At home he feels like a tourist.
Hardcore is a young man's game. Years ago it was home, but as the years passed the "we're all fucked up together" mantras and "us against the world" themes stopped resonating and or were deemed clumsy. Thirty-second blasts of floor punching and spinning kicks began to look silly if not merely exhausting. Microphone monologues from fucked up 20-year-old kids told on high to other fucked up kids started to seem less like support and more like a bad idea. Finger points, microphone cords wrapped tightly around strained necks the size of tree trunks, and the hypermasculinity grew old. And yet, I've never fully extracted myself from that scene. Not only did hardcore shape my youth, but it still informs my outlook and identity today. Twenty-five years later I'm still a "vegan straightedge kid." Maybe that's why I can't resist a multi-band all-ages hardcore matinee.
The show was scheduled to start at 5:30, but I couldn't make it to the club until after 6:30. Life happens that way sometimes. As a result, Pismo Beach's Heart to Heart were already taking the stage and vocalist Nick Zoppo was telling the crowd that he would drink "anything" brought up to him. I wondered if this was a reaction to the straightedge band (Orthodox) that immediately preceded him on stage. As he downed a second shot I found the thought of bringing him a glass of water inexplicably hilarious. Kate suggested maybe a shot of kale juice. We were only worried about his well-being. He'll appreciate that one day.
When Heart to Heart began its set of melodic hardcore, I immediately tried to place its music in time, and equate the band with the foundational bands in my vocabulary. Abandoned synapses returned to life. (It's like riding a bike.) Zoppo's vocals were screamed, but certainly informed by the emo of the '90s. The twin guitars of Taylor Stillwell and Johnathan Hayes made room for leads, but never solos. When the two incorporated grating minor key elements, I heard the post-hardcore that I loved.
Despite the sunny day intruding from the windows just opposite of the stage, the band attempted to engage the audience. Stillwell jumped on his tiny portion of the stage, while Zoppo walked into the audience, shouting his songs of anguish, pointing his finger all the while to emphasize each thought. When he returned to the stage he insisted that audience come forward. Later, in an acknowledgement of the Big 12 basketball tournament happening just blocks away, Zoppo told the audience that basketball sucks. And then followed that nihilism with a long list of things that also sucked culminating with "everything sucks." The audience clapped. I shouted that things get better when you grow up. I'm pretty sure I was ignored. I would have ignored me too.
Up next were The Beautiful Ones. This has to be the only hardcore band named for a Prince song. It's also one of the few hardcore bands featuring a multicultural line up. The two may be related. Either way, the band's mere existence shows that hardcore has grown a bit since my days. Like every band on the bill, The Beautiful Ones is a quintet featuring a dedicated vocalist (a mountain of a man named Tevita Maliu), twin guitars, and a standard rhythm section. The Arizona band is touring on its latest cassette single (I wish they'd called it a cassingle) Flowers Are Forever. Do kids really prefer cassette singles over 7"s now, or was this just an economic choice?
As I did with the first band, I worked to place The Beautiful Ones into a context I could understand. The band's style of hardcore is built around the metallic chugging guitars of Anthony Quiroz and James Piazza, with the former providing occasional leads. Both seemed content with a grungy guitar tone that completely overpowered Maliu's vocals. Nearly every song had a breakdown, and those that didn't were built entirely of breakdowns. Breakdowns always get the crowd going. Soon a pit opened up to provide room for a few spinning fancy dancers and a cadre of guys merely content to swing their arms while crashing from one side of the pit to the other. I caught a foot while my back was turned to swap out a camera lens. It hurt a little more than it used to.
It was 8:00 when No Bragging Rights began its set. This Southern California five-some carried all the markers of golden era hardcore: Frontman Mike Perez paced the stage, only pausing to hold the microphone out to an audience that quickly descended upon it to erupt in gang vocal choruses. There were plenty of jumps from guitarist Christian Lee and bassist Ryan Warrell – the latter wearing a wireless system to become completely untethered. Between songs Perez told long, meandering stories, imparting wisdom from his pulpit. He seemed earnest – he was earnest – and when he talked to the audience about suicide, he stressed that seeking help is a sign of strength and not weakness, the audience cheered wildly. Yeah, I guess it is hard being a teen.
And just as the band's stage presence recalled the hardcore of years past, its musical influences were similarly nostalgic. There was lots of speed, heavy staccato crunch, shouted vocals, and even vocal responses from drummer Martin Alcedo. But there were also slight hints of metalcore from Lee, and then the emo-informed clean choruses from Perez, which allowed me to accurately place the band into its proper chronology.
As I waited around for the headliner I took inventory of the audience. A fair number of hands marked with Xs – some of them done by the venue indicating the patron was under 21, others done by the wearer indicating their straightedge allegiances. Lots of tattoos, and more than a few so new as to still be covered in plastic wrap to avoid infection. Gauged ears were ubiquitous. I'm glad I was out of hardcore before that became a thing. Half of the audience either played in one of the five touring bands or were part of their large crews (which in this case doesn't refer to stagehands, but rather members of the bands' "posse") identified by the tour laminates hanging from their necks. There were a few lifers in the crowd, but most of the audience appeared to be suburban youth. This has always been hardcore's premiere audience, at least in the Midwest. At the front of the stage there were a few pairings of small girls, one of them wearing a tie-dyed plastic bracelet that said "Give Peace a Chance." It was with no irony that she stood next to a boy wearing a Rotting Out t-shirt that read "Hate is all I've ever known." He wasn't the only one. There were lots of kids wearing Rotting Out gear and there was plenty to choose from: shirts, socks, hats, tights, jackets. It was obvious whom the audience had come for, and obvious that I was oblivious to the level of fame the band came with. I looked forward to my education.
Just before 9:00 Rotting Out ripped into its first song, sending a quick burst of stage-divers from my right and over the crowd to my left. These were the evening's first stage-divers, but a lack of audience density and the knee-high stage made this phenomenon fairly rare. However the pit did begin to churn once again, so I stuck to the side of the stage and attempted to watch my back.
Rotting Out is fronted by Walter Delgado. He's a moose of a man with an enormous torso and thighs as big as my waist. He's missing his two front teeth, which should make him all that more menacing, however it somehow softens him as if he were the defanged Bumble. Still one must wonder, did he lose them in a skating accident? Were they knocked out when he fought Mr. T? Was he hit with a tire iron as an entire army of rival bands held him down? Did he simply not brush thus providing the band its name? Based on the anger in his lyrics, I opted not to push the issue and ask. Delgado is obviously working through a lot.
Delgado screams his lyrics. There's no question about that one. He occasionally held the microphone for the eager fans to join in, though most of the time he strained with the microphone cord wrapped around his flexed neck. The guitars of Dario Pedrozo and Carlos Morales buzzed about him while bassist Benji Ruiz and drummer Jorge Cabrera pushed songs faster and faster. The band proudly proclaims both Slayer and Suicidal Tendencies as influences, however those seem more patron saints than musical leaping points. Hardcore like Youth of Today or even Sheer Terror seem more apropos to the band's no frills, built for speed approach.
Like the vocalists earlier in the evening, Delgado paused between songs to provide small morality lessons about speaking ones mind, or being true to oneself. Unfortunately they circled around so often as to become contradictory. As a denizen of the Midwest I was happy to hear Delgado give credit to Midwestern hardcore bands for the extra work they have to do in order to be taken seriously on the coasts. The audience cheered for its hard-earned scene as well. When the music began again another wave of stage-divers appeared including a girl that worked a front flip into her leap. Style points to her. I was glad my head was out of harm's reach, yet I still wasn't safe; as the band launched into its finale, "Laugh Now, Die Later" from 2011's Street Prowl (6131 Records), the pit began to explode. Before the song was over I'd find myself pushed and stumbling over a pile of half a dozen fallen fans. We all survived.
After the set, Rotting Out would join most of the other bands for a last-minute second show at miniBar in Midtown. This second set would not be all-ages, and I had a hard time imaging the venue tolerating the stage-diving and kickboxing that Czar had just witnessed. My evening was free, but for now my hardcore itch had been scratched. If it's not an all-ages matinee, it's not really hardcore anyway. Well, not my hardcore, at least.