 45 minutes, they powered straight through Betty without pause or audience address. Played by a powerfully focused band, the album is much more convincing live. After concluding the album, they opened up the set list into a more typical concert, complete with Hamilton's famously surly humor.

I would've if I had to, but I'm glad I've no reason this time to pan a band as good or important as this. Now I need to go dig up my old Helmet T-shirt. Since pride is no longer past tense when it comes to that name, I think it's time to dust off that bad boy again.


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