A stacked NYC hardcore bill caught Philadelphia fans at the Trocadero off guard May 31. Boasting a lineup of H2O, This Is Hell, Fahrenheit 451, Stigma, and Crime in Stereo, the night wound being unfairly under-appreciated due to an early start time. While the Troc was packed by the time H2O hit the stage around 9:30 p.m., CiS opened the show for a bare crowd around 6:30.
In a way, though, I'm kind of glad so few caught the opener. I love Crime in Stereo something fierce, but the band was definitely having an off night. Vocalist Kristian Hallbert's vocals seemed awfully low in the mix, forcing him to constantly strain to be heard. The result was a whole lot of off-key wailing, made all the worse by the band's emphasis on playing the more melodic Crime in Stereo Is Dead material. Guitar troubles during set-ender "I, Stateside" further marred the band's performance.
Crime in Stereo's set aside, though, the show went smoothly, with each band performing to a larger and larger audience. Stigma, featuring Vinnie Stigma of Agnostic Front / Madball fame, brought `80s NYC hardcore to the Troc. It's almost a shame that Vinnie spends most of his days behind a guitar; dude's got some sweet moves. Dressed like a gangster in black, with a fedora to top it off, Stigma (the man) shuffled and jived while his band tore through its set. The music might have gotten stale after a while, but Stigma himself was always a classy cat, performing a mix of older songs and new tunes like "New York Blood," the title song from his upcoming mob movie.
A reformed Fahrenheit 451 performed next, showcasing a mixture of funk/metal-tinged hardcore with crowd-baiting banter. Dressed in a black Purple Rain T-shirt, frontman Armando Bordas was quick witted throughout. Like Stigma, though, the group's songs kind of blended together after a while.
After the "traditional" hardcore of Stigma and Fahrenheit 451, This Is Hell's more modern sound was a welcome change. More grinding, abrasive, and just all around more intense, This Is Hell stirred the crowd into movement. Granted, this was just as much due to folks finally showing the heck up as the music itself, but you gotta give these guys credit. Unrelentingly dissonant yet throat-punchingly direct, This Is Hell is a prime band to watch in 2008. They barely dug into their album Misfortunes, but the older material soars live.
By the time This Is Hell ended, the crowd was so anxious for H2O that a small pit broke out for Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." Wonders never cease. The band started off its hour-long set with "1995," the first track off of new album Nothing to Prove. Todd Morse's guitar was way too low going into the song, though, making me wonder if H2O was going to be outrocked by friggin' Journey. Luckily, the sound was quickly fixed, allowing the rest of the set to thoroughly satisfy.
The bands, unimpressed with the Troc's barrier setup, created a small platform to bridge the gap and allow closer access to the audience. Nowhere was this better utilized than during H2O's performance. Frontman Toby Morse was constantly sharing the mic with the crowd. Better yet, a cavalcade of fans climbed and dove off of the platform throughout. Luckily, it was a good crowd. Minus one kid who was kicked out by security during This Is Hell's set, everyone was helping each other up off the floor and onto the stage.
Getting back to the band, H2O's set list crossed the group's entire discography. Even GO received some love, courtesy of "Role Model." F.T.T.W. tunes like "Faster Than the World" and "One Life, One Chance" were also included, as well as Thicker Than Water songs like "Everready" and the title track. The new material got a strong response, too. "Nothing to Prove" and "Still Here" both sounded great live. Much to my bewilderment, new single "What Happened?" probably got the biggest reaction out of the new songs. A lot of hardcore kids dressed in hip-hop-inspired duds such as baggy shirts and flat-brimmed baseball caps also like to put passion before fashion, I guess.
After their regular set, H2O came back out for a three-song encore that included "Guilty by Association" and "5 Year Plan." The audience had been pretty active before, but these three songs kicked up activity even higher. People up front were buried left and right by flying bodies. And yet for all that force, the show maintained a positive vibe. Those who fell over were picked up, no one to my knowledge was knocked out, and no one got hurt, although I did see a Troc security guard with an iced knee the following day at Kaiju Big Battel.