“How the Gimmes Swole Christmas” is what punk rock cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes is calling their short string of California holiday winter shows.
The supergroup who do punk rock covers of popular songs ranging from R&B, ‘60s, musicals, and everything in between. The one constant that is always present is Spike Slawson on lead vocals, formerly of the Santa Cruz punk group, Swingin’ Utters. The group was initially started with the core members of Fat Mike from NOFX on bass, Chris Shiflett of Foo Fighters on guitar, Joey Cape of Lagwagon on guitar, and Dave Raun also of Lagwagon on drums. However, with prior commitments and several bands on tour with concerts opening up again, there is an ever-changing line-up present and you often do not know who will be playing in the Gimmes until the night of the show.
The show opened up quite differently from the usual punk rock extravaganza. Fans were treated to a burlesque show performed by Mila Spigolon and Her Tropical Follies. Their performance was reminiscent of old-school Vegas showgirls and classy dance routines. Their set opened with Spigolon singing a lovely jazz song, while performing a classy striptease that left just enough to the imagination. Next, the Del Mar Sisters came on stage and performed an entertaining dance recital complete with giant feathered fans.
While the crowd was still filing in and politely cheering during the Tropical Follies routine, the mood was about to change as the clock struck 8:45 and punk legends Dwarves took the stage. Almost as soon as Dwarves launched into “Dominator,” a mosh pit formed. Lead singer Blag Dahlia reminded the crowd that Dwarves are not only “the greatest rock band in history” but also, “the best looking band in the world.”
Dahlia definitely has the confidence and charisma to stand by those claims, and the band as a whole performed well enough back up those claims. Bassist Nick Oliveri, formerly of Queens of the Stone Age and Kyuss, continues to be the perfect backup and occasional lead vocalist to Dahlia. His aggressive vocals on “Devil’s Level” and “Back Seat of My Car” matched his heavy, fast-speed playing. This is my third time seeing drummer Gabriel “Snupac” Perez recently, and I am more impressed each time I see him. He’s often tasked with playing frantic beats and blitzing through songs at breakneck speed. He doesn’t just play fast, but also precise and with skill that I’ve really come to appreciate.
Just before 10 p.m., the lights dimmed and “It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls began playing as all five Gimmes took the stage to a sold-out audience packed to the rafters. The stage was decorated with about a dozen Christmas trees with flashing, alternating lights, with a snow-covered tarp laid across the lip of the stage. For this show, backing vocalist Spike Slawson was Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham of Social Distortion and John “Speedo” Reis of Rocket from the Crypt, both on guitar. Heading up the rhythm section were Andrew “Pinch” Pinching, drummer for The Damned, and the rock legend himself, C.J. Ramone on bass.
Santa baby, just slip a sable under the tree, for me, been an awful good girl, Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight.
Fitting for their Christmas show, the band opened with their interpretation of “Santa Baby,” which started gently with Slawson alone on vocals and ukulele, and then exploded into a rocking rendition as the rest of the band kicked in, causing a pit to form. A few songs later the band played the Loggins and Messina classic, “Danny’s Song,” followed by the Beach Boys classic, “Sloop John B,” and another crowd favorite, “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”
The backing band was dressed in shiny blue shirts and white jeans, while ever-the-showman Slawson donned a bright blue suit complete with flashy sunglasses and his trademark gold ruffled mic stand. The Gimmes recently played Punk in the Park and what I appreciated about this show was there was less banter and joking in between songs, which I felt took up too much of an already short set at the festival.
Midway through the set, the Gimmes played another holiday song, Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody.” In addition to the holiday cheer, their setlist represented a nice cross-section touching on most of their discography. For fans of their ‘70s tribute album “Have a Ball,” the band played their cover of Elton John’s “Rocketman” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”
They played a beautiful interpretation of the Wizard of Oz classic, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” that while played fast and in a punk tempo, still honors the soul and meaning of that tune. The band also played Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up,” both off of their “Are We Not Men? We Are Diva!” album.
All in all, it was a terrific evening that ran the gamut from burlesque dancers and old-timey singing, to punk legends the Dwarves taking hold of the audience and turning them into a frenzy, culminating in a fantastic Christmas show brought to you by the Bay Area’s premier cover band. This holiday show felt particularly special, as last year the band was forced to stream a prerecorded Christmas show due to COVID. They were back to performing live in front of a packed crowd, and for Santa Ana, it felt like Christmas came early and Santa brought one hell of a gift.