From the moment the Traditionals took the stage at the still-filling Terminal 5 in New York City, it was imbued with an intensity that did not subside as three bands performed weekender punk music on a Thursday night to commemorate the 20th anniversary of punk revivalists Rancid. The Traditionals played an impressive, if not unremarkable opening set, assaulting audience members with one vapid, angry song after another. For their simple sound and performing style - the band’s demeanor on stage came nowhere close to the fury of their music, even when fakeout ending their final number three times - the Traditionals had an excessive equipment setup. A band which churns out quick and basic two- and three-minute power chord tunes does not need two guitarists and certainly not a bassist playing a five-string bass. Regardless, the Traditionals put on a safe punk performance, one which served as a precursor to one of the safest punk bands active today, Tim Armstrong’s supergroup Transplants.
The Transplants introduced themselves with their new single, “In a Warzone,” from their newly released album of the same name. The anthem’s titular three word refrain, bellowed by underrated and understated vocalist Skinhead Rob, provided a point of entry for the audience to latch onto and sing/shout along; unfortunately, the audience wasn’t taking his bait. Many of the young urban and suburban commuter audience was at Terminal 5 to see one man, Tim Armstrong, and he took control of the stage fully aware of his own significance. Performing the opener - and many other songs throughout the night - with his knit hat pulled fully over his eyes, Armstrong did his best to physically match the energy of the music by wildly jumping around the stage. Unfortunately, even when fronting for Rancid, Armstrong’s stage presence never came close to that of the most energetic punk frontmen, paling in comparison to another prominent Armstrong who came out of 924 Gilman Street. Where the better-known Armstrong of Green Day mimes playing his guitar as he dashes and leaps across his extravagant stage show, the Armstrong of the Transplants and Rancid often encountered a situation where the strings of his guitar faced his chest rather than the audience; a dilemma he unhumorously remedied by fruitlessly strumming the back of his guitar. Despite the showboating of Tim Armstrong, the Transplants played a strong hour, even if that hour did start to drag as the songs bled into each other around the time the band started plodding through carefully crafted singalong tunes like “Gangsters and Thugs.” The Transplants rhythm section includes much-needed touring guitarist Elvis Cortez and bassist/keyboardist Kevin Bivona (who was supplemented on bass for a single number by the one and only Matt Freeman of Rancid, completely wasted on the untechnical bassline of “Diamonds and Guns”), but the standout performer was the Transplants’ celebrity drummer: the untouchable Travis Barker. Barker, per his signature style, showed no mercy on the drum kit, enacting particular speedy brutality onto the snare drum with fills that only Barker and attentive imitators could produce. His towering tattooed figure stood, often literally, as a rock behind the rest of the group, making it clear that he is the “super” in this supergroup.
After an uncomfortable extended wait between bands - Rancid was scheduled to take the stage at 9:50, and the Transplants ended their set at 9:10 - Rancid launched into their 20th anniversary show with “Radio,” a track from their sophomore album Let’s Go, setting the stage for a routine packed with selections from earlier in the band’s career. It wasn’t until the band’s second piece, the lively and bass-driven “Roots Radical,” that the docile Terminal 5 audience finally awoke. As essential guitarist and vocalist Lars Frederiksen hit his guitar strings and uttered “Took the 60 bus…” pent-up Rancid fans jumped and pushed, finally matching the sonic electricity emanating from the amplifiers at a concert where each band performing failed to do so. The foursome proceeded through their twenty six song setlist of hits (“11th Hour,” “Maxwell Murder”) and not-so-hits (vacant new single “F*** You,” energizing the crowd with its middle finger-fueled chorus), with some old favorites in between; a highlight was Frederiksen’s back-and-forth exchange of “Oh!” “Yeah!” with the audience before proclaiming “I Wanna Riot!” and launching into a small subset of ska jams beginning with the song of the same name, supplemented by the Transplants’ Kevin Bivona on organ. Frederiksen proved a much more willing and engaging frontman than Armstrong, who mostly stuck to his obnoxious holier-than-thou shtick from his earlier turn with the Transplants, juxtaposed with a few emotional monologues including a memorable speech about wanting to play New York when performing with revered ska-punk influentials Operation Ivy. Fredericksen, on the other hand, was all about the audience, at one point helping a disabled crowdsurfer - along with his wheelchair - onto the stage, calling the event “the most punk rock move [he has] seen in a long time.” While the same can’t be said of Rancid’s performance, their set - concluding with a crowdpleasing encore consisting of the Matt Freeman-penned “Tenderloin” sandwiched between the infectious “Time Bomb” and pop hit “Ruby Soho” - was solid, if not extraordinary. There’s always the next anniversary tour.