I'd been warned to get to 924 Gilman Street early on Sunday, because the show would almost certainly sell out. "Pinhead Gunpowder, dude!" my informants told me, in hushed, reverent tones reserved for punk legends and bearded mystics. To be sure, a Pinhead Gunpowder show is a notoriously rare event, an alignment of the pop and punk cosmologies that are rarely in sync.
Fronted by some guy named Billie Joe Armstrong, Pinhead is often mistakenly thought of as a Green Day side project. The band's drummer and chief songwriter, Aaron Elliott, is probably better known for his long-running and widely acclaimed 'zine Cometbus. Both Elliott, as the roving punk-rock Kerouac, and Armstrong, who leapt from playing three chords at Gilman to winning Grammies and performing on The Simpsons, stir up a lot of emotions for the punks, more than a decade after they first began remaking the East Bay punk scene in their image, rallying around the twin banners of the Gilman club and Lookout Records. Armstrong was once called "sellout" for going corporate with Green Day, but that seemed like so much water under the bridge among the faithful gathered to wait for doors to open. At 2 p.m., three hours before showtime, the line stretched around the block. One guy in the front sheepishly admitted he'd been waiting there since 7 a.m. "But hey," he said with a shrug, "I'm definitely getting in."
It was strangely reminiscent of a Raiders tailgate party, but more family-friendly. Bearded punks with barbecue grills and greasy-looking blankets sat on the sunny sidewalk making sandwiches, spilling salad dressing and briquettes every which way. Kids as young as twelve drew innocuous chalk graffiti in the concrete, their liberty spikes barely visible amongst the crowd of thirtysomethings. Ex-punks and hipsters secured their places in line with friends before sneaking across the street to grab a few pints at Pyramid Alehouse, once decried by Gilman volunteers as Threat to the Scene #1. Indie cred wafted up like pheromones; just being in line felt unbearably cool.
"The line isn't getting any longer," one grizzled recovering punk chuckled, "but it's getting thicker." It was true. People would show up and start at the front of the line, schmoozing and high-fiving until they found a friend to cut in with. By 4 p.m., the crowd was roughly sperm-shaped, with the head anxiously waiting to penetrate the front door. An hour later, though the doors had been open for 45 minutes, the line had barely moved, as the club filled up with people who knew somebody. After waiting for three hours outside, getting in at all was looking questionable, and I had to pee. So I gave up on Pinhead Gunpowder, Gilman, and punk history, and traded it all in for a BART station urinal.
Seven Days - December 9, 6:10 PM
Culture Spy - December 8, 6:10 PM
Seven Days - December 8, 2:33 PM
What the Fork - December 6, 3:51 PM
Seven Days - December 6, 9:52 AM