A thinking man’s review of the Canadian punk band’s recent stand at Club Quattro

By Laurier Tiernan

SNFU, Club Quattro: Thursday, September 26th, 2013.

Rising to alternative fame in the 1980s, Canadian punk pioneers SNFU suffered several line-up changes and two breakups by 2005. Subsequently, as lead singer Chi Pig (née Ken Chinn) struggled with drug addiction and homelessness, many people assumed that the sun had set on this act. But a superfan embarked on a journey to make a documentary about Chi Pig, igniting a movement to get him back on stage. Fast-forwarding to 2013 finds a newly reformed SNFU releasing their first new studio album in nine years, and playing their first Japanese tour, without either of the founding guitarists Marc or Brent Belke. Japanese fans are renowned for their loyalty, but even the most loyal fan would have been apprehensive. Luckily for them, the latest incarnation of this band delivered as well as—or perhaps better than—their predecessors.

Almost immediately launching into “I Forget” from their second album, If You Swear, You’ll Catch No Fish, Chi Pig pranced the stage in a pink blouse under a black frilly dress, paired with black jeans. Bassist Kerry Cyr and guitarist Sean Colig sported T-shirts and shorts that were fitting for their genre, and guitarist Ken Fleming wore plaid pants with his T-shirt. Tour drummer, “Junior” Kittlitz, chose to remain topless for most of the set.

[Lead singer Chi Pig] now connects directly with his audience on a much more intense level than ever before

The new sonic face of SNFU leans heavily on a mixture of Ken Fleming and Sean Colig’s Gibson SG guitars and Kerry Cyr’s Music Man Stingray basses, helping them sound more professional and accessible than in previous incarnations, and their brand new compositions are the most musically uplifting ones they’ve released so far. Mr. Fleming and Mr. Colig’s playing and backing vocals were even better than those of the founding guitarists. Bassist Kerry Cyr’s musicianship and stage presence was also leagues better than his predecessors. And although drummer “Junior” Kittlitz was only enlisted for the duration of this tour, he stood out as one of the best rhythm-section players this band has seen.

When one thinks of SNFU, Chi Pig is the first face that springs to mind, and much ado has been made on the internet about how his current age and health issues have stopped him from taking the flying leaps for which he became famous. While this is true, he now connects directly with his audience on a much more intense level than ever before: making intimate eye contact, holding outstretched hands, appreciating every fan, and communicating the substance of his lyrics rather than feeling like he has to run around to keep an audience amused. In addition to this, openly embracing his feminine side on stage (Chi came out some years ago) is more punk rock than anything he might have done in the band’s infancy. Guitarist Ken Fleming even brought humor into the situation when he asked the audience, “Is Ken really dating that guy over there?” to which Ken responded, “No, it’s just a one night stand!” to the audience’s laughter.

SNFU lead singer Chi Pig

SNFU lead singer Chi Pig

For fans who came to see intense physical activity though, SNFU’s guitarists were all too happy to oblige, racing and spinning around more than enough to make up for any “slowing down” on Chi Pig’s part. Mr. Fleming coaxed sustain from his guitar by shaking it above his head, and often played it behind his head, something that SNFU’s founding guitarists never did.

Tearing through approximately 17 songs in about 90 minutes, SNFU offered four tracks from their new album but concentrated mostly on their later-period material. It was jewels from their much-venerated first album that provoked the most aggressive circle pits this journalist has seen in Tokyo, however. A handful of young Japanese men even enthusiastically climbed onstage in order to crowd surf or stage dive.

Fans cheered wildly, and listened, enraptured, as Chi Pig made a short post-show speech, saying that he was very grateful to have the chance to play in Tokyo, since visiting this country was one of his biggest dreams. With the brazen standoffishness of their youth replaced by warmth and gratitude, and their new music displaying a brand new jubilance, SNFU are set to march into the future with a fearlessness of those who’ve lived through hell. At the end of their popular single, “Cockatoo Quill,” Mr. Chinn repeatedly chanted, “…I’m going to win!” and at this point, it looks like he will either do so or die trying. Either way, Chi Pig & Co. have already secured a place in history.

Photos: E.H. Tiernan