Review: Joel Reader celebrates birthday with Pansy Division, the Plus Ones and the Avengers

The Plus Ones, Luis Illades, Alexis Melnicki, Joel Reader

Joel Reader performs at Bottom of The Hill in San Francisco on April 2, 2017. Gary Chancer/STAFF.

SAN FRANCISCO — Bottom of the Hill played host to a four-hour marathon of homegrown, old-school punk rock Saturday in honor of a musician who spent almost the entire night onstage.

Joel Reader wanted to celebrate his 40th birthday by playing a show at Bottom of the Hill with his band. He just couldn’t decide which one. The bill included the Plus Ones, Dr. Frank, Pansy Division and the Avengers, and he performed in three out of four acts.

Pansy Division’s set saw Reader on lead guitar, alongside singer-guitarist Jon Ginoli, bassist Chris Freeman and drummer Luis Illades. Illades and Reader are not original members, having joined in 1996 and 2004, respectively. Like Reader, Illades spent almost the entire night onstage as he played drums in each of Reader’s bands.

Pansy Division, currently supporting its first record in nine years, Quite Contrary, has been around for almost 26 years, 13 of which Reader has been a member. As the token straight member of the band, Reader got his fair share of playful ribbing.

“So we’re gonna do a song about the Mount Everest of cocks,” bassist Chris Freeman announced. “It’s such a gay song, but our straight member Joel is going to sing it.”

“I made a special birthday request,” Reader explained before launching into “Dick of Death,” off 1996 record Wish I’d Taken Pictures. “I said, ‘Chris Freeman, please, please let me sing this song about the biggest penis you’ve ever seen. My parents are gonna be there, they’ll be so proud.’”

Pansy Division

Pansy Division performs at Bottom of The Hill in San Francisco on April 1, 2017.

The sold-out Bottom of the Hill crowd went nuts for these hometown queer-core heroes, singing along to old favorites like “Fem in a Black Leather Jacket,” from 1993 debut, Undressed, and “He Whipped My Ass in Tennis (Then I Fucked His Ass in Bed),” off 2003’s Total Entertainment!

The band also played the only Pansy Division song written and sung by Reader, “Some of My Best Friends,” off 2009 record That’s So Gay. Lyrics like, “Some of my best friends are those guys who make you sick/ Some of my best friends like to suck a little dick/ So what if they do, its not your point of view,” are Reader’s response to homophobes feeling comfortable enough to talk trash about gay people in front of him just because he’s straight.

“The song title was a little tongue-in-cheek when I thought of it, you know, this is what people are always saying, ‘I can’t be homophobic, some of my best friends…etcetera etcetera,’” Reader said. “But the more years that go by, and the more time I get to spend with these guys, the more it just becomes a plain statement of fact, because these three guys up here are really some of my best friends.”

The Plus Ones, Luis Illades, Alexis Melnicki, Joel Reader

The Plus Ones perform at Bottom of The Hill
in San Francisco on April 1, 2017.

About two-thirds of the way through Pansy Division’s set Ginoli played the solo song, ”Kiss Me at Midnight (New Year’s Eve),” off new record Quite Contrary, and Freeman took advantage of the free moment by ducking behind an amp for a costume change. When he got to his feet, his over 6-foot frame dazzled with a black sequined fringe flapper dress, and he surprised Reader as he offered him a sweet birthday serenade, singing, “Joel Reader, Joel Reader, he plays pretty good guitar for a breeder,” and “Two dimples and a baby face/ He likes to jump around a lot on the stage when he plays.”

The Plus Ones, the power-pop band Reader founded in 1998, opened up the show. Saturday was a one-night-only reunion show for them, and Reader announced, “We have not played a note of music in 10 fucking years.”

Like Pansy Division, they were formed on the fertile grounds of Berkley’s 924 Gilman Street scene, and their sound is something along the lines of the Buzzcocks-meets-Weezer. The reunion was met with hearty approval from a strong contingent of diehard fans who sang along to songs like “You’ve Been Had” and “A-M-Y (That Spells Amy),” both from 2000’s On the List.

Dr. Frank of the Mr. T Experience offered two short acoustic interludes between the other sets, in support of his new album King Dork Approximately, named for his young adult novel of the same title. Between songs he talked about his experience writing songs and the overlap between his music and his books.

Saturday’s show ran too late for many concert-goers, and the crowd had thinned a bit by the time the Avengers made it onstage, just after 12:30 a.m. Their late set definitely turned it up a notch from the playful pop-punk that characterized the rest of the night, though.

Those who stayed to catch them were full of enthusiasm, albeit somewhat alcohol-fueled, for the female-fronted punk band whose claim to fame is opening for the Sex Pistols in San Francisco in 1979. When frontwoman Penelope Houston decided to make a comeback in the late ‘90s, Reader was tapped to play bass for the band originally baptized by fire in the ’77 punk era.

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