I get to Szene way too early and spot a slightly annoyed Walter unloading a couple of things from the van outside; trying hard to repress the fangirl in me, I pretend I don't see him and walk on – into an empty venue, which in the following hour doesn't get much more filled up. The atmosphere is laid-back and chilled, with a couple of hardcore – sorry for the pun – fans that are wearing Gorilla Biscuits shirts and seem to have come from abroad to see Walter Schreifels live today. First up are Atlantic/Pacific, a band from New Jersey/Brooklyn with a distinct emo (as in Texas is the Reason, Reno Kid kind-of-emo) sound. They thrown in a couple of jokes about the bavarian police which, as we find out in-between songs, were the cause for an almost-cancelled show tonight. Their music is nothing spectacular to me, but I find myself liking it quite a bit, especially the plaintive intertwined vocals – you can tell they've got more than just a couple of years of experience. As they progress into their set, I grow slightly restless from all the excitement and after the fifth song, Atlantic/Pacific thank and greet the audience and quietly walk off stage.
Next up is.. ta-daa! No, not Walter Schreifels exactly, but some stage people setting up for Walter's show; there are two strange portraits of Mexicans left and right, complete with a visual of a crowd in the back. Out of nowhere comes a fifties Western Movie background music, to make the tension rise, maybe, as the lights go out – as if I wasn't already lacking oxygen already. One by one, the musicians come onstage. Nobody claps or screams, everyone is mesmerized – or slightly confused? "They haven't seen me“, he says looking back at the musicians with an amused look on his face. "Hello, Vienna!“ - and that's when the 30-or-so people in the crowd start going wild with happiness. I am too. He's there! He's real! For anyone who's not familiar with Walter Schreifels, he is a legend of the hardcore scene. Ask any kid who's spent his teenage years with Rival Schools and Quicksand – or even with Agnostic Front, a band Walter is very fond of – they'll know Exactly who you are talking about. And speaking of Agnostic Front, Walter starts off his set with a mellow cover of 'Society Suckers', track 3 on his recently released solo album. As he goes on to play a couple of other songs from the new record, like Save the Saveables, he shakes his head while playing, stomps his foot, he smiles, he gives the other – amazingly talented, to say the least – musicians their space. During the loud guitar and bass solos of Dave Hill and Arthur Smilios, he stands in the back and dances by himself, feeling all there is to feel. As he gets to the title track of his album An Open Letter to the Scene, he tells the audience how the chorus goes: "don't forget the struggle, don't forget the streets, don't sell out – an open letter to the scene". And what a letter it is. If anyone in the audience thought Walter had mellowed out with the years by daring to release an acoustic, easy, summer-y album, the moment he starts off 'Thorn in my side' proves them wrong. This classic from the mid-nineties is only the beginning to a long row of songs he performs taken from various records he released with various bands. He introduces Audrey as a song he wrote about "making up over breakfast". It is witty, like many of Walking Concert's songs, a couple of which he performs later on in the set, like 'Calipso Slide' and 'Hands Up!' – which gets a couple of the twenty-thirty-somethings in the crowd hyped up as they clap along and, well, put their hands up. 'Mustang Ford' makes everyone laugh as he tells the tale of wanting to drive on the 'Autobahn' (funnily enough, that seems to be one of foreign people's favorite german words..) with his powerful, powerful car. Every song has a story which he is willing to tell; he could be up all night, giving his adoring, though rather quiet, audience a detailed account of how each number came to be. He does so with 'Wild Pandas', one of my favorites from the new album, which he wrote in China about missing family, friends, lovers but seemed again so fitting when the evil Icelandic volcano caused him to be stranded in Moscow – him feeling like an American spy during Cold War times, and no I am not making this up, just paraphrasing – on his way back home from Tokyo. His distinctive voice hasn't faded over the years; it is rough where it should be (on Rival Schools' Good Things and Gorilla Biscuits' Start Today - complete with the harmonica bridge, too!) and smoother, softer in other places – like in the gorgeous 'Shootout', which he introduces as a song about "love and extreme violence". As if that wasn't enough, he also gets the audience to sing along on a Sick Of It All medley / cover of 'Friend Like You'. The word 'play' – as in, 'playing an instrument' – is perfect to describe their performance. All the musicians on stage are not simply singing, using chords and notes to form melodies; they are indeed playing. They are kids in a playground, surfers riding a wave, lost in their past and looking into the future.
He makes me happier than I could ever be by performing as very last song of the very last encore 'The Bicycle Song', at my silly request. You'd think he'd be done and would have no more tricks up his sleeve, right? Wrong. During the first encore, he stands alone on stage and, after talking about the awful spring weather we've got here in Europe, says, "this is one of my all-time favorite songs, it's been written by George Gerschwin – you can sing along if you know the lyrics". My heart says, 'Summertime', my mind says, 'no, he's not going to play summertime, is he?' Well, he is. And what a gorgeous, intense, and emotional song it is. If there was anything he wanted to share with everyone tonight, here it is. An honest and gigantic love for music, no matter from when or where, no matter what kind. No, Walter Schreifels isn't selling out – just sharing all he has to give.