NOFX (Final Show) at Temple Newsam, Leeds

As I make my way into Leeds City Centre towards the shuttle bus service that will take me up to Temple Newsam Park for the final NOFX gig in the North, I begin reminiscing of all the memories that this band has soundtracked throughout my life ever since I bought “White Trash, Two Heebs, and a Bean” from Sheffield HMV and rinsed every day on my iPod walking to school. It seems almost impossible to reflect back on those times of my adolescence and school life without including NOFX.

Although, I knew The Clash, Sex Pistols, and The Specials through my dad, when I first heard NOFX, I finally felt like I’d found what I’d been looking for, something of my own, something that purely resonated with me, something that was faster paced than the 70s punk sound, something that didn’t take itself seriously at all, and something that was all independently made and released, which implied to the younger me that anyone was able to make this music. NOFX were my gateway drug into punk. Weekends pocket money would go back into the tills of HMV, CEX, and Crash Records on NOFX releases, then becoming familiar with other bands in the punk sections like Bad Religion, Less Than Jake, and Descendents, and then later onto the likes of Dag Nasty, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and Gorilla Biscuits.

I had a small circle of friends who were into NOFX too, which meant any social occasion we would be invited to; a house party, a piss-up in the woods after school, or just sat around on dinners at school NOFX would be played and fill me forever with nostalgia. And here I am, years later, in the 21-degree heat of Leeds City Centre, about to embark on a crusade of nostalgia and reminiscence, not just amounting the countless times I have watched this band play over the years in different locations, but about a retrospective of my teenage years and past growing up and the importance this band played on that.

A shuttle bus arrives near the train station to collect the eager fans that await in the heat, sporting a tapestry of vintage NOFX and Fat Wreck Chord band t-shirts showing a vehemence of excitement. A short journey takes us up into the greenery site of Temple Newsam, a Grade 1 listed Tudor-Jacobean house situated in the east of Leeds. Surrounded by rolling fields and parks that glimmer in the sun, punks pile over and down the hills, finishing the rest of their warm cans of beer, and descending towards the entrance of the festival site—the same site that will host Live at Leeds Festival on the 27th and the renowned pop-punk Slam Dunk Festival on Sunday, the 28th May.

Upon entry, I notice that a smaller site has been created within the festival setup to accommodate the NOFX show. The stage is situated in a double-staged giant blue tent located at the back of the Slam Dunk site. Although, the site is much smaller than the site of the festival, and despite the humongous snake-like queue for the NOFX merchandise, it’s spacious and easy to manoeuvre around.

Unfortunately, I missed the opening two bands, “The Meffs” and Fat Mike’s new project, “The Codefedants” due to work and not being able to leave early. However, I managed to delve into The Meffs latest release, “Broken Britain Pt.2” EP and “This Is Crime Wave” by The Codefedants on my way to the gig.

“Broken Britain Pt. 2” by The Meffs is the Essex duo’s second EP and was released on Fat Mike’s Bottles to the Ground record label. Since exploding onto the East Anglian scene in 2019, The Meffs, aka Lily (vocals/guitar) and Lewis (drums/backing vocals), have built up a reputation as purveyors of frantic punk bangers and an absolute must-see live sensation. After a multitude of talked-about performances, 2021 saw The Meffs destroy the Nick Alexander Memorial Trust stage at London’s legendary Roundhouse for Frank Turner’s four-date Lost Evenings festival. “Broken Britain Pt. 2” calls out societal inequality over a wall of hard-hitting melodies. It hosts a number of accessible new wave indie-garage punk hits that lend a hand from the 2005/06 UK indie sound with a fuzzy skate-punk twist.

“This Is Crime Wave” by The Codefedants, another release on Bottles to the Ground, wasn’t what I was expecting from Fat Mike’s newest project, but it really is a breath of fresh air and, as they said in their press release “the steel-toe-cap kick in the nuts music has needed for too long”. “This Is Crime Wave” is a genre-fluid album combining hip-hop, new-wave, reggae, and flamenco—the genre they call “Crime Wave”. Featuring “Get Dead” vocalist Sam King, the band was formed after King’s graffiti crew were giving tattoos and making flash art to raise money to help rapper Ceschi Ramos when he was in prison. Months later, they met at the Gilman Street Project in Berkeley, California. They bonded, talking about their love of hip-hop and punk rock, over a bottle of Jameson. They didn’t know it yet, but they had just started Codefendants. A perfect festival, warm summery day sound with an undercurrent of dark topic. I really haven’t heard anything like “This Is Crime Wave” before; it is a completely unorthodox contemporary approach to the typical punk sound, combining elements of multiple genres to formulate their own sound. Imagine The Special’s “More Specials” era with touches of Mariachi El Bronx and Cypress Hill—that’s as close as I can get to referencing the sound.

Around 6:00pm Canadian melodic-hardcore outfit “Comeback Kid” grace the stage for a 35 minute-ish set of new and old, angry, fast paced melodic hits. The cargo shorts and snapback wearing hardcore kids descend towards the front and prepare for the blast they are about to receive. After releasing their seventh album “Heavy Steps” in 2022 on Nuclear Blast, Comeback Kid have made a definitive statement with this album: they are back and heavier than ever. However, I was surprised at how heavy Comeback Kid had turned on their last few albums, which I hadn’t heard until seeing them live. Much of the melodies have been sacrificed to be replaced with a rapid, angry, pissed-off modern hardcore sound, but their carefully picked set provides an equal variety of both melodic old school classics from “Turn It Around” and “Wake The Dead” and their newer heavier progressions. Vocalist Andrew Neufeld dives down to the front and gives the crowd the microphone as hardcore kids bounce and grapple for the microphone to howl the choruses together in unison. Circle pits erupt while Comeback Kid kick into their heavier aggressive sounds from “Heavy Steps” abruptly cutting into Madball-esque beatdown sections with fist punching gang vocals. Comeback Kid showcased the spirit of the 00’s new hardcore sounds, delighting and their newer weightier developments; it reminded me of Alkaline Trio on a bad and much heavier trip.

I nipped to the bar to get myself a drink and was surprised at how fast the queues were moving—this is seriously a rarity at events like this. Bravo to the organisers and the staff involved there. Anyway, more melodic punk was to follow, and I moved further into the crowd, ready for Lagwagon… Epitomising the Fat Wreck Chords sound, Lagwagon have 12 releases on Fat Wreck Chords: nine studio albums, one EP, one live album, and a collection of B-sides, compilation tracks, and demos. Legends in their game, Lagwagon graced the stage proudly sporting Fat Wreck Chords merchandise to play an 8-song hit-filled shuffle for the diehard cult fans that early awaited in the pit. Opening with “Alien 8” from their 1997 album “Double Plaidinum”, Randal Joseph Cape wraps the microphone wires around his wrists and looks towards the roof of the tent while singing the opening lines as the chaos explodes in the pit as young and veteran Lagwagon fans collide into one another, some arm in arm with a hand in the air singing the lyrics back to him. Bassist Joe Raposo, situated in the middle of the stage, marches back and forth with his bass drooping and bouncing with the drops as he sings the words back to the crowd. Drummer Dave Raun maintains Derrick Plourde’s legacy by navigating the speed of the band throughout their hits “Violins”, “May 16”, “Island of Shame” and “Razor Burn”. Towards the end of the set, they broke into their rapid cover of “Brown Eyed Girl” from their 1994 album “Trashed” as the crowd attempted to keep up the pace and sing the words back. I really enjoyed Lagwagon’s set; it’s apparent that they do it for the utter enjoyment of it and simply being around each other. The smiles on their faces while playing and creating banter with the crowd just left me feeling great and refreshed.

While the punks down their pints and rush towards the front, Less Than Jake take to the stage and open their set with “Gainsville Rock City” from their 2012 album “Borders & Boundaries”. An immediate party explodes, trumpets and trombones bellow over the sunshine-filled ska-punk as the crowd bounces, swirls, and arm-in-arm, some eyes shut from the flooding nostalgia and memories that come hand in hand with Less Than Jake. From the first time I heard “Loosing Streak” to buying my friend’s “Hello Rockview” CD from him so he could use the money to take his girlfriend to the cinema, Less Than Jake will always hold a special place in my heart, alongside many others growing up in the 2000s, and will always be an integral part of the soundtrack to my upbringing. Bassist Roger Lima and guitarist Chris Demakes look onwards towards the skank pit mayhem in the crowd, smiling enthusiastically over the microphone. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any crazier, they plummet into “Automatic” from their third album, “Loosing Streak” and the place accelerates up five notches. Arms and limbs are flying left and right, attempting to keep up to speed with the silly, carefree, fast ska-beat of “Automatic”. Less Than Jake create a sense of community where everyone can be whoever they want to be. Fans of all ages grapple each other and shriek the lyrics into each other’s faces; there’s no ego, just the mantra of ‘let’s have a good time’.

The band drop into their sing-along anthems “Look What Happened”, “The Science of Selling Yourself” and “Short Fuse Burning” from their quiet, fittingly named album “Anthem,” as the band bounced off each other’s energy beaming with happiness. Although, surprisingly, nothing was played from their seminal album “Hello Rockview”, the band’s mascot appeared on the stage mid-set with a giant toilet roll cannon firing it across the crowd and leaving it to wrap around the band on stage, adding to the overall silly, whimsical aesthetic of Less Than Jake’s sound and transporting the community of fans back into their liberating adolescences of nostalgia. Less Than Jake still manage to recreate the power, energy, and speed featured in their studio albums in their breathtaking live performances, proving the ska isn’t dead just yet.

A small, wonky yellow NOFX flag is assembled above the drums at the back of the stage in anticipation of the first of their two final appearances in the UK. The excitement within the crowd was palpable, and a sense of disbelief lingered over whether this would be the final live appearance for the northern NOFX fans. After 40 years of non-stop world-wide touring, 15 studio albums, and 4 live albums, NOFX are minutes away from playing their final ever set in the North. There is a cocktail of retrospective excitement, sadness, and nostalgia floating amongst the crowd, some too pissed to even comprehend or care, but fans of all ages assemble in the tent for one last time today to watch the main act of the night, NOFX. Taking to the stage and dancing around to “Time Warp”, the band grab a drink and walk towards their instruments, saddle up, and prepare for take-off.

Opening their set with “60%” the opening track from their 2006 socio-political album “Wolves In Wolves Clothing”, drummer Erik Smelly moulds a swing drum beat as bassist and singer-songwriter Fat Mike sings the opening lines “I’m not here to entertain you, I’m here to meet my friend, the Russian, the Irish, the German, the Colombian, I don’t care how bad I fuck up, I care about how fucked up I get” Something I feel encapsulates NOFX’s career so perfectly in those opening lines, while they stand in front of the miniature wonky NOFX flag. After a few more minutes of the swing beat, Fat Mike sings, “And, seriously, what else am I supposed to do? This isn’t my job, my hobby, my habit; it’s sad. But this is my life,” gradually building until abruptly stopping and pick-sliding into the detonation of the defining fast-paced NOFX sound as the crowd pogo, collide into each other, and several circle pits erupt in multiple directions. Guitarist and founding member Eric Melvin jumps to the beat topless on stage with his Gibson Les Paul hanging from his neck and his blue dreads covering his face as Fat Mike screeches the remainder of the song to the crowd. As crowd surfers tummle over the barrier at the front, chaos has erupted, and it’s only the first song.

After some famous NOFX banter with the crowd, Fat Mike plays the opening bass riff to their classic hit “Stickin’ In My Eye” from their 1992 album “White Trash, Two Heebs, and a Bean”. Multiple mosh pits open up around the tent awaiting the drop as guitarist El Hefe jumps perfectly in time to ignite the chaos. Fans of all ages bounce in excitement, arms in the air, shouting “There’s something sticking in my eyeee” in harmonic union. Hearing this instantly floods me with a recollection of memories that have recently been forgotten about, like when you smell something that reminds you of something from a past memory. “Stickin In My Eye” was a solid favourite of mine growing up, and “White Trash…” was the first NOFX album I bought from the Sheffield HMV and got fully invested in growing up. Hearing it now, 31 years after its release, it sounds tighter and more powerful than it has ever been; it never ever becomes insignificant, and it never will. Fat Mike paces back and forth on stage wearing his pink dress and unlaced boots, pounding the bass to the beat of the drums and joining in with Eric Melvin and the crowd for the chorus.

Anyone who has seen NOFX live will know their sometimes questionable antics between songs, their self-depreciating humour, and their mundane tongue-in-cheek jokes. NOFX are no strangers to controversy. In 2018, NOFX were pulled from a headline slot at a Las Vegas festival after receiving “hate messages and threats” in regards to the band’s controversial comments about the Route 91 Harvest shooting while performing at the event in 2018.

Also, in 2010, Fat Mike’s Cokie the Clown was under investigation after allegedly putting his own urine in a bottle of tequila that he shared with the audience at the South By Southwest, Austin Festival. Although, nothing as extreme as this happened tonight, and hasn’t happened since their Vegas comments, there was still much toned-down tongue-in-cheek banter with the fans and with a fan in the crowd on his friend’s shoulders dressed as Jesus.

As promised, NOFX played “Punk In Drublic” and “Wolves in Wolves Clothing” in a chaotic shuffled order throughout the night, mixing in some classics from later albums like “War On Errorism”, “Coaster”, “Self-Titled” and “Pump Up The Valuum”. Playing 37 songs in total, and a lot that I didn’t recognise from later albums or single tracks, however, there wasn’t a point that I felt disengaged with their performance, and neither did the crowd. From their symbiotic banter with the audience to their jokes and overall stage presence, it genuinely feels a shame that NOFX are stopping their live performances now when they’re on complete form and probably at their tightest. I suppose it’s best to finish on a high.

Pioneers of their genre, although it’s a questionable debate whether Descendents may have formulated the original pop-punk sound, but I believe NOFX forefronted the modern pop-punk sound that still lives on to this day. I could write about this gig and the significance that this band had on me, not just soundtracking my adolescence but being the gateway into my punk journey, enabling me to discover more bands that have resonated and connected with my life, and allowed me to be whoever the fuck I want to be, and taught me not to give a fuck about what anyone else thinks of me. Even though many people may see NOFX as a snotty piss-take band that is flippant to the core, which they are, they have a deeply rooted philosophy of ‘don’t take yourself too seriously’ that has resonated with many people like myself. If the band wants a piss break midway through the set, they can. If they want to walk out onto the stage singing and dancing to “Time Warp”, they can. If they want to cover Minor Threat’s serious anthem “Straight Edge” songs in a Louie Armstrong/Tom Waits-esque swing style, they can.

NOFX reminds you that life is too short to be serious and align yourself with a specific style or trend that you must follow, instead, they remind you to just do you, elevate yourself, and become who you are destined to be.

So long, NOFX, and thanks for all the hits…