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Albums Of The Week: Me First & The Gimme Gimmes | ¡Blow it​…​ At Madison’s Quincea​ñ​era!

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Twenty years after Me First & The Gimme Gimmes ruined Johnny’s Bar Mitzvah, punk rock’s premier cover band are back to wreak havoc on another important coming-of-age ceremony. This time, as the album title reveals, it was a quinceañera.

Nobody attending had ever heard of Me First & The Gimme Gimmes before, and nobody knew what to expect. “It was really tense for me going out to no applause — and to people actually walking away when we were playing,” says frontman Spike Slawson. “A quinceañera is a very celebrated and important event, not just in a young girl’s life, but in the whole families. Mom and Dad were great, but it took the uncles a little while to warm up to me and our off-color jokes, though I think eventually they got it. Our process is to cast the line out and bring people to the point of — and beyond — outward expressions of displeasure like booing, and then hopefully reel them back in by the end of the set.”

Does that kind of make Me First & The Gimme Gimmes — especially on this record — the Andy Kaufman of punk rock? Possibly. But you don’t have to be in on the joke to enjoy this album. Nor do you have to be a sadist (but it wouldn’t hurt) to enjoy the one person politely clapping after Slawson introduces Changes at the beginning of the first of the band’s two sets. “This is a Black Sabbath song,” he says. “If you know it, feel free to sing along.” Nobody does. But he interpolates birthday girl, Madison’s, name into the song, and as the band speeds things up a little later, you can feel that heavy, early tension dissipate a very tiny bit. When he speaks to her at the start of Dancing Queen, things loosen up a little bit more — though you could still cut the air with a cumpleaños cake-sized knife — and there are even a few cheers after the band sings Happy Birthday.

The turning point, however, has to be the wonderfully SNAFU’d cover of Olivia Rodrigo’s Good 4 U, which is a work of art in and of itself, regardless of context. And while it might not have gotten the exact same reception the popstar herself gets in arenas; it’s still followed by enthusiastic screams. What’s more, as it’s wont to do, the band even manages to include a nod to a punk classic at the start, in the shape of Ever Fallen In Love. “We just thought it was too perfect,” remembers Slawson. “Nobody in the place knew who The Buzzcocks were or cared what the intro was or anything, so it was kind of lost on them, but that moment in the set I think was when the crowd was finally fully on our side. We had them eating out of the palm of our hands at that point, which was a good feeling because it was touch and go until then. But with that song we finally played something from this millennium.”

Recorded on July 15, 2023, at The Soap Factory in San Diego, on this live outing, Me First & The Gimme Gimmes were completed by Joey Cape on guitar, CJ Ramone on bass, Swami John Reis on guitar, and Andrew “Pinch” Pinching on drums — a veritable punk rock supergroup, as ever, not that anyone at the quinceañera knew or cared. However, they also had a horn section for the first time, courtesy of Keith Douglas and Jason Crane. Swami John’s father John Reis Sr., even played accordion on the penultimate song, Before the Next Teardrop Falls, the track made famous in 1975 by Freddy Fender. It all comes together to create a performance that rises (even as it’s sinking) to the occasion. It would have been so easy for the band to play to a crowd who already knew and loved them, but that’s not The Gimme Gimmes way. Besides, you get more sense of what the band is like live listening to this than you ever could from a slick performance in front of an adoring audience. For Slawson, that redemption arc is precisely the point.

“I would like this to be considered indicative of what a live show by The Gimme Gimmes can be,” he says. “The only difference is that there would be people that wanted to hear us specifically and came to see us. What happened at this show, to me, is better than unfettered, unconditional applause from a lot of people. Golf-claps from about five people is how I want to hear a live record. It’s funny, and it doesn’t stop being funny. Not only do outward displays of disapproval not scare me, but I might even crave them a little bit. I don’t necessarily want to leave with people booing, but fawning praise makes me cringe. The girl had a good time, her mom and dad had a good time, her abuelo had a good time. And then when the DJ music finally played, her friends had a good time, too.”