Scott Sturgeon, frontman of Leftover Crack, has been waiting for more than ten years to play at 924 Gilman. Despite having local roots (it's signed to both Fat Wreck Chords and Alternative Tentacles) and notoriety, the New York band has been turned down by the venue after Sturgeon's prior band Choking Victim was last invited to play there, with somewhat disasterous results. Judging by the crowd last Saturday night, it was hard to tell who was more excited: Sturgeon or his fans.
By 6:30 p.m., the line already went around the block, winding down 7th Street. "I've never seen Gilman like this," fans kept saying to each other, between confessions of how long they had driven to see the show, and how long they had been following the band for.
Sturgeon could have said the same for his tour mates, the UK ska/punk band Citizen Fish — who played the first punk show Sturgeon ever saw. "I grew up in New York City and the first rock punk show I ever went to was at Gilman Street in 1990," he says. He was fourteen at the time. "I had never even heard ska punk really before that show, and I went to that show, and I watched Citizen Fish, and all the bands were great ... and I was dancing my ass off and I loved it. And ever since then it's been my dream to play there."
He ran away from home the following year, train hopped to the West Coast, and began volunteering regularly at Gilman. "I just couldn't wait to get a band together to go on tour and get out there," he remembers. With friend Alec Baillie, Leftover Crack's current bass player, Sturgeon formed a punk band called No Commercial Value. The band evolved into Choking Victim, whose members rotated throughout the '90s, with Sturgeon as the only constant.
In 1997, Sturgeon and Choking Victim had their first invitation to play at Gilman. At the time, the band had no equipment and was squatting in an abandoned lot in San Francisco's SOMA district, panhandling to get by. They took BART to the show and, with no one to lend them equipment, were unable to play. Oakland's Noisegate had no drum set, and New York's Huasipungo, whom Sturgeon was friends with, refused. Legend has it that Sturgeon and Choking Victim filled Huasipungo's gas tank with sugar as retaliation.
"Stuff happened to our ex-friends' band and we caught most of the blame for it," explains Sturgeon. "They had a letter-writing campaign against Choking Victim that was printed in Profane Existence and was sent to every DIY venue across the United States." Sturgeon says the campaign didn't affect Choking Victim that much, but after he formed Leftover Crack, Gilman staff still prohibited them from playing.
"I've never held a grudge against Gilman Street about it," says Sturgeon. "I know where they're coming from. ... Our band has a pretty bad reputation I think." But Sturgeon (aka Stza Crack) says that Leftover Crack is trying to heal that reputation. "A lot of our fans are crusties, [and] a lot of venues don't like crusties because they don't have money and they always show up drunk. ... They're mostly good people and there's just like one or two bad seeds."
With Gilman packed and the crowd a bit more rabid than usual, the show went surprisingly smooth. Police appeared at one point in the evening, but were gone by the time Leftover Crack took the stage. With a broken right hand (the result of punching a fan in Phoenix, at his request), Sturgeon rocked through a 45-minute set that included songs from the beginning of their career through last year's dual release with Citizen Fish, Deadline, plus a few by Choking Victim. Holding a cigarette in his casted hand, Sturgeon told the audience he traded a Jane's Addiction record for the Dead Kennedys' Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death as a teenager, the story of his first punk show, and his childhood dream of playing Gilman.
"There is so much fucking history here," he said to a screaming, sweating, sold-out audience, who seemed to have been waiting all ten years as well — even though most looked like they would have been in grade school in 1997. They all knew their L.O.C. history though: Every person in the audience who wasn't completely breathless from moshing screamed along during 2001's depressing-as-hell "Heroin or Suicide" and politically charged "So You Wanna Be a Cop?" The entire building danced to the ska classic "Crack Rock Steady," which featured Oakland's own Miguel Reyes on trombone (Reyes has been touring with Citizen Fish). They finished with "Born to Die," an especially bleak Choking Victim song from 1997, and Sturgeon thanked the crowd one more time for coming out, adding that "Tonight meant a lot to me."
With another date in Eureka the following night, Leftover Crack finished its tour. Over the next few months, Sturgeon plans on splitting his time between Leftover Crack and his other, newer band, Star Fucking Hipsters.
"Getting to play [at Gilman] fifteen years later with Citizen Fish is like," Sturgeon drifts off, searching for the words for his feelings. "They're some of my best friends now. I couldn't have asked for more. Ever."
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