Forgotten Rebels Lee's Palace Toronto
Submitted by Sam Jay Copeland
(Editor's note: We sent a next generation punk appreciator to see how an iconic punk act from the way past stacks up with the young uns.)
Go to a punk show for the music, stay for the ritual. A fan climbed onstage during the middle of a song (don't remember which one, possibly A.I.D.S.) and declared her eternal love for lead singer Mickey DeSadist. He allowed her to come on stage and dance around for a bit, whilst cautioning her to "please not show everybody in the crowd your boobs like you always do."
The house was packed, the average age was probably about 40, but there was still a strong contingent of younger people, mostly making themselves noticed by smashing against each other in the mosh pit while all except the most hardcore older folk stood by the sidelines. The Kensington Market veterans were all in attendance, with Steve Goof (of TheBunchOfFuckingGoofs) and his entourage of refugees from the 1980’s frequently parading to the bar and returning to the pit with 4 beers each.
Mickey was wearing a shiny golden Mad Hatter's costume from some alternate universe version of Alice in Wonderland as imagined by David Bowie. His stage presence was on point, soaking up the crowd's delight and stopping to make sarcastic commentary when appropriate. His beer gut emerged from the shimmering suit vest in a way that me and my friends concluded was in fact proud. Rather than concealing his middle aged girth behind a veil of glam rock influenced sexuality he had integrated it into the performance.
"Did you see how he was rocking his gut? That was like... It looked like sideboob or underboob or something. There was definitely something very erotic about his belly in that outfit." Comments like that abounded from members of the audience. It just goes to show that what is magnetic about a band leader is not always that which the audience anticipates.
They opened with "Bomb the Boats (Feed the Fish)" the frequently misinterpreted satire of racism and xenophobia to an explosive mosh pit. The set list was fairly predictable, though appreciated by those fans like myself who never really got into their later material. We preferred to stick with reliable Rebels hits like "Tell Me You Love Me (Before you Hang Up the Phone)" and "England Keep Your Stars" (a tirade of the Canadian media's lack of support for our own artists), both of which also had people ricocheting off of each other center stage and caused aging punkers with safety pins through their ears and uncertain hipsters in glasses and paperboy hats alike to maintain a distance of a few meters from the melee.
One hopes that opening with "Bomb the Boats" was a shout out to the refugees, a fuck you to the xenophobia that threatens to tear apart our society once again, as it did during the Reagan/Mulroney era. But it also could have just been the band relying on their most well-known song to kick-start a late night set. The band's stance on the subject is well known. As Mickey himself said when asked to explain "Bomb The Boats" some thirty years ago:
“It’s time that we be nice to each other. And if somebody’s acting out of line, he gets his ass kicked. Racism is stupid,” lead singer and founder Mickey DeSadist has stated. “People should listen to our music for what it is. I was making fun of rednecks in “Bomb the Boats”. More than anything, I was just making fun of that. But I guess it came across the wrong way.”
In the end, I do truly believe that the fans of the Forgotten Rebels understand that this scene is meant to be critical of fascism and hatred. In fact, in terms of crowd diversity, I definitely counted more non-white people in the audience than I had at a Blackalicious show I attended at Lee's last month. However, I can see how some people could be confused. At the merchandise booth at the back of the room, Forgotten Rebels shirts bearing the album cover for "Surfin on Heroin" (which they also played to the crowd's delight) were being sold. It features an eagle and confederate flag in the coat-of-arms style symbol.
Now maybe people are supposed to get that it's all a bit tongue in cheek when the confederate battle flag is used to advocate getting super high on opiate drugs, but for those unfamiliar with the band's history or the context of the late 70s/early 80s hardcore punk movement here in Toronto... I could see how some people could get confused and think that "Bomb the Boats" was not so ironic after all.
But what do I know? The band had already been on the road for 13 years when I was born, and through numerous changes of line up. Is it more important for them to maintain their original iconography and style, in order to maintain a bridge to the past, to the original fans that followed them through Hamilton garage shows, Kensington Market booze cans and Yonge Street dives? Or is it more important to make clear to a new generation that this punk movement, such parts of it that have survived from the 80s, is in fact meant to be as inclusive and anti-fascist as a modern day hipster approved show of any genre?
I don't know. All I know is it was a pretty great show with boundless energy and none of it hostile. The place was packed with the friendliest, scariest huge people in leather and neck tattoos I'd ever seen. As a proper punk rock show should be.