Under a blazing sun and cloudless sky on the second day of the Camp Punk In Drublic festival, The Real McKenzies played a blistering set of 11 songs in thirty minutes.
“We tried to do a little of everything,” said vocalist and the band’s namesake Paul McKenzie after they came offstage, “but it’s really difficult. If it were up to me, I’d sit there and play every fucking one.” Forgive the pun, but that is music to any fans ears.
As the band took the stage, they launched into the harmonic intro to Due West. “Let’s have a cheer for our fallen brethren…” elicited a cheer from the crowd, before the uptempo beat of the number washed over the masses.
With the bagpipes still reverberating over the natural amphitheater of Legend Valley, they rolled directly into Fool’s Road. With McKenzie unleashing raw power with his vocals, Aspy Luison took the lead with his pipes, sounding fantastic and adding poignancy to the lyrics “We don’t care who you think we are…”
“From a spectator’s point of view,” said McKenzie backstage after their set, “we pick up on some kind of energy… you can imagine the adrenaline rush I get… this is what I was put here to do, or so it seems. When I get to do it, with such a great fucking lineup, it’s (emotion) is just going to pour out. That special cocktail of adrenaline, a little bit of beer and that (gestures to the crowd), there’s nothing like it. I could easily compare it to some endorphin thing, or drug thing, if you will; so, I’m addicted to it. That’s why I do it.
“What a healthy addiction, eh? Nothing ever gives me that particular kick like rock and roll.” We couldn’t agree more.
“Ohio, let me hear you!” said McKenzie, as the band kept the tempo and energy high on this sweltering afternoon with One Day, with the band sounding tight. With the crowd clapping along, they promptly went into Chip, the high tempo and fast-pace to the tune having the assembled masses cheering.
“It’s a pleasure to be here,” McKenzie said from the stage, “in this little treasure trove in the middle of America…” as the midtempo strains of Seafarers from their latest album reached our ears. His vocals were yelled with great emotion, making the crowd feel the trepidation within the lyrics.
The emotion heard within this song belie the deeper feelings evocative of their maturity.
“There is!” he said about the deeper emotion heard on their newer songs. “We have a completely different set of writers, and we all collaborate. I hear all the time, ‘You’re the founder of the band, the lead guy…’ but it’s not like that. I’ve never run The Real McKenzies like that. It’s a socialist organization, and I want everybody’s input. I don’t want any fucking hierarchy, because everyone is just as important as the next. So, it gives us incentive to do better.
“So, this is a new lineup and the new record will have a different sound. I don’t mind change. I know there are bands that have their formula, it makes them popular and it works for them. I want to push the fucking envelope and talk to a crowd that may not necessarily be hardcore punk rock fans.”
They brought the energy level back to a fever pitch with One Man Voyage, with the crowd paying rapt attention to every note. With the hard edge and fast pace of Best Day Until Tomorrow, there was no doubt that this was punk rock at its purest.
“We al have our vices,” McKenzie said, “and I have mine.” With that statement, they launched into the uptempo Pour Decisions. With the crowd singing along, the line “Yeah, you still wish you were me…” washed over us with added conviction. Indeed, many of us did we wish were we him.
Without missing a beat, Drink Some More poured forth causing many to hold their drinks up to the band in a toast. Unfortunately, the PA system cut out three-quarters of the way through the song. Not to be deterred, the band plowed forward, with the crowd singing along rather loudly to make up for the lack of sound coming from the speakers.
With the PA system seemingly working again, they launched into the uptempo The Skeleton and The Tailor. Once again, the band didn’t stop, and the crowd picked up the slack from the PA system, belting out the song in time with the band. It was great seeing no one leaving when the sound system took a dump.
Taking the piss, they closed their set with Fuck The Real McKenzies. In the opinion of this author, this is the band’s version of Motorhead’s “We Are The Roadcrew.” With a bow from the entire band, they were finished for the afternoon and made their way off the stage.
After they had time to cool off from their set and grab a drink, I asked McKenzie what kept him invigorated to keep doing this for so many years.
“What else would I do?” he said. “I made an oath to myself when I started this endeavor, although it might be humanly impossible. But, I was up for the task because I am, of course, a McKenzie (laughter ensued from both of us at this). What this task was, was to delve through all the Scots legends, all the stories, all the songs and the culture, if you will… and try, just try to take a semblance of it and portray it to the world. After twenty-five years, I’ve gotten to probably a thimble-full of it. So, this is motivation, is it not?
“On our next album… I heard about this bridge in this town called Overtoun (Scotland). It’s a 300-year-old stone bridge, beautiful. Over the last hundred years, over seventy-five long-snouted dogs have leapt to their death for no apparent reason. So, I want to write a song called Overtoun Bridge. You know, ‘The bitches filled the ditches and the dogs lay all around…’ It writes itself, and all you have to do is put the pen to paper.”
Although it’s been well over a decade since they’ve played in Ohio, Paul McKenzie left me with this statement.
“There are tons of fans yet to be reached. I’m really happy to be able to this, more or less on my own terms without having to bow down to any record company. We’re not going to stop any time soon.”
Are they the hardest working band you’ve never heard of? They could very well be, but you now know how to remedy that. I encourage you to do so post haste.
Ed. – Huge thanks must be given to Paul McKenzie for taking the time after their show for a quick interview and to Troy Zak (bass and tour manager) for setting the interview up.
Credit all images: Chad Kessler / Music In Motion Columbus
- Due West
- Fool’s Road
- One Day
- One Man Voyage
- Best Day Until Tomorrow
- Pour Decisions
- Drink Some More
- The Skeleton and The Tailor
- Fuck The Real McKenzies
The Real McKenzies – Due West