It’s December and that means it’s officially time to start celebrating the holiday season. What has become a tradition around this time of year is the punk supergroup Me First and the Gimme Gimmes playing a handful of California dates, and a sold-out crowd gathered at the Observatory Saturday night to catch this festive lineup.
I was pleasantly surprised to see The Last Gang opening the evening. I’ve been a fan of the Orange County band since their 2017 single “Sing for Your Supper,” and it’s been fun watching their growth and success in the past few years. As the band took the stage, lead singer and guitarist Brenna Red announced, “We are The Last Gang, from here!” as they launched into their latest single, “Prosthetic Lost Cause.”
They played the title track from their 2021 release, “Noise Noise Noise,” a real shift in sound for The Last Gang with reggae-rocksteady vibes, reminiscent of The Clash and The Police. “Believe in the Poet” starts off with a roaring snare drum intro similar to Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings,” as guitarist Ken Aquino’s distorted guitar provides feedback leading into one of the set’s best songs.
When bassist Sean Viele isn’t leaping into the air or providing heartfelt, often howling backing vocals, he’s leading a bass breakdown – the one in “Paris Green” is one of my favorite moments from their last album and one of the best moments of their set. One last surprise the band had was playing a punk rendition of “Let It Snow” as someone dressed as a fox costume came out and threw candy and merch to an enthusiastic crowd.
Santa Ana, California
December 3, 2022
The next act of the night was El Vez, or the self-described, “Mexican Elvis.” El Vez and his band provided a fun twist on Elvis and holiday songs mixed with punk, rock ‘n’ roll, and Latin music. The first to take the stage were his backing band, all dressed in Santa outfits and playing “Now I Wanna Be Santa Claus,” a parody of The Stooges song. The band then began playing “Blue Christmas” while singing Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” as El Vez finally took the stage, looking like Billy Bob Thornton in “Bad Santa.”
He sang “Huaraches Azules,” a Latin take on “Blue Suede Shoes,” before introducing the band as one by one, each member stripped out of their Santa outfits and into their concert attire. El Vez announced that at the age of 63, he would be the oldest person on stage all night – something I had to fact check because I took him for at least a decade or two younger.
He played “Christmas en el Barrio,” a fun holiday take on Elvis’ “In the Ghetto,” which at one point included the chorus to Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova.” He was backed all night by the lovely Lisa Maria and Rosalita, who not only provided backing vocals, but choreographed dance moves and several costume changes, changing just as often as El Vez.
Unlike most bands that usually have members stagger on stage, saving the lead singer for last, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes started their set by lead singer, Spike Slawson, coming out onto the stage first.
The Gimmes do stick to a pretty standard set of songs, as their current setlist has been relatively the same for several years now, with the occasional song swapped out. So, it was a very pleasant surprise when Slawson strapped on his trademark ukulele and began singing Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” Not only was that an unexpected treat, but I also don’t believe they’ve ever officially recorded or played this song live prior to this tour.
One by one, the rest of the band took the stage led by CJ Ramone playing the famous bassline from that song. Last to come out, but still right on time, was Strung Out’s Jake Kiley who led a ripping solo, like only he can.
The Gimmes announced that they were going to play a “block” of country hits from their “Love Their Country” album. First off was the Dolly Parton classic “Jolene” led off by the impressive drumming of Andrew “Pinch” Pinching, followed by “On the Road,” “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,” and “Country Road.”
Although the Gimmes setlist rarely changes, the nice thing about seeing them play their December shows is they really lean into the festive spirit of Christmas. The set was decorated with Christmas trees and giant lights and tinsel. They played “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and ended their regular set with “Feliz Navidad.”
Coming back for the encore, Slawson again was first back and led a ukulele cover of “Santa Baby” before the band rejoined him to finish off the song in true punk fashion. They also played Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everyone.” I was pleasantly surprised they did Linda Ronstadt and Stone Poney’s “Different Drum” in the encore, as it has been several years since I had seen them play this live. They ended the night with the aptly titled, “End of the Road,” originally performed by Boyz II Men.
Even the biggest Grinches who scoff at celebrating Christmas too early would have had their heart grow three sizes after a memorable show like this. Although only December 3rd, the Gimmes definitely left everyone in the holiday spirit for the rest of the year.