Rocket from the Crypt (with Snake Rattle Rattle Snake)
2/1/14 at Summit Music Hall, Denver
by Adam Perry for Westword
In light of the whimsical (or sad, or embarrassing, depending on your opinion) recent news that Mötley Crüe not only still exists but is embarking on a months-long farewell tour – sponsored by Dodge, which “resonates deeply” with Mötley Crüe, according to its CEO – it was refreshing to enter Summit Music Hall Saturday night to enjoy the reunited Rocket From the Crypt. Rather than linger through decades of drama and/or mediocrity, San Diego’s “Rocket” (as the band is affectionately known by its fans) rose to just-below-huge popularity in the mid-’90s with bonafide big-band punk (“On a Rope” got repeated MTV play) but chose to disband in 2005, despite continued acclaim. Notoriously busy frontman John Reis (aka Speedo) had found himself too distracted by other music projects, and the job of running Swami Records.
Horn sections were ubiquitous in ’90s punk groups, but virtually all of them were doing ska. Rocket from the Crypt, which amusingly reunited in 2011 to perform on Yo Gabba Gabba! (on which Reis regularly plays a character called “the Swami”), instead uses trumpet and sax to add class to tough, soulful Phil Spector-influenced rock ’n’ roll that happens to include a generous helping of SoCal hardcore. The Summit’s huge, clear soundsystem lent itself perfectly to Reis and Co.’s big wall of sound, just as Reis’ infectious enthusiasm (“I’m so horny to be here,” he said at one point, “Happy and horny.) matched itself well with the packed Denver crowd’s Super Bowl Eve excitement over seeing one of the ’90s’ most underrated bands returned, nearly, to the top of its game.
After a set by the local co-ed sextet Snake Rattle Rattle Snake that had much of the 30-something to 40-something audience, many there to rekindle their punk salad days, staring at smartphones – not, at all, because SRRS isn’t a quality act, but because the pairing was just so odd, as if Prick and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones would’ve been a sensical bill in 1995 – Rocket sunk its teeth into a 90-minute-plus set with the lamenting rocker “Young Livers.” The response was loving and energetic; “The goodwill is palpable,” Reis said at one point.
Drummer Mario Rubalcaba, a professional skateboarder who’s also played with everyone from Pinback to the Black Heart Procession, led Rocket through the heart of its impressively dud-free seven-album catalog with a combination power and perceptiveness; dynamics weren’t so much necessary with the Summit’s giant, clear volume, but Rubalcaba (aka “Ruby Mars”) has the kind of solid, explosive (yet thoroughly tasteful) chops that make any song seem anthemic.
Rheis, meanwhile, has lot a smidgen of the vibrant projection of his voice, but not the toughness or the soul necessary to carry classic “emotional” sections of Rocket favorites like the “no no no please no!” bridge from “On a Rope,” which the group nailed as part of a three-song Scream Dracula Scream! suite. San Diego seems to have kept the whole band healthy; Rheis, at 44, looks like a fitter, happier Jello Biafra. There really wasn’t a dull moment in Rocket’s set.
Personal Bias: My first Rocket from the Crypt show was in 1996, when the Warped Tour stopped at I.C. Light Amphitheatre along the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh. Seeing Rocket at the Summit over the weekend took me back to that unforgettable teenage day having my mind blown by the likes of NOFX, Pennywise and tons of other punk greats. These days it seemingly takes minutes of scrolling through Warped Tour’s lineup online to find even one actual punk band.
Random Detail: Known for wearing matching outfits, the six members of Rocket sported black floral-print shirts and pants in Denver. The addition of sombreros would make for a great Six Amigos act some Halloween.
By The Way: In a few weeks, Rocket embarks on its first real headlining tour in a decade. Rheis is clearly up to the task of sustained entertaining, tossing out such gems as “I wear earplugs to protect us from requests for ‘Freebird.’” No plans for new recordings are in the works, but Rheis told Rolling Stone a few days ago, “We could probably make a pretty decent record.”