By Dave Pehling

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the most abrasive and iconoclastic bands to emerge from San Francisco during the punk era, Flipper has been delivering its noisy, dark-humored songs to rabidly loyal audiences for four decades.

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Formed in 1979, Flipper initially featured singer Ricky Williams (ex-Sleepers, who came up with the band’s moniker), guitarist Ted Falconi (ex-Rad Command), and the former rhythm section of Negative Trend, Will Shatter (bass) and Steve DePace (drums). Drug problems led the group to fire Williams only months after first coming together, but that led to the addition of singer/bassist Bruce “Loose” Calderwood, completing what would become known as Flipper’s classic line-up.

Embracing plodding tempos and room-clearing sonic chaos built around Falconi’s unique guitar squall and the tandem screaming vocals of Shatter and Calderwood, Flipper stood in stark opposition to most of the band’s punk contemporaries in San Francisco and abroad. Playing frequent shows to not always receptive audiences more accustomed to the fast and hard punk aesthetic, Flipper became a mainstay at SF punk clubs including the Mabuhay Gardens, the Sound of Music and the On Broadway.  Still, despite their willful dissonance, the band somehow found a way to cram hooks and sneering, sarcastic humor into the cacophonous grooves of early singles like “Sex Bomb” and “Ha Ha Ha.” Both those songs would be covered by countless bands following in Flipper’s discordant footsteps over the years that followed.

The band followed it’s early 7-inch single success with Subterranean records with a proper debut album, 1982’s Album – Generic Flipper. Hailed as a masterpiece of American punk when released, the legacy of the recording has only grown with the influence it exerted over generations of post-punk and alternative rock acts. While Flipper only would manage one more studio album (Gone Fishin’ in 1984) and a pair of live albums before splitting up prior to Shatter’s death by overdose in late 1987, by that time some of the band’s disciples — most notably longtime Flipper proselytizers the Melvins — were already making their own records.

Flipper would resurface in 1990 with a new bassist — John Dougherty– and a new single for Subterranean. They were prodded to more activity by another admirer, record producer Rick Rubin (who had led his own Flipper-inspired noise band Hose in New York before co-founding Def Jam Records). Rubin would issue their 1992 album American Grafishy on his Def American imprint, but the band suffered another setback when Dougherty suffered a fatal overdose after the record’s release.

ALSO READ: CBS SF Talks To Flipper Drummer Steve DePace (July 2019)

When the band should have been capitalizing on its newfound cache thanks to the vocal praise of fan and Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain, it instead returned to dormancy for much of the decade. Flipper has been more active since the turn of the millennium, reuniting during the 2000s to tour and record a new album with former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic in 2009. With longtime singer Calderwood sidelined due to a back injury, in 2015 the band recruited Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard to front the band for a series of successful dates in the U.S. and Italy, including a pair of blistering shows at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco.

Flipper with David Yow

Flipper with David Yow (Credit Nick Sternberg)

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With the arrival of the band’s 40th anniversary in 2019, DePace and Falconi returned to activity, taking to the road for Flipper’s most extensive run of live concerts in years with Yow again fronting the band and previous collaborator Rachel Thoele (of the SF bands Frightwig and Mudwimin) on bass. The shows included appearances at a number of festivals on both sides of the Atlantic, with sets at the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool, England, Levitation 2019 in Austin, TX, and Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas that featured Flipper supporting fellow punk renegades Killing Joke.

That year also saw the band collaborating with longtime Flipper champions the Melvins on a limited edition EP on Amphetamine Reptile Records that featured musicians from both groups recording the new song “Hot Fish” and a version of the Flipper classic “Sacrifice” along with two recordings of other Flipper tunes by the Melvins. While the band stayed quiet through much of the pandemic, they recently announced a select group of four California dates including a headlining show in Costa Mesa, a pair of concerts supporting Orange County experimental punk duo the Garden at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles and these two shows at the Bottom of the Hill to close out 2021.

In San Francisco, Flipper will be joined at both shows with support from comedian Neil Hamburger, one of the few modern comics walking in the same uncomfortable and sometimes confrontational footsteps of the late Andy Kaufman (and his obnoxious lounge act alter-ego Tony Clifton).

Self-proclaimed “America’s funnyman” Hamburger is the creation of actor, musician and punk-rock enthusiast Gregg Turkington. The character went from an appearance on a cult prank phone call album to featuring on his own faked live comedy recordings for an indie-rock label before actually taking the stage. After being born in Australia and growing up in Phoenix, Turkington moved with his father after his parents split and immersed himself in San Francisco’s burgeoning punk scene.

An obsessive fan of Flipper (he would eventually compile shows he recorded into the live document Public Flipper Limited, Live 1980 – 1985), Turkington co-edited the zine “Breakfast Without Meat” and befriended enough bands and musicians to be able to start the independent label Amarillo Records. His crank call album Great Phone Calls for the imprint became an underground hit and led to several singles featuring his obnoxious comedian character Neil Hamburger.

Those early singles enticed Drag City Records to offer a deal for a full-length album by the soon-to-be-infamous Hamburger. While Turkington had dabbled in comedy at San Francisco open mic nights during the late ’80s, his initial Neil Hamburger recordings were fabricated documentation of “live” shows with the character telling horrible jokes over rapturous applause and laughter taken from other comedy albums.

The success of Hamburger’s debut America’s Funnyman would encourage Turkington to actually taking the character to the live stage. After a move to Australia, he connected with popular punk band Frenzel Rhomb, who invited Hamburger to serve as their opening act, giving Turkington a chance to refine the character’s desperate, excruciating delivery full of awkward pauses and throat clearing interspersed with dark one liners and question-and-answer cracks of questionable taste that frequently slagged celebrities.

On Thursday, punk bass legend Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE, the Stooges and more) leads his band the missingmen through an opening set of Minutemen classics and other Watt standards. OG San Francisco punks and Mabuhay Garden mainstays VKTMS were set to kick off the festivities on New Year’s Eve, but had to cancel this week due to concerns over the compromised health of a couple of members in the face of the contagious omicron variant..

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Flipper with David Yow
Thursday and Friday, Dec. 30-31, 8 p.m. (8:30 p.m. NYE), $40-$50
Bottom of the Hill