Joel Reader’s 40th Birthday Party

How many people do you know who throw their own birthday parties? Okay, now how many people do you know who celebrate their own birthdays by more or less working during their entire party that they threw themselves? I’ve got one for you: Joel Reader.

Joel has played in a number of bands: The Mr. T Experience, Avengers, The Plus Ones, and Pansy Division. So naturally, what does he do for his big 4-0? Schedule a show at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco with all of them on the bill, of course.



Apparently it was also his sister’s wedding anniversary (who gets married on their brother’s birthday though?) so he thanked her onstage for coming out anyway.

“Thanks for being here for my birthday instead of doing something romantic with your husband.”

He talked about how she introduced him to bands like Operation Ivy and Green Day, and she brought him to 924 Gilman where he first saw The Mr. Experience. That’s so crazy to me that he saw them play Gilman, became a fan, and then eventually joined the band himself.

The Plus Ones

Opening the night was a reunion of the Plus Ones. This was their first show in ten years, and likely their last show ever. The reunion was solely because Joel wanted to be able to play those songs one more time, so that was really cool that the rest of the band was able to do that for him.

Joel is the frontman of the Plus Ones, and I believe this was the band he really started with, so of all the bands playing, I would consider this one to be the most his.

It was so obvious how excited he was to be playing these songs again. It was really cute.

Apparently the band had a lot of lineup changes over the years, so Joel had them all switch up every few songs, which was pretty cool.

They were really good. I hadn’t heard of them before this show, but here’s yet another band I’m sad to find I’m discovering too late. Crap. I would totally go see them again if given the chance.

During the first lineup onstage, a woman named Alexis played and sang with the band. I really liked her. I’m a sucker for females in bands to begin with, but I really liked her voice and the songs they played with her, so I was a fan.

I also really loved Joel as a frontman. He had a good energy and kept making jokes and telling stories and it was just all around wonderful.

He found some Plus Ones posters in his parents’ garage and handed them out for free during their set. There was one girl going absolutely nuts right in front of the stage during their whole set and she was giving me life, so naturally she got a poster. I’m not a longtime fan by any means, so I didn’t bother trying to grab one from real deserving fans. Although it would’ve been pretty cool, collecting a “vintage” poster from a long since broken up band.

The most shocking moment of the night for me came during this set. Joel told a story about how he met his wife through the Plus Ones.

Wife? But…you’re in Pansy Division! You’re straight? There’s a straight member of Pansy Division! Mind blown.

Dr. Frank

While Joel might have once been a member of The Mr. T Experience, he didn’t play with the band tonight. Instead, frontman Dr. Frank played solo on an acoustic guitar between sets to give Joel a break.

I just love this man.

I’ve seen him live a few times now, so I was mostly looking for similar and/or different things than what I remembered of him.

He did in fact talk about buying his “balbum” as I expected him to. A balbum is a book/album hybrid, and the one Dr. Frank was referring to is King Dork Approximately. You buy the book, you get a download code for the album. He literally wrote music for the book. It’s fantastic.

He only said “This song is about a girl” once, as opposed to before seemingly every single song at the Lookouting.

However, he did talk quite a bit about his song writing process which was pretty cool.

One way he writes a song is by playing the same few chords 2000+ times until his fingers are bleeding on his guitar. This song is cleverly called “Blood on the Strings.”

Another way he writes a song is by coming up with a fun song title and hoping the music comes to him later. “You Won 2nd Place in a Beauty Contest” is one of those songs that had a title long before any concept of the song itself.

He played a lot of new songs it seemed like, as well as requests. He played one request for Joel, because obviously he’s the birthday boy. I didn’t know some of the new songs he was playing, but it was nice to hear them.

He did not play my favorite of his songs though, which is “Even Hitler had a Girlfriend.” I also thought maybe he’d play some acoustic solo renditions of MTX songs, but he didn’t play “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” either.

Have I mentioned how wonderful this man is? I feel like it’s gotta be pretty obvious. Just look at these song titles for goodness sakes.

Pansy Division

I adore Pansy Division as well. They’re an all (well, aside from Joel I guess) openly gay punk band. It does not get more fun than that.

The band’s been around for 26 years, but Joel has only been playing with them for 13, so there was a little overlap with the Plus Ones. He plays lead guitar with Pansy Division, unlike bass with the Plus Ones, so he was just doing everything at this show.

Bassist Chris Freeman is my favorite. He’s so friggin adorable. He’s probably close to 60 years old (Joel made a joke about celebrating his 60th birthday) but he wears a sparkly top (dress?) and wiggles his butt. I can’t get over it. I love him so much.




He started this show off in a tuxedo t-shirt before changing into the sparkly number though.

“Once you go black tie, you never go back…tie?”

And he has a sticker on his bass that says “At least I’m not Christian.” So much yes.


The members of Pansy Division trade off lead vocals for different songs, which I really like. They made Joel sing a song about the biggest dick frontman Jon Ginoli had ever seen, called “Dick of Death.”

“My parents are here. They’ll be so proud of me.”

The rest of the band also wrote him a song special for his birthday, which caught him off guard. They made jokes about his baby face and how he’ll never look his age in the lyrics, and it was beautiful.


I didn’t end up sticking around for the Avengers, who headlined the show, as they didn’t hit the stage until around midnight, and I mostly just wanted to see Dr. Frank and Pansy Division anyway. I was hoping to at least find some videos to share from their set, but alas, I’m coming up empty. However, you can see my review of them buried somewhere in the monster that was the Lookouting! Festival if you’re so inclined. I really do like them, but I have a feeling there was a reason Pansy Division got the middle set of the night.

Lindsay Marshall

One time I sneezed and Billie Joe Armstrong blessed me.

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