Upon taking the stage for the show's encore, Steve Ignorant acknowledged the protest occurring outside Slim's. "There has been some controversy surrounding this show," the former frontman for Crass announced. "Well," he shrugged, "Fuck 'em." The statement was something of an anomaly for the night, where the band choose to let their music do the speaking for them to the packed San Francisco venue on April 27, 2011.
On The Last Supper Tour, in which Steve Ignorant and some friends play a night of songs originally by Crass, the group made it surprisingly clear how much some of Crass' catalogue rocks by ripping through 30-plus of Crass' more well-known tunes. Crass' records were often boiled in a production soup consistently equal of poor recording devices and a layer of guitar buzz white noise. But, at the live show, the band seemed to add a heavier thump to their rhythm section, where at points the music attained an almost heavy metal snap, which both favored Crass' music over their soundscapes and made their more experimental songs seem approachable. This choice of arrangement really brought forth the power off the music's riffs as well as exemplified Crass' skill at writing simple but potent songs (despite their best attempts to hide it).
Additionally, while Crass' records were littered with vocal segues, speeches, and interludes, live, the Last Supper band took a note from the Ramones' handbook and tore through song after song without so much as an eight-note rest. However, at points the band did weave their songs into Crass-like sound collages, which often dealt with nuclear warfare.
Ignorant's voice seems to have deepened since 1984 and become a bit more growly. While it took about three songs for him to warm up, once the band kicked into "They've Got a Bomb", his voice bulked up and seemed to pull the music with it, despite Crass' love-it-or-hate-it verbosity.
Strikingly, the live show added several new elements that aren't perceivable on Crass records. Perhaps Ignorant gained experience in public performance from his time as a Punch and Judy puppeteer. On stage he was highly animated, constantly moving his body to convey the characters of Crass' songs. In "Big Man, Big M.A.N.", his shoulders grew outwards and he clenched his fists while singing the part of an over-controlling government, but then shrunk nearly a third of his normal stature when portraying the part of those who got caught.
Just as interesting was the vocal dynamics of the band. While albums like Stations of the Crass have double- or triple-tracked vocals, due to the circumstances in which those records were recorded, the combination sounds more like a mass of screaming than anything else. But, when Ignorant and his guitarist Gizz Butt (yes, you read that correctly) bounced the separate parts of "Mother Earth" off each other, the call and response of the parts bore through the ether despite the vocal overlap, and also highlighted how performance art strongly played into Crass' music and live show.
When Carol Hodge took the part of Eve Libertine and Joy de Vivre for the five or six tunes played off Penis Envy and some of the other female-fronted tracks, she nearly stole the show. While Ignorant was impressive with his energy, Hodge was constantly shifting her pose and changing facial expressions on nearly every line. It wouldn't be surprising to find out that she's classically trained, because while Crass' female tracks are pierced with a machine gun pace and sudden pitch changes, Hodge seemed to sing the twisting material with...ease. As with Ignorant, she assumed various roles with her positioning, shifting from a repressed housewife to a commanding she-dictator singling out "undesirables" in the audience with firm posture and an icy pointer finger. (Perhaps the decadence of Pink Floyd and bare bones trappings of anarcho-punk aren't that far apart...)
The scene outside the venue was nearly as exciting as the scene inside. Fifteen or so protestors held signs, some of which read "Don't put a price on punk," "Steve needs a better job," and my favorite, which certainly was in line with Crass' message of non-violence, "Nuke Slims." I must admit that I was disappointed that no protesters made the obvious but nonetheless humorous plaques, "You don't owe Steve a living" and "No, sir, I won't." Additionally, some protesters handed out a four-page booklet that on three pages railed against Ignorant's capitalism, and on the fourth, advertised for an unrelated punk show.
Manchester, England's Goldblade opened the show with some early Englishfied street punk. Frontman John Robb, who has been in the punk scene since 1977 with his band the Membranes, was something of a Henry Rollins/Billy Idol cross, at times rocking along with the simply but snappy music like it was dance music and at other times glaring down at the audience like they were his enemy. Midway through their set, the group covered X-Ray Spex's "Oh Bondage, Up Yours" after dedicating it to the recently deceased Poly Styrene, who had recorded with Goldblade on the single "City of Christmas Ghosts". Warmly received, the group closed out their set with a song called "The Power of Rock and Roll" which, similar to AC/DC's "Let There Be Rock", turned the concert hall into a revival for the religion of rock and roll. While that might sound sort of cheesy in the abstract, at the show, while Robb was anointed the heads of those who "believed in the power rock and roll", it was actually pretty fun amid all the frowning and gloom associated with so much anarcho-punk.
While the stakes for the Last Supper band were high due to both the material's legacy and recent boohooing, when the audience tumbled outside, they mostly had smiles on their faces in contrast to the few remaining, frowning protesters. How many punk points do I lose for hoping the band makes a live recording of one of these shows?