To coincide with the annual meeting of those who like it hard and heavy (aka This is Hardcore Fest), R5 productions and Joe Hardcore set up various side events during this weekend to keep people moshing 24-7. On July 26, 2014, R5 focused on the "punk" aspect of Hardcore Punk and threw a show in the Voltage Lounge in Philadelphia and exhibited the very best of the brand new, the new, the established, and veterans of punk rock.
By the 9:30 start time, the Voltage Lounge was packed to capacity with people wandering over from TIHF as well as some more old school punk rockers. Brand new band Latex opened the show with some raw, mid-80's inspired hardcore. Frontwoman Lauren spit out vocals that were sharp, but still intelligible, The band tore out a fifteen minute set that at times verged on the metallic, but not to the point where it bogged down their fleetfoot sprinting. The band seems to be establishing their identity and stage presence, but already with a solid foundation of classic hardcore, the band may achieve good things on their upcoming debut 7-inch.
New Jersey's Night Birds took the stage next, and, as per their smart strategy, despite being the second band on a bill of four, the band played like headliners. Frontman Brian Goresegner has really been focusing on his stage performance and it shows. With each passing year, he's becoming more unhinged on stage. As he puffed out his cheeks, stared at the audience like they were men in white coats, or kicked out his legs in skewed angles from his body, he really did seem like he was about to lunge at someone's eyes. There's a definite comparison to Jello Biafra's animated stage presence, but where Jello seems to flip from his maniac to MAD magazine persona, Goresegner seemed to get creepier with every song.
Meanwhile, the band, which was already well oiled, has taken their pro-chops and decided to get wilder, They still root their sound in their unique form of darkened, evil-surf rock. But, as they whip up and down their dynamic chords, they seem to be hitting harder and more wildly. The result is a band that's in control- but just barely, which really, is the way punk ought to be. They band is working on a new LP for Fat Wreck Chords and without a question, it's going to be their most frantic, creepiest release to date... which is saying something.
Philadelphia's Mischief Brew were slated to play next, and before their set, frontman Erik Petersen was spotted zipping through the crowd with a twinkle in his eye and promising a "few surprises." Who would have guessed what happened next?
The band opened with their classic hit "Boycott Me" and once again, exhibited what makes them so wonderful. Unlike so many other bands, Mischief Brew know that dynamics, swing, and style are at the core of great punk rock. The band exhibited each of those traits in spades, one minute quiet as a church mouse and the next pounding out Wagnerian rumblings. But, in addition to their malleable sound, the band focuses on simple, but powerful chords, and then lets tactical placing deliver the blow, much in the spirit of Black Flag, The Clash, and, I'll say it again, Thin Lizzy. Their songs too, remain unquantifiably unique, borrowing from medieval imagery, 1800's peasant rebellions and anarcho punk. In fact, as most bands mellow or soften as they age, Mischief Brew has increasingly been influenced by their favorite bands (including set headliner Subhumans) and have added harder smashing to their music. Whereas Mischief Brew once used to be a gypsy punk band influenced by the anarcho forefathers, now at times, they cross over into being a straight up anarcho hardcore punk band (albeit one with a sepia tone.)
And then, they went for it. Just as the set was starting to take off, bassist Sean St. Clair and drummer Christopher Petersen left the stage. Guitar player Doc Kulp made his way to the drums and an unknown person came out and pickd up the bass. Erik Petersen then mentioned that the fellow who had just taken the stage was John Foy... that is, suddenly, Mischief Brew had reverted to Kettle Rebellion!- the band that existed before Mischief Brew and just released their sole, long lost album after some 14 years in the cellar. Thus, the show was the first Kettle Rebellion performance in twelve years. With little more introduction, the band tore into "Away with Purity," perhaps the most hardcore (and Subhumans influenced) track in the band's discography. It was fast, raucous, explosive, and did the band every ounce of justice that the LP suggested. Petersen quickly tried to explain the significance of Kettle Rebellion by drawing comparisons to the Subhumans/Culture Shock dynamic only to have Subhumans/Culture Shock frontman Dick Lucas comes out on stage and sing Culture Shock's "Civilization Street" with Kettle Rebellion! Insane!
After Lucas left the stage, Petersen seemed to need a moment to recover, having what could only be euphoric look on his face. Mischief Brew reassembled, their bag of tricks seemingly exhausted. Not so. After playing a few more tunes in their harder, modern style, the band played a fragment of Chumbawamba's "Look! No Strings!" and then rolled into "Roll me through the gates of hell." Then, the band stated they wanted to do something special for the Philadelphia hometown. Suddenly, they snapped into a jacked up, thrashing version of "The government stole my germs CD," originally by the pre-Mischief Brew, pre-Kettle Rebellion band, The Orphans. The house came down. With this performance, Mischief Brew elevate itself from being newer punk band with style, to being a band that has every right to stand side-by-side, and be codified with the punk rock legends. Skill, style, power, and a bit of mania- Mischief Brew are titans.
At the end of the night, the legendary Subhumans took the stage. Probably the only band left from the Crass/Spiderleg gang that still gigs regularly, the Subhumans proved why they have survived. Frontman Dick Lucas iss till fantastically tall and thin. With his baggy, frayed clothes, he looks something like a scarecrow. Yet, as the band tore through about 25 songs, he zapped about the stage the entire night, swinging his arms and legs like they were only connected to his body with the the tiniest spindle.
Playing the "hits," the band was energetic and raw, seemingly as excited to play the classics as if they were written yesterday. Although the band kept their foot on the pedal almost the entire night, a few times, Lucas would deliver a sermon in the classic Anarcho-punk style. At one point he mused, "When you're waiting for the bus and it's late, you hate the fuckin' bus. You hate fuckin' driver. You hate he system that put it all together and you hate how much effort you put in to not owning a car! And then, when it does show up, you're suddenly happy, ready to kiss the driver and have his baby. Well, that's how the system works. They keep smashing down on you until just before you're about to do something and they give you that fuckin' late bus."
As the band kept hammering out tune after tune, they audience got more and more excited, and frankly, Lucas seemed excited himself by the reaction. Sometimes I wonder why bands like the Subhumans tour for over thirty years while remaining in (relative) obscurity. The crowd's enthusiastic reaction helped answer that question. But more so, it's because they are champions of the form. In contrast to the metallic and screaming coming out from other venues around town, this wasn't hardcore- this was punk rock.