It seems a shame to put so little effort into writing up a night where bands and fans gave so much. But this is all I got.
Thursday night. Three bands. No locals. A tour bus on the curb. A lot of white guys in their late 30s wearing black t-shirts. $20 at the door. Banner on the back wall. The stage full of back-lined gear.
The show begins at 8:30 with '68 from Atlanta. It's a duo featuring the guitar and vocals of Josh Scogin and the drums of Michael McClellan. They're wearing suits and ready to go. McClellan beats the hell out of his drums. He's busy. Scogin shouts his vocals, or screams them, or modifies them with pedals. Sometimes it's full throttle hardcore. Sometimes he stops to punctuate each vocal line with a distorted blues riff. He's both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. He's intense and the tie comes off quickly. The drummer has kicked over his throne, ripped off his jacket, and stomped off the stage. You mad bro? Later Scogin stands on that drum kit, balancing himself with a foot on the kick drum and another on top of the high hat. It's precarious and applause worthy. Pre-recorded samples from movies and other songs play while the band tunes, but it's better when Scogin talks. He's funny and dry. "If you're the type of person who likes stuff, we have stuff back there." "This is a completely different song from the one we just played." "We wouldn't be here without The Bronx. I mean, we'd still be a band, just somewhere else. Atlanta probably." The finale is huge and crushing and if I were the headliner, I'd be pissed that the opener was trying to upstage me. The large audience is impressed. I watched the 30-minute set, but what did I just see?
Plague Vendor is on Epitaph. The band is from California. I've never heard of it. Guitarist Jay Rogers has a broken leg and needs help getting on the stage. Once he sits down, he churns a foundation for the band. Vocalist Brandon Blaine is a lanky skinhead in loafers. He says he's not good at bullshit banter. Instead he offers truths. "We're Plague Vendor." The audience has shrunk. He wants it to come closer, so it does. He yelps syllables that I don't catch. Sometimes it's a cool post-punk delivery. Sometimes it's excited like Lux Interior of The Cramps. Bassist Michael Perez is simultaneously funky and motorik. And I like it. Drummer Luke Perine is clockwork. Everything the band does is interesting. Forty minutes later Blaine's blood has warmed. He grabs for a something to smash. He feels for my camera. I pull it back. Oh hell no. Instead an unguarded issue of The Pitch is destroyed as he stomps off the stage.
Why is everyone so pissed? Is it because the lights are so bad? If so, I feel ya.
At 10:10 the stage is set, but it isn't time for The Bronx yet. We wait. The crowd grows. And grows again. Selfies are taken. The white guys are excited. They've waited months for this show. Twenty minutes doesn't bother them. The battery on my phone is running low.
At 10:30 five guys push through the crowd and step onto the stage. The mic cable is taped to the microphone and there's no stand. Matt Caughthran's going to spend most of the night in the audience, shouting, jumping, shoving, getting shoved. Is he a tough guy? He shouts, "Get the fuck up!" and "Come on Kansas City!" a lot. The audience obeys. A pit is pulsing. Waves crash into the bystanders. There's a crowd surfer. There are no innocents. Things start fast. Every song in double time for a half hour or more. It calms with "Side Effects" from the new album. Caughthran declares one shirtless guy the craziest in the crowd. That guy must really be nuts. There's other back and forth with the audience that I don't catch. Caughthran tells everyone to cool off and 2006's "White Guilt" follows. After the song, a Modelo tall boy is given to Caughthran as a peace offering. We're all family again. I can't see guitarist Joby Ford well. Is that a vocoder? Did he switch to a Rickenbacker? Guitarist Ken Horne has no time for that. He's got a lot of leads to play and plus backing vocal duties. Bassist Brad Magers slips over for backing duty too. David Hidalgo doesn't. He just drums.
The set continues for 75 minutes. It's nearly midnight. The crowd doesn't waver. The band is still going strong. Especially Caughthran — he still wants everyone to get the fuck up. He tells the crowd that the band has tomorrow off, so it will need be both the Thursday night and Friday night audience. The girl next to me pushes her boyfriend into the pit. They're up for the challenge. The set ends with "History's Stranglers" (also from 2006). Caughthran's screams sound painful. The band is driving. And during a final percussive flourish, when asked to, the audience gives it up for "The mother-fucking Bronx." Horne throws his pick into the audience. There can be no encore.