VIENNA, Va., July 6, 2012 —The first time Goldfinger played the 9:30 Club was around 1997. At that time, the security at 9:30 looked the other way when kids of all ages crowd surfed and even allowed them on stage to dive off. Things have changed quite a bit since then. But not so shockingly, Goldfinger hasn’t changed at all in any significant sense. The demonstrated this convincingly this past Tuesday night by going through the same antics that have made their live shows so entertaining.
The kind of chaotic atmosphere Goldfinger inspired in their earlier days hasn’t changed much, although the crowd’s reaction to what the band wants to push forward has. Goldfinger has been doing this gig for a long time, and they have a lot of practice in the fine art of working crowds into riotous action. But that’s not necessarily where audiences stand now, and certainly not at a relatively major venue like the 9:30 Club.
At various points during their set, Goldfinger’s front man John Feldman encouraged, and then commanded, the middle of the floor to start a traditional circle pit. After a few blinks, most of the people within his gaze got the point, even though it’s not a generally accepted concept anymore. This is what happens to a band that grew up playing in a sympatico community, but then continued to grow large enough to start attracting fans outside of that community.
The previously understood show etiquette eventually changes when enough of the current crowd doesn’t recognize the once-traditional cues coming from a now-veteran band.
If there’s one thing Feldman, Darrin Pfieffer, and Charlie Paulson have learned over the decade and a half playing together it’s how to ramp up an audience, each using his own distinctive ways of doing it. As a result, the crowd was always charged throughout their entire set, rushing between songs at the band’s behest and following all the same.
What makes the audience’s enthusiasm for Goldfinger interesting—and make no mistake while Reel Big Fish may have been the headliners, the equal billing between bands emerged in the crowd’s reaction—is the fact that they haven’t had a marginal hit in over a decade. Their two best known songs are “Here in Your Bedroom” off their self titled first album, and a cover for Nena’s anti-war protest song “99 Red Balloons,” which is of historical note as it featured Feldman singing the last verse in German.
Still, it’s quite a statement that despite their limited mainstream crossover success, they’ve engendered this kind of enthusiasm from their fanbase, which has stuck around and, surprisingly, has continued to grow.
Part of the reason for this is that while Goldfinger has some ska influences, they never directly tied themselves to the third wave ska movement the way some of their other peers did. They’ve always had their base firmly planted in west coast punk, which has helped them endure over the years. But the main reason for their continued success is that they tour constantly and their live shows are reliably interactive and a lot of fun, too.
Just playing their catchy punk sound with ska slightly infused here and there would be kinetic enough to get any crowd’s energy level up, but ultimately that alone wouldn’t be enough to sustain this heightened mood. Instead, John Feldman has turned himself into more of a showman than a musician. He’s ditched straight up guitar playing to focus more on his vocal responsibilities while serving as Goldfinger’s hype man in the process.
Whether it’s Feldman moving between different sides of the stage urging the audience to sing along, or having everyone crouch to the floor during the bridge of “Here in Your Bedroom,” he unfailingly keeps the audience involved in the on stage activities of the band. He even invited every owner of their first album in attendance up on stage during crowd favorite “Mable.” There’s a nice touch.
Drummer Darrin Pfieffer and lead guitarist Charlie Paulson also get in on the act in their own way. Pfeiffer at one point passed over his drumming duties to cut a dividing line between the crowd, enticing everyone into a red rover-like mosh pit. Paulson is much more subtle but just as energetic, bouncing across the stage before finally crowd surfing during a solo.
This is the kind of energy fans expect from a Goldfinger show. It’s not important that they play any sort of hits because the band will get crowd involved with whatever they play and will keep everyone well involved throughout the set. It’s amazing they’ve been able to stay this alive for the 15 plus years they’ve been touring through countless cities, towns, and venues.
But, as they showed this week at the 9:30 Club and during their 126 previous appearance in the District, they can keep this going as long as they want.
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