Going to see the Dwarves live is always a gamble. They’ve made a name for themselves through the ’90s and ’00s playing chaotic sets that could run anywhere from five minutes to an hour depending on what kind of mood singer Blag Dahlia is in. Paying $20 for a band that might not make it through two songs might be hard to swallow for the uninitiated few. But for those of us that have followed the Dwarves’ career, we know that $20 is pocket change if there’s a chance you will see the Dwarves melt your face off with a blistering set of cocaine-fueled rock and roll. I’d say my luck at Dwarves shows has been 80% in favor of the latter. The last few times the band has played the area, it’s been Blag with a backing band consisting of members of John Cougar Concentration Camp. That line-up slayed every time (except maybe the Bowery Electric show where Blag cut it short due to overzealous fans).

I had no expectations going into the Stone Pony show, which served as the opening ceremony to the Asbury Park Punk Rock Bowling festival, but I was pleasantly surprised to see New York legend Stigma and crust punk stalwarts Blanks 77 also on the bill. We caught the tail end of Stigma. As the guardian of all things hardcore Vinnie Stigma led the crowd through sing-alongs of retro-punk rockers and classic Agnostic Front tunes. It’s great to see Stigma keeping the flame alive, even if the audience seemed less than interested.

The Blanks were up next and I racked my brain trying to figure out if I’ve ever seen them before. No one but the singer looked familiar, and there’s a good chance that I confused them with the Casualties (who were also flying the crust punk flag around the same era). Regardless, the audience was psyched and kids bounced all over as the band tore through a 45 minute set of punchy, traditional street punk tunes. They ended the set with a fun cover of “Sonic Reducer” before jumping off stage to greet their fans in person. It was a nice touch and something you don’t see at shows too often.

As I alluded to earlier, I had no idea what version of the Dwarves was going to hit stage. Rumors were swirling that legendary masked exhibitionist and Dwarves’ guitarist HeWhoCannotBeNamed was on the tour and I hadn’t seen him play with the band in years, but then Nick Oliveri took to the stage to set up his gear and I swooned. I have never seen the band with Nick Oliveri, bassist on the Dwarves’ arguably best records alongside HWCBN and Blag. This was going to be epic. 

The classic line-up strutted on stage at 11:30 and proceeded to tear through the first half of “The Dwarves are Young and Good Looking” before announcing that they were saving the rest of the album for the next night. No complaints here. The rest of the set featured a good chunk of songs from “Blood, Guts & Pussy” and smattering of songs from the rest of their dense discography. 

HeWhoCannotBeNamed was on fire, shredding on stage right with his telecaster while exchanging spit with rabid fans. Blag paced furiously across the stage, occasionally stepping over the barricade and security to pass the mic to the crowd. The Stone Pony was far from capacity, but the audience crushed up against the stage to sing-along to “I Will Deny You” and “Dominator.” Guitarist Marc Diamond flanked the other side of the stage, shredding through 23 songs in less than an hour as Oliveri provided vocals on Dwarves classics that I’ve never heard live before. 

The band closed the set with a blistering barrage of minute-long classics, including “Back Seat of my Car,” “Detention Girl” and “Let’s Fuck” with members of Decent Criminal lending a hand on vocals when they weren’t singing along with the crowd. Everyone chanted “Old enough to bleed, old enough to breed. Old enough to pee then she’s old enough for me” as the security looked on in disgust. With that, the Dwarves signaled for the house music and the show was over. This is what’s called an epic Dwarves show.