“We’re NOFX, screwing up since 1983
But these days we’ve got mortgages and families
So we’re going on a sketchy tour
No country is too obscure
We’re gonna drink and cough and fight and snort
We’re NOFX, this is Backstage Passport”
“Touring the US is just not what it used to be. It’s not dangerous anymore. It’s predictable. And yeah, it gets a little boring. It’s corporate rock. And it, er, sucks. So we came up with the idea lets play crazy cities all over the world, and it’s gonna be like playing shows a long time ago. ‘Cos when you play crazy cities, crazy shit’s gonna happen” – Fat Mike.
When NOFX toured South Africa last year I watched them three times. They were awesome. But by the time they left, I was feeling pretty anti. If you weren’t part of the immediate crew, they just didn’t have time for you. And Fat Mike eats meat! Outside The Bassline in Jo’burg, fans were screaming “Fuck you! I bought all your records, I’m worth a minute of your time” at them and calling them rockstars.
Me and a couple of friends had road-tripped up to Jo’burg for the shows, listening to NOFX records the whole way. They didn’t get played once the whole trip back. The jury was out. Looking back now, I don’t know what else I could have expected. But, after watching just six episodes of their new TV show Backstage Passport, documenting their whole “shittiest places in the world tour” adventure, I’m back onboard S&M Airlines, enjoying the in-flight entertainment.
I guess I was just expecting more humility from them. More of an approachable, down to earth ensemble. ‘Cos anti-rockstar and champion-of-the-independents is kind of their byline. When Lagwagon toured the country the year before, we smoked with Chris Flippin in the car-park and drank beers with Leon at the bar. But then again, NOFX aren’t Lagwagon.
Basically, what started out as a standard band DVD eventually spilled over into a nine episode TV show aired on Fuse TV in America – “The plan is to start in South America. We’re gonna go to Brazil, Argentina, Chili, Peru, Ecuador, and the source, Columbia. Then, Moscow, Singapore, Beijing, South Africa…”
And the tour really is historic television – From being the first American punk band to tour Mainland China, to mad shows in Peru, chasing the “green dragon” in Singapore, S&M clubs in Japan, riots in Jerusalem, and getting ripped off wherever they went. “I’d like to make some money. Because when we get back, I’ve got to pay off my house” – guitarist El Hefe.
Every country they go to NOFX stumble over cultures with a childlike naivety. In Singapore El Hefe picks up a scarf thrown on stage, puts it on, and stars impersonating Yassir Arafat. An angry fan jumps on stage. “Please don’t wear that. Because this is wearing by the good people in the religion of Islam.” But frontman Fat Mike still saw the funny side of it, “We’ve done a lot of shows, but we’ve never had any shout-outs to Allah. Two Jews and a Mexican taunting the Muslim crowd. Probably not the best idea.”
El Hefe’s like a 40-something 12-year-old. “I’d call him an idiot savant, but he wouldn’t know what savant meant” – Fat Mike. In Jerusalem, just before they go onstage, Hefe quotes his mom’s suicide bomber advice, “Yeah, I’m pretty nervous. My mom told me stay away from large crowds, like the audience.”
But, amongst all the drug-taking and partying, there’s a softer side too. When the band climbs the Great Wall of China, everyone calls home, crying, going “baby I love you”. And when they write NOFX on the bricks, it’s a goose-bump moment.
Fat Mike’s own Dawson Creek moments come in the form of his three year old daughter Darla – It’s her birthday. He’s not home. She doesn’t understand why. She won’t talk to him, “I don’t have to be doing this. I keep playing music around the world because I like to. It’s fun. So I had a kid, and it hurts her feelings and it hurts my feelings.”
When they get to Bali NOFX don’t even have a show booked. So, they find a venue, book a show for the next day, and walk the streets promoting it. “It’s been so long since I’ve flyerd my own show” – guitarist Eric Melvin. When Melvin finds a CD shop, he grabs a NOFX CD excitedly. “See this guy? It’s me. Same shorts”.
One of the best moments of the tour, that confirms NOFX’s legacy, came in Jakarta, Indonesia. The band’s still waiting around for the sound guy to get pay $12,000 so he’ll turn the power on. And there isn’t a fan in sight. NOFX are convinced that it’s going to be yet another disaster. “We still didn’t know if there was an audience” said manager Kent. “There’s at least 15,000 imaginary kids coming” added soundman-on-tour Jay Walker.
Kent, as usual, confronts the promoter.
– “There’s no audience, is there?”
– “They’re outside”
– “They are. Where?”
– “You wanna see”
Then promoter Torkis takes Kent on a “a mile and a half” golf cart ride. And sure enough, there are eight to ten thousand kids standing around, waiting. And they’re all wearing NOFX t-shirts and Fat Wreck merchandise. It always amazes me how people – no matter what country in the world they’re in – make a plan to get what they want. Kent has to take a photo of the crowd and show it to the band back at the venue, to convince them that their actually is an audience. The show was a rocker, but NOFX didn’t get paid… again.
Click here to watch the Backstage Passport trailer.
Click here to watch NOFX messing around in SA.
Click here to watch the music video for “Seeing Double at the Triple Rock”