Hugo's Les Miserables became famous because it presented a new, subterranean world where the misfits, weirdos, and unwanted would convene below the feet of more normal society. On January 10, 2013, Philadelphia's newish venue Underground Arts served as sort of a qmetaphor for that concept. Located one story underground and riddled with labyrinthine passages, Underground Arts featured the weirdo acts On the Water, Mischief Brew and Mucca Paza to a crowd that surely would not fit in with the "respectable" people walking on the sidewalk just twelve feet above their heads.
The show opened with neo-folkish act On the Water. Composed of standard and hillbilly instruments, the band played a set of raw, rugged tunes that were set in the country but written for the city. Vocalist Fletcher Van Vliet introduced a burly element to the music, more growling than singing. The effect made the music wilder but also more ancient seeming, recalling the days when information was passed through song.
Meanwhile, the band clipped along at a rapid, jangly pace playing pre-war music and a touch of European folk that recreated the older form more than it paid homage. The band were just ragged enough to give the music liveliness, but not so much that it was sloppy. Still, perhaps it was the band's intention, but so many hallmarks of old-timey country music were hit that at times, the band seemed to be mimicking caricatures more than playing what they thought was interesting. If the band add some elements unique to them to their music, they'll go from being talented musicians to a group of unforgettable bards.
Next, Mischief Brew took the stage and played a set that can't be described as anything else but HELLA CRUSHING. Although Mischief Brew were one of the first bands to be stapled to the "folk-punk" label, since 2011's The Stone Operation they've been juicing up their recordings with heavier and faster instrumentation. Taking the stage in their electrified four-piece incarnation, the band tore through a set of mostly new tunes, with a few older classics thrown in for good measure.
Songs that were fast and harder were amped up to their breaking point. But what made Mischief Brew particularly effective is that while they got nastier live, the essential structure of their songs remains intact so that when they hit a chorus, they really hit a chorus. When the downbeat stomps, the crowd stomps in unison. Part of this is because the band's songs are songs in the truest sense. Melody and natural progression remains at the foundation so when the songs do get jacked up, they're fast and wild, but retain their essential character. This was a rare trait mastered by the Ramones and I wouldn't dare make comparisons to the deities but still… Mischief Brew rocked.
Moreso, Mischief Brew were able to retain their themes of class upheaval and self-expression without making it seem like a lecture. While some other bands might tell you to think a certain way, Mischief Brew's live renditions made one's body want to move in a certain way, which in turn, lead to the thoughts expressed by the band being more physical than cerebral. Why isn't this band one of the biggest bands in punk rock?
The show concluded with Mucca Paza, a 55-piece punk rock marching band. Yes, you read that right. The group opened their set by parading into the audience in full marching band formation and uniform. Some members, such as the violinist and guitarist, had megaphones taped to their helmets so that their instruments could be heard amidst the din.
After cutting through the crowd like they were hopped up on uppers, they took the stage and began to blast out energetic marching band type music. Cheerleaders danced through the band and crowd waving pom-poms, while the band played riff-based brass rockers. Not only was it impressive that the band were able to cram all members onto the medium size stage, but it was impressive as to how that they sounded. With marching bands, musicianship usually comes last, but with Mucca Paza, they rocked with a controlled looseness. It was awesome punk-rock-marching-band music. What else can I say?
-Mischief Brew bassist Shawn St. Clair was fittingly clad in a Discharge vest as his pose was similar to the anchored down, diode-like pose of Roy Wainwright. Still, at one point, he accidentally slipped on something and unintentionally did the "Ace Frehley Stumble." It was pretty cool.
-Oh man, Underground Arts is really cool. It has dozens of tunnels and cavities that extend far beyond the venue itself and make it very labyrinth-like. In fact I went searching, hoping to run into a Minotaur or perhaps a Cacodaemon. Unfortunately, the only beast that I discovered was the beast with two backs—an older couple were in the throes of passion in one of the back rooms. Not exactly a tale to be sung at the mead hall.
-Back in the day, Mischief Brew had been stereotyped as having an exceptionally stinky fan base. I can't confirm or deny that, but now that they seem to be more straight up "punk" than "folk-punk" this trend has dissipated.