Election Day, 2004. Just about 30 miles from the White House, away from pundits, pollsters, and political pricks, the Ottobar, the partriarchal head of Baltimores punk rock family, is alive and vibrant, and not because Kerry won Maryland moments ago. Tonight a four-banger of pure punk glory revs its engine and emits a thick black toxin that takes over hundreds of kids. The Subhumans, Casualties, Lower Class Brats, and Monster Squad may be from different times and different parts of the world, but not one of them stifles the meaning of punk rock.
First up was Monster Squad, from California. I'd never heard or seen them before, but their banner and most of their merch said "Unity and Brotherhood", so i knew i wouldn't be disappointed. These four guys started the night up right, with a chaotic blend of the styles of the Virus and A Global Threat that the Baltimore crowd loved. The downside of their set was not their fault. For whatever reason, the bassist was using a house amp, and the sound frequently cut in and out, which is unfortunate because he was really REALLY good (take it from a fellow 4-string slinger).
Next up was the Lower Class Brats out of Austin, TX. I've been listening to these guys for quite a while, but have never caught them live. After Tuesday night, though...LCB ARMY for LIFE! These Southern boys blew the lid off the place. My one qualm is that the guitarist played a Flying-V, and I hate those things. But his tall stature and long, tall hair reminded me of Joey, so he's ok in my book. Speaking of the Ramones, the Brats included an excellent cover of a Ramones classic (come on. GUESS which one!). And Bones, the lead singer, is the type of frontman you just can't keep your eyes off of. He's that fun, that charismatic. Skinny as a toothpick, donned in skintight pinstripe pants, a cutoff shirt that read "I Eat Snot" in about a dozen languages, and Clockwork Orange bowler hat, Bones' sense of fashion is rivaled only by his sneer. He has one of the greatest sneers since Johnny Rotten, and way better than Dick Cheney. I thought about it and can narrow its description to the phrase "thoughtfully mischevious." At the same time he appears to be scoping the crowd and having fun, something in that boyishly evil face appears to be thinking "I wonder how many ways there are to kill all of them?"
Third in line was the Casualties, one of my favorites. I've seen them probably about ten times, and they never fail to put on a great show. Although I thought the pre-set darkening of the club, fog machines, and police lights were a little melodramatic, the kings of NYC gutter punk still put on a blistering set. They danced around the span of their entire 15-year career, from old-school cuts like "Ugly Bastard" and "Punk Rock Love" to tracks from their newest album On The Front Line like "Sound From The Streets" and "Media Control." There wasn't a smooth throat in the house. And I must point out that, as I said before, I've seen the Casualties many times, but this is the first time that I've ever noticed Jorje, the singer, appear, well...happy. Sure, the content of his songs is generally pissed off, and he lets the observer know that he is perfectly. But this time, between songs, I saw the man SMILE for the first time ever. He joked around with Jake (guitar) when he was having problems with his amp, he made fun of the fact that their drummer used to be a stripper, and even shared a few beers with the audience (impressively, even checking their hands to make sure they were legal).
Last but not least, UK punk legends the Subhumans. Again, longtime fan, first time show. This is when all hell broke loose. Though its members are a lot older than those in the other bands of the evening (though Jorje comes close, in his late 30s) they played with just as much energy and bone-grinding power, proving once again that punks are the Peter Pan's of music. The singer had a tendency to ramble between songs, and it was sometimes hard to decipher what that mile-a-minute, beer soaked Cockney mouth was saying, but no one cared. They covered all their bases, from classic albums and EPs like The Day The Country Died, Time Flies, Unfinished Business and Rats. Subhumans made all of us proud to be punk, while also seeing to it that we knew where we came from, our roots.
All in all, an $11 very well spent. Hell, I woulda paid three times that much and it would've been worth it.