Anyone my age who was even a little bit into punk rock back in the late ’80s and early '90s, especially anyone from the SF Bay Area, is familiar with Flipper. The heavily bass-driven band with the fuck you lyrics and the garage sound, since labeled “noise-punk” or more recently “sludge” by Flipper-inspired co-collaborators The Melvins, was a refreshingly different change of pace in the metal heavy atmosphere of late 1980’s San Francisco. Admittedly, their music is not for everyone, but there’s something so human and relatable in not only the songs but the delivery, that seeing FLIPPER live is bound to strike a chord somewhere inside you.
During the '80s Bay Area metalhead scene that spawned the likes of Metallica, Exodus, Primus, etc., Flipper was born. Not trying to be “hardcore,” dark and intimidating, complicated or laden in uber-fast arpeggio guitar riffs, Flipper had a sound less like black mass on meth and more like drunk at 4 am, alone and stumbling down the street yelling full blast and somewhat incoherently about some deeply felt injustice or personal slight. Not surprisingly, that was and remains to this day, the refreshing and endearing thing about this band.
On the tail of their 40th-anniversary tour, original members Steve DePace on drums and Ted Falconi on guitar are joined by former Frightwig/Mud Women member Rachel Thoele on bass, and David Yow (Jesus Lizard/Scratch Acid) upfront and in the crowd with vocals and bad jokes. Thoele and Yow serve to take the place of original bass playing frontman Will Shatter, who passed away in 1987, followed by a long run with bass/vocalist Bruce Loose who, after a serious back injury, was forced to retire in 2015.
The set at Pappy’s began with a Yow tradition, a horrible joke about a skeleton ordering BBQ ribs, presumably a nod to the excellent BBQ cuisine available at the wonderful desert establishment.
The band played many favorites, including the well-known “Ha Ha Ha,” “Sacrifice,” “Way of the World,” “Sex Bomb” and “I Saw You Shine,” with much-encouraged audience participation—Yow turning the microphone and his body over to the audience several times during the performance. There, of course, was feedback and problems with equipment for each member over the course of the show, and if you’ve been a fan for any length of time you may have come to understand that this whole unpredictability is, for Flipper, like an ever-present fifth member of the band. The evening came to a close with David Yow leaving the stage to order a drink at the bar, with each member of the band peeling off separately until one by one, each had left the stage leaving the audience alone to cheer their goodbyes.
I was fortunate enough to speak briefly with David Yow outside after the show, and I think he described Flipper much more succinctly and fully than I ever could in that conversation.
Mentioning having seen them at the top of the tour at the Regent in LA, David replied: “Oh yeah. THAT show went smoothly. No equipment issues, people STAYED—they knew the words, ... we were made overly comfortable and we just powered through everything on the setlist. A flawless show. Now let me ask you this, is that a Flipper show? NO!! NO!! it’s not a goddamn Flipper show at all! You should've come down a couple days later to Long Beach [Alex’s Bar]. OH WE SUCKED!” he proclaimed loudly, “.. and we sucked for a full house that night! We get out there and our equipment kept fucking up, the mikes would drop in and out; you know, there was like eight full minutes in between songs and by the time we finished our set there were only eight people left in the place...” punctuating this statement with steely eye contact and very slight pause, Yow then threw his arms into the air and proclaimed “Now THAT’S a fucking FLIPPER SHOW!”
And David is absolutely right. Flipper can be heavy, fun, satirical, moody, sloppy, lumbering, clever and all other points in between, but Flipper is NEVER pretentious. And who doesn’t appreciate a great little band that doesn’t try to be anything more or less than exactly what it is? See Flipper live if you get a chance. You'll be glad you did. And do it soon! Yow also shared with us that he intends to leave the band after this tour and concentrate his efforts in pursuit of his acting career. We will miss him; he's done a great job leading Flipper into their fourth decade.
Flipper will be playing their last show for this tour at The Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles on Nov. 27.