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Government Issue with The Goons and Set to Explode - Black Cat (Washington, DC) - Saturday, December 11, 2010

16 December 2010

One of the things about only being old enough to start going to punk shows in the early ’90s as that I missed out on seeing bands live that I grew up listening to and in many cases, they’d just broken up a few years before I discovered them. Perhaps Government Issue isn’t the best example of this since though I heard some of their material during my teen years, I’ve only really gotten into them within the last decade. Regardless, I was grateful for the opportunity to see a legendary band perform with their best lineup (singer John Stabb, guitarist Tom Lyle, bassist J Robbins and drummer Peter Moffett), something that may be just a one-off reunion and something which hasn’t happened since the band broke up in 1989, not counting another one-off reunion show in 2007 with a different lineup (Stabb and Lyle with Brian Baker on bass and William Knapp on drums). The occasion was a benefit for DJ Stereofaith (Steven McPherson), a DC scene stalwart who recently had a brain tumor removed.

If there was any thought that the intervening years since their last show together would diminish their performance one iota, those thoughts were squashed by the crushing opener “Teenager in a Box” (from 1982’s Make an Effort EP) followed by one amazing song after another. The 38 song set effortlessly combined songs from earlier efforts like Boycott Stabb, Joyride and The Fun Just Never Ends along with the more melodic material from songs from 1987’s You and 1988’s Crash, the two studio Lps recorded with the lineup that played this show. Out of such a long, consistent set, it’s hard to pick highlights, but the 9 song stretch starting with “Jaded Eyes” (You‘s opener) and ending with covers of Bad Brains (“Don’t Bother Me”, their contribution to the 1980 compilation The Best of Limp) and Void (“Organized Sports” from their amazing split Lp with The Faith) was perhaps my favorite part of the evening. In between, we got “Caring Line” (perhaps You‘s finest moment), some absolutely crushing songs from Joyride ( “4-Wall Hermit,” “Understand” and “Blending In”) and the amazing “Say Something” (from the 1986 self-titled Lp also known as GI 5). Whew!

After about a dozen more songs during the main set, by which point they’d blown everyone away, it was time for the encore. Of course, “Sheer Terror” was played and we also got a few more songs before they closed with their cover of Nancy Sinatra‘s “These Boots are Made for Walking” (a U.S. #1 hit in 1966). What a night!

In retrospect, it should be no surprise at all that these 4 musicians put on such a fine show. It’s not like any of them have been sitting still since 1989. To the contrary, Stabb has been in, amongst others, Emma Peel and The Factory Incident and is currently in the excellent, post-punk-ish Sleeper Agent!. Robbins and Moffett were in Burning Airlines and of course before that Robbins led Jawbox and is now in Office of Future Plans along with being a respected producer and recording engineer.

What’s amazing, though, is that none of them have seemed to lose a step since 1989. Stabb is still a consummate showman with amazing presence and on this evening, he also spent some time between songs sarcastically giving advice to a certain DC-area journalist and also had some harsh words for Steven Blush, author of American Hardcore. He’s also lost absolutely none of his voice. Lyle is still a human riff machine with amazing tone and Robbins and Moffett are absolute monsters on their respective instruments. An acquaintance of mine said after the show that he’d always liked Government Issue, but that he’d always underrated them. Perhaps being perennially underrated is why they initially broke up. After playing a show like that to a sold-out crowd, it’s almost impossible to underrate them.

Openers The Goons are also a now defunct DC band, though they broke up in 2006. I’d never heard them before. They played pretty much straightforward hardcore punk and were fine and had a ton of energy, but I thought they played a little long at almost an hour.

The first band to play was Set to Explode and they did just that, playing a short, sharp shock of a set of original material that could’ve fit in nicely on a CBGBs Sunday matinee in the mid to late ’80s. It was basically straight-up hardcore punk (though much better played than average) and though I would’ve been fine with just a set of their own material, since they said that they only have 6 original songs they brought out Boyd Farrell from Black Market Baby to sing “Drunk and Disorderly”! After that, they brought out Mike Manos and Kenny Inouye from Marginal Man and proceeded to play “Missing Rungs” (from 1983’s Identity EP) and “Friend” (from both Identity and 1985’s awesome Double Image) with Set to Explode’s singer (and the crowd, of course) handling vocal duties. It was a fitting beginning to a night celebrating old school DC punk rock!

The setlist can be found here.

It seems to be mostly accurate, though I’m pretty sure they also played “Locked Inside”.

The above photos were all taken by Mike Haller and are used with permission.


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