I've gotten old. Evidently I've gotten very old. I may even be creepy old. I'm not sure about that last one, but if some of my not-old readers could weigh in concerning that distinction, I'd be much obliged. This status is suddenly paramount because earlier this week I found myself alone at another all-ages show. Exactly how young the audience was I can't say (I'm no good at that anymore) but I'll guess that the average age was near 18 yes, half my age. And for the first time in a long while, I felt it too. And while I often fault kids for being young (yes, I do), on this night I faulted myself for not being younger. After all, I used to be younger. I used to book the all-ages shows at the American Legion Posts, and I used to go to every show that came through my small town. Even then, however, I felt old. Or at least smug. When other kids came to be social, I came to study bands, to dissect their music, to lose myself in the power and emotion and message of the early hardcore scene. So I suppose now my age has just caught up with me I don't just feel old at all-ages shows, I look it too.
On the advice of the opening band, I arrived at the hall around 6:30. Although the parking lot was empty, when I opened the backdoor to the post, it was already quite full. I paid a shocking $10, received a small "x" in green marker on my hand, and slipped as inconspicuously as possible to the side of the room where slumped down with my Palm Pilot for some quality "See I'm not a loser sitting here alone, I'm doing something" Scrabble time. Aside from a pleasant gal asking me if the bathroom being used as hang out space was really the bathroom (to which I authoritatively answered yes), and a very drunk guy who asked me (repeatedly) the name of the band playing, there was no verbal contact with my fellow concertgoers. That doesn't mean I didn't find myself keenly listening to their conversations, and it certainly doesn't mean there wasn't inadvertent physical contact, but more on both throughout.
At 7pm the singer for Wallingford Connecticut locals Margo joined the other four members of his band at the front of the hall (there was no stage), and after exchanging hugs with every girl within eyesight, the band began its set. Finding just the right subgenre to describe the band is difficult. Margo is hardcore, but in a grindcore sort of sense. There are elements of death metal, but with very crunchy metalcore breakdowns. Guitar leads shred out like power metal, but then again they also bounce in the folksy melodies common in Viking metal. Vocalist Dave Avery moves between shrieks and throaty growls, and does both quite well. Is it deathcore? I'm just not sure. I am positive that the band's music is heavy, and extreme, and occasionally fascinating.
On stage, posturing was kept to a minimum (none of the band members bothered with assumed personas or the costumes common in the extreme metal genres), but Avery did repeatedly chide the audience for not dancing. Dancing, however, may be a bit of a misnomer. When an audience member was sufficiently excited by a breakdown, he (and always he) would step into the opened pit, begin swinging his arms wildly, and kicking his legs out like a jackass. This would continue for 15 to 20 seconds, and then the tired performer would step back into the edge of the crowd, fold his arms, and return to merely nodding along with the music. While occasionally an audience member or two might make a run across the open pit, careening into the unwilling participants on the other side (myself most often it seemed), generally the "dancing" during Margo's set was fairly contained. It was also fairly disappointing as there were no conspicuous flips or even spinning karate kicks inspired by Texas Walker Ranger or (now I'm showing my age again) Billy Jack.
When Avery's banter was not spent inspiring the audience to motion, he devoted his time to making me cringe. He began the set by telling a, not only off colour, but horribly outdated joke about Christopher Reeves. He finished the set by telling the audience that if they didn't want to dance, they should merely have a good time, "get drunk, and fuck sluts." He then rescinded the statement warning the audience that it shouldn't do that, because "sluts are probably fat." Yeah, just something that never came up at the posi-core shows I booked in the 80s.
After 25 short, but satisfying, minutes, Margo had finished its set, leaving me to stand idly and awkwardly. I pulled out my Palm Pilot to jot down some notes about the band, but soon found myself enraptured by conversations around me. I first listened to a bragged story that sounded as if it might have been ripped from the pages of Penthouse Letters. The teller marveled on how he had seen a number of naked girls over the weekend, including a showering girl who asking him "does my pussy look lopsided?" Imagine that!
The rest of the time I spent examining the fashion in play. Nearly every guy had stretched earlobes, and most seemed to favour large tennis shoes that recalled the mid-80s Nike cross trainers. Jeans and tennis shoes were the item of the day for the women (girls?) in the hall, with only one brave gal seen wearing a puffy dress and small, strapped flats. While tattoos were seen, they weren't exactly prevalent. I thought this odd until I remembered how young the audience was. The arms, chests, and necks in that American Legion Post have hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of ink still coming their way.
At 7:45 the stage had been reset, and the four members of Poughkeepsie's Robots and Empire began their set. While describing this band's sound is also a quandary, it is for entirely different reasons than the ones presented above. Rather than being an amalgamation of existing styles, Robots and Empire attempt them all separate and distinctly. While a loose sludge and groove were common through the set, three distinct variations existed: A low rumble and plodding version of the band replete with brooding riffs recalled mid-period Black Sabbath or even Type O Negative. A second version surfaced when Nick Haines' guitar riffs would shine through the dense rumble of Greg Nazak's bass, leading the band to resemble post hardcore acts such as Hum, Shiner or even Orange 9mm. Finally, when neither was present, the band was a flat, nearly commercial, post-grunge outfit. I believe I even heard a drum solo at one point. Of the three Robots and Empires, the middle version was the most satisfying.
If the band's music was mystifying, its performance was merely confusing. Singer Brian Conway spent most of the set bouncing either back and forth from leg to leg, or just jumping up and down. Occasionally he would add a scissor kick, indicating some past hardcore roots. He devoted no time to audience interaction (for better or worse). Both Nazak and Haines seemed content to merely bang their heads while stationary. Although the band's performance was ultimately lackluster, the constant churning of bass and guitar proved most enjoyable to the dancing audience. Things got a little crazy during Robots and Empire's set, roundhouse kicks were showcased, some kids were knocked down, some ire was raised, but ultimately the set ended without mishap.
After Robots and Empire's 25 minute set, I settled into my now-familiar routine of notes, Scrabble, eavesdropping, and observation. Despite the fact that this was an all-ages show in a American Legion Post, a good number of audience members were openly drinking alcohol. Not just swigging on a beer but actually drowning themselves with pints (or more) of hard liquor. As a result the collective tension in the room continued to increase. Everything seemed to be heading for an explosion.
The closer it got to the start of the next band's set, the more the crowd packed in around the stage, and filled in the area that had been the pit. I stood in front of two guys having an exchange about tea. One was particularly inspired and verbally limited, as he offered up an exchange that began "I fucking take like five fucking teabags and I fucking put them in a fucking…" This man was passionate about both his tea and the Ikea teapot that evidently does his tea "just fucking right."
It was 8:40 when Providence's The Chinese Stars begin its set. Obviously this disco punk (or "discocaine" by its own description) band was a radical departure from the various metal and hardcore derivations present earlier on the bill. And while some audience members seemed to be experiencing the band, and possibly the sound itself, for the first time, I think most of the audience was primed for the shift.
There is no mistaking the band's sound. It's the disco punk variation of post-punk that was largely pioneered by Gang of Four and recently reintroduced by bands like Radio 4. The members of The Chinese Stars don't push the boundaries of the genre, but they are as adept at its constructs as anyone else. Bassist (and occasional synth player) V. Von Ricci begins every song with a tight groove that is soon accented by the popping percussion of Craig Kureck's monster snare and the rest of his simple three-piece drum kit. The guitar work of Paul Vieira is razor thin. It isn't melody. It isn't rhythm. It has no utilitarian purpose in the band's music. It squawks and winds only to titillate a job it does most thoroughly. Eric Paul's jarring vocal yelps are sarcastic and sensual. His lyrics often repeat, recalling Vieira's guitar patterns.
Unlike the painful banter offered by Margo's Avery, or the silent treatment offered by Robots and Empire's Conway, Eric Paul's communication was smooth, professional and entertaining. Everyone chuckled when Paul reminded the audience that it is possible to dance without throwing punches. And when one audience member called "Please come back!" to the band as it was beginning its final song of a short thirty-minute set, Paul didn't miss a beat with his deadpan delivery of "I'm never coming back here." Don't get your hopes up kid. But wherever they're playing next, that's where I want to be.
Between bands, I stood my ground even as a throng of kids pushed toward the stage. Immediately after weathering that storm, a second wave containing the older and tattooed friends and significant others of the headliner followed. This crowd unabashedly stepped in front of me, leaving me sandwiched between the two groups. From that vantage point I heard talk of bands forming, plans falling apart, and a very drunk Dave Avery telling everyone that this was the best show he'd ever been to. The most memorable exchange began with one guy asking his friend, "What did you think of that last band?" When his friend just grunted in disapproval, he replied, "They were good. You're just too hardcore to realize it." Each conversation was delivered by mouths reeking of strong alcohol, and punctuated by the sound of empty pint bottles under my feet. At this point there was no longer a filter on anyone's words or actions.
As some point the crowd began to shift, we were all moved aside, and suddenly Daughters' vocalist Alexis Marshall appeared out of the crowd and stepped to his microphone. The audience erupted in approval as the band began its quick, dirty, and abusive grindcore. Songs lasted only a minute and contained only blasts of pure mescal. Guitarist Nicholas Andrew Sadler beats, taps, bends, and wails on his guitar, and it yelps like a kicked dog. Jonathan Syverson's drums hold a simple beat while the rest of the instruments swirl around him and then, suddenly, he drops out revealing a bizarre Mr. Bungle-at-the-circus guitar line, or maybe he simple goes crazy, pounding on whatever drums and cymbals he's able to reach. It is chaos. Marshall's vocals are half-spoken, half-screamed, whiskey-fueled manifestos. In previous shows he has seemed dangerous and violent, and while he was still a loose cannon, on this night he seemed jolly. I can only imagine the cocktail of self-prescribed drugs that must be his blood.
Marshall rushed around the stage pulling screaming fans to the microphone, and crashing into others. He stood on the drum kit, spit at the ceiling and waited while it dripped back into his mouth. He "dry humped" the wall. And, it wasn't halfway through the set before he stood barefoot on a guitar amplifier, with his pants around his ankles, his penis on display for all. For a moment he seemed to pass out while standing up only to snap back to reality seconds later with a goofy smile. During the set Marshall seemed mesmerized by his own hand, and for nearly a minute he "allowed" it to strike him repeatedly in the face. Throughout the night Marshall told long addled stories, all the while aware of his impishness. This is particularly true of the time that asked the audience to remind him if he rambled on too long, and when he got that reminder from a girl in the audience he replied, "Hey there's a girl yelling. And when girls yell, no one listens. So shut up!" If not exactly lovable, he was entertaining.
While the majority of the audience was engrossed in either Marshall's antics, or the band's the demanding music landscape, some members of the audience spent that time trashing about the pit. After first clearing a small dance space, and then working tirelessly to enlarge it by repeated blunt force, several members of the audience then began jumping onto the non-participatory portion of the audience. A small skirmish erupted when one dancer felt another had intentionally punched him. Further disputes surfaced around similar issues. A number of kids (mostly girls) were maliciously knocked down throughout the set. This led Marshall to sarcastically comment that an upcoming song might be a good one during which to knock girls down. Eyeglasses went flying a number of times, and discovering someone groping around my feet for a lost article was a common occurrence. Several times a blow to my back sent me flying onto the stage, and onto Sadler's bank of guitar pedals. Eventually the sport escalated to repeated attempts to knock the cameras out of the hands of the photographers. While I was not amused, those around me merely chuckled in disbelief. They probably felt the "dancer" was merely being impish as well.
The show ended as it should have, in a squall of guitar feedback, with Marshall again standing on an amplifier barefoot, bare-chested, and with his penis hanging out of a hole in his ripped blue jeans. There was no encore. How could there be? As the feedback ended, I quickly loaded my camera gear back in its bag, and assessed my pockets to ensure I hadn't lost anything in the skirmish. Then, as has been the case with Daughters shows in the past, I headed out the door, happy to be seen the band, but happier still to be alive. Looks like this old man will make it to at least one more show.