Words by Jay H. Gorania; Harm’s Way photo by Steven Tippett
A stone’s throw southward from the railroad—on the “wrong side of the tracks,” of course—the show’s DIY venue was the gutted-out, rented-out spare space of an auto repair shop. Sometimes the car shop owners/employees are heard outside chatting in Spanish while they’re choking down cheap beer. The leather couches outside the venue stood out like a sore thumb from the interior’s rubble-like chunks of concrete, as well as the jagged poles and wires that wind down from the ceiling as though they’re reaching down to strangle or stab you. And there’s a blood-stained teddy bear. There is no rock star lighting, no rock star excess.
The venue had once been an underground black metal store. It was either here or at the other location at which the store was located (a few years ago) that an elderly Christian man who owned the property inquired about a dead chicken that was being carried around. “Is that for some kind of Satanic ritual?” Apparently it was, and the black metal shop owners were subsequently evicted, not surprisingly. Why would the scruffy-faced, barely-bathed heathen relating this story to me admit that to the old man? But I digress…
Fast-forward to 2011, the DIY venue was the crossroads at which two separate hardcore tours met for a much-anticipated eight-band bill. Take Offense started things off with a decidedly metallic spin on old-school hardcore, sounding like a bunch of metalheads doing their best to channel the spirit of the Cro-Mags.
Betrayal followed up with the kind of generic breakdown-after-breakdown approach that gives hardcore a bad name.
That hiccup aside, Harm’s Way picked up the violent thread Take Offense was sewing and figuratively jabbed the needle through the audience’s collective heart. The musical brawn and burliness took shape in the commanding presence of Harm’s Way vocalist James, a short, shirtless, muscular dude who looked like he was born to kick ass. Yet this wasn’t an exercise in tough-guy hardcore simplicity. Instead, Harm’s Way’s coarse music was down-trodden and essentially the backdrop for which James could unleash a session of primal scream therapy.
If Harm’s Way’s desolate energy provided the soundtrack to someone committing a crime and spending time in prison, New York’s Backtrack provided the soundtrack for that person’s “getting out of jail” party, a much more interactive performance typical of what one would expect from a hardcore show. Anthemic and energetic, driven by bare-boned simplicity and plenty of negative space between and within the riffs, Backtrack’s fist-pumping mania was only that much more enjoyable because of vocalist James Vitalo’s hollering that found idiosyncrasy with its relatively high-pitched nature. In other words, he doesn’t sound like the billion dudes in metal and hardcore who are nothing but generic, third-rate rip-offs of Phil Anselmo.
If you take the balls out of hardcore, then you’ve got Hundredth. No one was pointing a gun to my head, so I didn’t have to listen to their generic cry-baby cop/bad cop melodic hardcore. I gladly left the building.
Stray From the Path’s take on hardcore was both contemporary and catchy, referencing metallic hardcore post ’95, augmented with explosive blasts of noisecore here and there, as well as early millennium metalcore. Drew York, more of a yeller than a screamer, spat out lyrics with a quick, barked delivery, doing a sufficient job of rousing the crowd. And true to the picture-perfect image of a hardcore show, fans regularly lunged forward to scream into the mic extended by the vocalist.
At one point, however, no one knew the words, York’s eyes flipping right-to-left as though he was on the lookout while stealing from a cookie jar. Awkward. A moment later he found some dude who knew all the words to pick up the dropped ball. Sweet relief!
The much-hyped Trapped Under Ice followed suit, and they certainly did not disappoint with their jarring, teeth-grinding music that transitioned from old school hardcore muscle to Biohazard-like metallic hardcore/hip hop groove. You could fight to their music, you could dance to it. What sets Trapped Under Ice apart from the pack is that their songs stay with you, entering your eardrums and gnawing on your gray matter.
A hard act to follow, but Terror is an intimidating live act regardless of how someone feels about their music. Frontman Scott Vogel, formerly of the legendary, now-defunct Buried Alive, was in fine more, ruling the crowd that already paid him the blind-eyed devotion that a preacher at church might receive. It was “maximum output” throughout their set, and an hour or two beforehand, Vogel went bonkers while watching one of the opening bands at the side of the stage, grunting and punching yours truly in the torso. Hardcore!
Every rose has its thorn, though. While their prototypical hardcore numbers were well-crafted and powerful, their more recent thrash metal-flavored material was forgettable and generic, for the most part, in spite of the proficiency with which they were played.
A last-minute addition of Letlive, a rocking post-hardcore act, seemed to excite the crowd. It was well played; it was passionate; and it made me feel embarrassed for their talented but ridiculously melodramatic singer. The last time they played here he fell before my feet in a pile of sob and emotion. I’m not sure what he was sobbing about, but I was mourning the death of Clint Eastwood—figuratively speaking, that is. In other words, when did men lose their balls?