city of vain

My musical heroes have always been the working-class poets, the street-rat rockers who wrote hard-edged songs filled with heartfelt lyrics: Phil Lynott, Ian Hunter, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Mogg, etc. So it’s no wonder that I gravitated towards Sacramento-based punk band City of Vain, a group steeped in the stories of everyday struggles, of a shrinking middle-class doomed to the fate of obsolescence in a century defined by technology rather than manual labor, trading out the blue collar for the white one.

As vocalist Steve Ross sings like a battle cry on “Lessons in Social Class” from their album Backs Against the Wall, “Just wanna live my life free from partisan hate / Please keep religion from infringing on my rights today / Don’t need the government forcing me to pay for the bureaucrats to ship our jobs so far away.” It’s melodic punk in the style of Bad Religion and Rancid containing lyrical echoes of all those previously mentioned working-class poets. Think Darkness on the Edge of Town brought to you by NOFX.  And that town just happens to be Sacramento, an underrated gem of a music city.

Yeah, Sacramento may not be the prettiest place in northern California, and the scene may not be as hip as whatever the Hemlock Tavern is featuring on any given weekend, and, yes, even City of Vain takes a few potshots at their hometown when they sing, “The kids sold out and traded in their Converse for designer jeans or a Burberry purse,” on their ode to the city “New Helvetia.” But they also acknowledge, “I hate to love this town, yeah I love to hate this place / No matter what I’ll never get away.” The written words sound like defeat, but add some gang vocals, a colossal, empowering chord progression and thundering drumbeat, and you’ve got a call to arms, a victory chant fueled by equal parts defiance and pride in the place you call home.

These aren’t just the songs of Sacramento. These are the songs of the Rust Belt, the shuttered factories in Detroit, the dilapidated school buildings in South Carolina, the death of 20th century industrialism and downfall of labor unions, and the songs of those leaving San Francisco via the Bay Bridge because middle-income is practically a dream for Americans living in the age of the Wealth Gap.

Be on the lookout for upcoming EPs tentatively scheduled for winter 2014 and spring 2015.  And listen to their previous releases and new single “Song of the Republic” to hear what the undefeated lower class sounds like.  It doesn’t sound quite like success, but it definitely feels like a helluva good time.

Red Tape, City of Vain, Setting Sons, Suburban Threat
Midtown Barfly
August 15, 2014
7pm, $10, all ages