Personalized Internet advertising gets a bad rap. I found it fortuitous, not creepy, that some algorithm figured out that I would want to know that Five Iron Frenzy had reformed for a very limited number of shows, including one in my old hometown. I certainly had not been searching for them in any recent years. A bit of background: in the mid-90′s the third wave of ska was in full swing, and I was exposed to it in 1996 when my parents dragged me to the Creation Festival. Five Iron Frenzy became the second popular music band that interested me and remained one of my favorite bands throughout my teenage years. The popularity of ska was fleeting, and while FIF hung on longer than most, they broke up in 2003, a few years after I had mostly lost interest. After a decade-long hiatus, they are apparently returning in a very limited way.
There was just one problem: the show was scheduled the same day as my employer’s baccalaureate service and the day before commencement. I vacillated for months before deciding that no one would miss me at the service, that I could get home in time to sleep a bit before the next day’s festivities, and that I could not pass up a likely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be reminded of my childhood. And then … the show was sold out. Too invested to give up now, I scoured the web for sources on the secondary market, ineffectively until the morning of the show when two tickets showed up on Craigslist! Many thanks to the young lady with the pink flamingo purse who sold one to me at great personal inconvenience.
I had been to the Chameleon Club just one previously, more than a decade ago to see one of my classmates’ bands play. That had been a fairly sedate affair in which maybe 100 people showed up for some local bands. This night would be rather different. The advertised schedule was that doors opened at 7:00pm and the opening band would start playing at 8:00pm. I arrived at 6:50pm and the line of people waiting to be admitted already stretched down Water Street to the next intersection. Back in the day FIF shows were attended mostly by teenagers; today it was mostly people like me who had been teenagers during the band’s heyday. The doors did not open at 7:00pm. At 7:30pm the first trickle of a few dozen people were admitted, but then no more until 8:00pm, when another hundred or so were accepted. The rest of us waited, in the drizzling rain, until 8:30pm.
Once inside, there was an unbelievable crush of people. I fought my way to the third-level balcony, where I could see a corner of the stage when the three-deep people in front of me angled their arms just right. And I was lucky; it seemed that most people in the venue had no sightline at all. There were ventilation ducts in the wall near me, but they were not functioning, and the room quickly became as stiflingly hot as you might expect 1000 people packed into an enclosed space might be. The opening act, House Of Heroes played from 8:45pm until 9:35pm. They were a four-piece hard rock band with punk influences, and while I was not familiar with any of their music it was enjoyable enough.
Five Iron Frenzy started playing 9:50pm and stopped at 11:15pm without an encore. There were some fairly long breaks in the middle of their set, including a seven-minute one in which broken microphone cables needed to be replaced. I heard “Where The Zero Meets The Fifteen”, “Milestone”, “Handbook For The Sellout”, “Blue Comb ’78″, “Oh, Canada”, “Every New Day”, “One Girl Army”, “The Phantom Mullet”, “You Probably Shouldn’t Move Here”, “Pre-Ex-Girlfriend”, “You Can’t Handle This”, “Farsighted”, “At Least I’m Not Like All Those Other Old Guys”, “American Kryptonite”, and three or four songs that I did not recognize. At the beginning of the set the mixing was terrible: I had to recognize songs from the chord progressions / guitar riffs, because the horn parts and vocals were nearly inaudible. It got better as the night continued, but only marginally.
I made it out of Lancaster before midnight, but was so tired I had stop for a nap in a gas station parking lot before getting home at 3:00am. In spite of the delay, crowd, heat, and poor sound, I am very glad I had the opportunity to see the band again and relive my life as it had been 15 years ago. If they stay together, I’ll certainly try to see the band again. But I do not think I will be returning to the Chameleon Club any time soon. It may be the worst concert venue I have ever visited.