In 2001, Alien Ant Farm’s second album, ANThology, became a sensation on the strength of its first single, a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” It is, by all means, a great cover, managing to pay homage to the King of Pop while at the same time injecting a dose of punkish rock and humor to a song about a murder. It was a huge hit, but it somewhat stereotyped the band as a one-hit wonder, even though the next two singles from the album, “Movies” and “Attitude,” were well received and ANThology would eventually go platinum.
But the hardcore fans of the group – those who had bought their first self-released album Greatest Hits in 1999 and were ecstatic to now see them signed to a big label – knew much more than the casual listener. Alien Ant Farm was no one-hit wonder. They rocked. And they rocked hard.
I was on the way to becoming one of those fans. Even though I hadn’t heard Greatest Hits, I had purchased ANThology on a whim, wanting to see if the spunk of “Smooth Criminal” would be present in their original songwriting. It was and much more. This was an album difficult to categorize – just one listen and you knew these four California guys were into a bunch of different stuff, with influences that included metal, hip hop, punk, and Latin rhythms.
But then a perfect storm happened. MTV started to move away from showing videos (and eventually music-related programming altogether), so artists who had previously benefitted from the network’s support were left in the cold. The hard rock/alternative/grunge sound of the 90s was also winding down, displaced by a resurgence in pop rock and pop punk (hello Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne), and also by the garage rock revival, with groups such as The White Stripes. And while on a tour of Spain, Alien Ant Farm was involved in a bus accident, tragically losing their driver Christopher Holland. By the time the band returned to the studio, releasing TruANT in late 2003, the world had moved on.
Not so the hardcore fans. Those were alive and well at Alien Ant Farm’s concert April 3rd at Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The crowd was pretty mixed, with old geezers like me and my buddy Gerry coming to check them out live (our first time) and younger kids who were mostly there to see co-headliner (Hed) P.E.. But everyone seemed to be digging the AAF boys equally as they blasted through a set of twelve powerhouse songs. Singer Dryden Mitchell at one point complained about getting old and having an unseemly belly (was he talking about me?), but there was no evidence of his getting long in the tooth as he jumped around the stage and screamed/rapped songs such as “SS Recognize.”
The atmosphere was electric from the get-go with the one-two punch of opener “Yellow Pages,” from the recently released album Always and Forever (2015), and “Forgive and Forget,” a personal favorite from Up in the Attic (2006) and a great example of their knack for memorable melodies. A couple of songs later and the crowd was treated to the first showstopper of the night, “Courage.” As drummer Mike Cosgrove and new bassist Tim Peugh laid down the massive groove, guitarist Terry Corso would approach the edge of the stage and plummet the house with his incendiary riffs (Culture Room is a small venue, and no matter where you stand you’re sure to be close to the action.) By the end of the song, as Mitchell sang the refrain “I never said you were a mistake at all / You got it all wrong / You’re misunderstanding,” the audience was on fire.
Mitchell introduced the poppier “Homage,” also from their latest album, by dedicating it to all the songwriters which had influenced them when they were younger, from The Beatles to The Pixies, Stevie Wonder, and the Beastie Boys. Then came the second highlight of the evening, “Attitude.” I have always liked the funkier side of Alien Ant Farm, and “Attitude” perfectly displays their wide range. Its infectious flow was evident in the jazzy interplay between Peugh, Corso, and Cosgrove and the crowd’s response to Mitchell’s passionate call of “Your solitude is welcome / Your attitude is welcome.” Two more songs and the band would close the night with – as expected – an exuberant rendition of Michael Jackson’s hit song. The fans jumped up and down with abandon.
Although the sound was somewhat muddled and the group seemed to miss a couple of beats at times, there was still no denying their playful intensity. In the end, I wish they would’ve played more obscure stuff, perhaps a “Tía Lupe,” with its salsa tinges, or a “Flesh and Bone,” with its reggae-infused verses. It was not to be, but then again, a co-headlining tour is not the place for it either, as there’s a limit on the amount of songs you can play. But it’s all good. The adrenaline was pumping as we left the venue, having decided in true hipster fashion that we would skip (Hed) P.E. and see if we could catch the AAF guys in the patio (nothing against the second act, we were just tired from a tough work week and afraid of the impending moshing).
As we looked around for the merch table, we ran into a guy who asked us what we had thought of the concert. He was a FL native who had never seen the band live, but knew every nook and cranny of their history, speaking reverently about their albums and Mike Cosgrove’s intricate drumming – one of those die-hard fans who I’m sure had the original Greatest Hits album. All of a sudden, a security guard entered the venue from the back, leaving the doors slightly ajar. The dude saw his opportunity and quickly walked outside. Gerry and I looked at each other and followed suit: The group was hanging out with their entourage in the alley behind the club. Sweet!
As we headed in their direction, another security guard stopped us and told us to get back inside. We sullenly obeyed. In the distance we could see Alien Ant Farm’s #1 groupie as he approached his heroes. Way to go, you smooth criminal.