“This one’s a cover…”, drawls singer Spike Slawson in a serious tone as he looks out across a packed theatre and introduces the next song. This makes me laugh each time he says it – which is often, tonight – since Me First And The Gimme Gimmes is nothing but a covers band.
It’s always a treat to watch Me First, a ‘super group’ drawn largely from punk bands on the Californian label Fat Wreck Chords. It’s also something of an unknown quantity – for with each member having to take time off from at least one other ‘day job’ band, drawing up the tour schedule must be a fiendish nightmare of complications. As such, one or two key band members can be missing from the stage, but they are always replaced with someone appropriate and interesting from the US punk scene, so just finding out what the line up is when you get to a show is intriguing enough.
Tonight the core members of Spike Slawson (Swingin’ Utters), Joey Cape and Dave Raun (both Lagwagon) are present and correct. Founder of Fat Wreck Chords and NOFX bassist Fat Mike is missing, as is guitarist Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters/No Use For A Name). Instead, we have Bad Religion bassist Jay Bentley and Face To Face guitarist Scott Shiflett (brother of Chris).
The setlist tonight straddles the band’s numerous albums, taking in country, folk, pop, ballads, show tunes and RnB – all retold with an energetic punk twist. Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’, John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’, Madonna’s ‘Crazy For You’ and Paul Simon’s ‘Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard’ are a few of the delights on offer. There’s nothing from the last EP ‘Sing in Japanese’ (sung in Japanese) tonight, but with every song quite literally a hit (at least, for someone else) it’s a veritable sing-a-long extravaganza throughout.
There seems to be a little less of the general tomfoolery and messing around that Fat Mike – particularly in cahoots with Joey Cape – usually introduces to the show, but there’s enough joking around to keep the laughs and mock insults going between songs.
With an audience that seems to have an increasingly younger element as the years roll on, Me First looks to possess a solid foundation on which to carry on laughing and touring for many years to come – schedules permitting.
I’m not sure punk rock has ever been as fun and feel good as this. Me First’s repertoire tonight includes the classic Carly Simon track ‘Nobody Does It Better’ and it’s fair to say that when it comes to punk cover acts, this entertaining lot have it sewn up…
Review and photographs by Imelda Michalczyk on 28 February 2014, London.