Me First and the Gimme Gimmes Know How to Party

For Spike Slawson, frontman and lead singer of the San Francisco-born punk rock group Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, a live show is akin to an obstacle course. Slawson and the group don’t much care for easy-breezy despite their stage prowess. Instead, they appreciate a degree of difficulty. A challenge. That’s where the fun, the reward, and even the humor reside, both for the musicians and the audience—whether they know it at first or not. In many ways, this is the basis for the band’s new live album, ¡Me First and the Gimme Gimmes Blow It… at Madison’s Quinceañera.

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It might seem strange to pair a band like the Gimmes, which is known for playing punk rock versions of songs by artists like John Denver and Paul Simon, with a 15-year-old’s coming-of-age birthday party. And that’s because it is. But that’s the point. Slawson and company prefer to win you over as opposed to having you immediately eating out of the palm of their collective hand. So, instead of simply making any live album, the band ran a contest with radio station 91X in San Diego (which was one of the first to play the band’s music in the 1990s), and Madison and her family won their very own live show, to be recorded and released as an official Gimmes live LP. Little did they know what was in store.

Me First & the Gimme Gimmes

The Gimmes are best encountered live. Their stages are decorated to the nines, and the members coordinate outfits, which include bedazzled sunglasses and pastel suits. But their vivacity on stage doesn’t always make them everyone’s cup of tea. So coming into Madison’s party, Slawson—known for playfully ribbing his audiences as much as for entertaining them—knew they would have to earn the respect of Madison’s family. And despite some early hiccups, they slowly reeled them in and pulled it off.

“If you go to play a show in front of people who have paid for tickets to see you, all you have to do, really, is stay out of the way,” the singer says. “If you look at it that way, the job is kind of easy. It’s one thing to troll people who came to see you, it’s another thing to troll people at their daughter’s only 15th birthday party.”

But again, this is the type of atmosphere Slawson finds himself drawn to most. “We picked one Olivia Rodrigo song, and they went ape-shit,” he says. A record should be an event, Slawson adds. Ideally, it should grow in legend over time, as has Me First and the Gimme Gimmes Ruin Jonny’s Bar Mitzvah, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2024. But that doesn’t come by just rolling out onstage and playing the hits. It comes from work. “I was incredibly nervous at first,” he admits of the Quinceañera performance.

Slawson remembers touring with well-known bands like Flogging Molly and Violent Femmes. Bands who played earnest songs earnestly. But the Gimmes came out and, as is their wont, played the role of the heel. Joking, subverting. It makes sense, after all. The band’s manager (and Slawson’s wife), Audra, used to manage an entire professional wrestling league called Incredibly Strange Wrestling. They’re familiar with the territory. This isn’t to say that they didn’t take the job of playing Madison’s birthday party seriously. It’s just that they approach their job—wherever the stage may be, from estate sale to packed festival—with more of a court-jester aesthetic and less of an on-the-nose nobility.

“If you don’t mind being the heel,” Slawson says, “then you give everybody [else] the chance to save the evening.”

Slawson grew up in Pittsburgh and was introduced to music by his parents. His father released an early computer-programmed song on an old Decca Records compilation, while his mother adored the Beatles. Slawson first played violin for nearly a decade before moving to guitar. He later became a frontman due to his own “malignant narcissism,” he jokes. It was Fat Wreck Chords’ own Fat Mike who recruited him to the Gimmes. Prior, he’d worked for a now-defunct record distributor, a job he got after working in a pizzeria, and he’s played in several other bands, too. With the Gimmes, he’s released 11 albums. For the singer, traveling and making music are, to quote a chorus he might sing, simply the best. The art form is unifying and liberating. Part artifice, part honest portrayal of self. But more than anything else, music is an undeniable feeling he follows.

“South of the brain,” Slawson says. “That’s what it is for me. Even though it takes your brain to write it, the effects are going on somewhere south of that.”

Photos by Alan Snodgrass

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