.Live Review: Filth Reunion at Gilman

The last time I ever saw Filth, right before Shit Split came out in 1991, less than thirty people bothered to show up. Nearly two decades later, for the first of four much-heralded reunion shows, you’d think there was a gigantic magnet at 8th and Gilman in Berkeley. At 6:30pm, there were 300 people in front of me in line; when doors opened, the line stretched around the block.
The rumor about tonight’s show was that Blatz was supposed to play too, which on sheer holy-fuck levels would have probably caused a Guatemalan sinkhole. As it stood, Filth sold the place out and just about threatened to tear it down. In a word, MAYHEM. It’s 2:14am, I just got home, drenched in sweat, smelling horrendously, delirious from being crushed by bodies, eardrums essentially kaput, and full of love.
You can go anywhere in the Bay Area and find your run-of-the mill, dull show. Not the case with Filth. Wheelchairs in the pit. People making out in the front row. Dozens of people on stage. Horrible sound. Entire crowd screaming “The List.” Swarming crowds falling at a 45-degree angle. Being held up by willpower and adrenaline. Boys wearing nothing but nuthuggers. Setlists stolen. Songs falling apart. Everything falling apart. Glory, glory, glory, glory.
Hanging over Filth like an albatross in their heyday was this really ragged notion that they began as a joke, exaggerating punk’s nihilism to ridiculous extremes, and that over time the joke morphed serious as their fanbase expanded. I’ve heard this rumor used against Filth, e.g. “Walk through the filth / You will find me there / Needle hanging from my vein” isn’t a reflection of Jake Sayles’ reality, but a hollow posturing to initially mock punk and eventually—when no one got the joke—to capitalize on it.
But can you name one band, or at least one great band, that doesn’t posture even just a little bit? The portrayal of what music listeners want as reality is often just as important as that reality. Maybe more so, actually—if Jake had needles hanging from his arm all the time, Filth probably wouldn’t have lasted long enough to record the most scathing, incredible crustpunk anthems to ever come from the East Bay.
I never gave a shit if Filth truly lived the chaos or not. What mattered was how their songs affected me, which is to say: strongly. Not only did they lend empathetic understanding to self-destructive impulses, they crafted said self-destruction as a powerful, torrential force. “You Are Shit” is still the most empowering song about the ineffectual nature of humankind ever written; if one realizes that we are all truly shit, and we accept that lowly role, then we receive liberation from the expectations of the world. It also totally fucking kicks ass.
Tonight, Jake ominously paced the stage like a bald eagle, virtually unchanged in the last 20 years. That same icy gaze and cold detachment. While songs occasionally sputtered—Lenny, Jim, Mike and original drummer Dave E.C. were really struggling amongst the waves of fans on stage repeatedly beaten back by security—the sheer fray of energy superceded technical “quality.” When Sayles reached the apex of the set, hundreds of suffering souls screamed along with the lines that defined the night: “You are within me / WE ARE ONE.”
It can’t go without notice that tonight was the 20th Anniversary of The List, amazingly compiled and distributed for two decades by Steve Koepke. Congratulations, Steve! And the Gr’ups, presumably filling in for Blatz, tore through a rambunctious set that had Jesse Luscious and Anna Joy swapping trademark sarcastic barbs between urgent versions of ageless anthems “On the Way to Frisco” and “Lil’ Red Riding Hood.”
I drove home in a daze. I really, really need a shower.

[UPDATE: Gilman has posted the full audio from the show here.]


  1. Stellar portrait of your evening last night. I’m more than impressed! As a punk fan, it’s always awesome to find one that can capture the moment and memorialize it in print.

  2. Great article, you do an amazing job of capturing the spirit of the evening.
    A couple of us flew out from Denver for the show. We met a dude at the airport from Louisiana and a friend of ours flew from Alabama for the show too. Met people from Portland, Las Vegas and heard there were people from NY and even Guam there! I have never seen band suck and kick so much ass at the same time. You could feel the electricity in the air as they got on the stage and from the first sloppy notes of The List until the last out of tune squeal of the note Filth ruled the planet. That was the best place in the world to be on that Friday night. I never saw them back in the day, they played Denver once but I still lived up in the mtns at that time and couldn’t make it to the show. We caught the second nights show at the Haz Mat and that was awesome too!
    Filth Punx!

  3. Sincerely was the best show Ive been to in over 10 years. For me, it rivaled the Subhumans reunion in San Bernardino in the 90s.

  4. I only found out about this show by accident about two weeks beforehand. So worth it! It was funny seeing a mix of young kids and us old-timers, many of whom haven’t been to too many shows lately, lining up for blocks and blocks. We all banded together, the strangers/new friends I met in line, and traded off holding each other’s places in line so we could buy smokes, go across the street and eat yuppie food or drink good beer at the pyramid brewery, or whatever other mischief we could come up with. Good thing too, because that line was a very long wait, but if we hadn’t waited, we wouldn’t have gotten in. The Gilman girl said they never pay attention to fire regulations, but they stopped letting people in anyway. Anna Joy and Jesse were hilarious as always, funny to think she’s an Assistant Professor of Literature at UCSD now. I hadn’t seen Jesse Luscious since 1996 when I saw the Criminals play with Citizen Fish in Sonora–Jesse poked his head out of their van and asked me if I knew where the club was, and together we found it, a random old warehouse off of 108 that, I believe, is no longer there.
    As for Filth, well, that was as close to a religious experience for me as I will probably ever get! The adrenaline and noise, the screaming… it was almost transcendental. Too too much fun. So glad I had a chance to see them live. If you weren’t there, you missed out. I was bruised from head to toe and could barely speak the next day–good sign I’m probably getting too old for this kind of thing, but oh well, totally worth it. Perhaps the list is only hundreds long?

  5. reunion shows not punk?
    you dont know filth then.
    anyone who loves filth and wasnt old onough or around to see them live would kill to see the day.
    ive heard about so many filth reunion shows that hearing this one wasnt anything new, but it was for sure this time! never thought id see the day.
    filth is one of the best/ most influential bands i still listen to and the complexity of jakes lyrics still send a shiver down my spine.
    i havnt seen gilman that packed since i saw behind enemy lines there.
    completely agree about you are shit.
    after seeing them play i only had one thing to say afterwards…if i would have died that night, i would have died a happy man.
    great post


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