The Beatles. The Ramones. Minor Threat. These are bands I will never see live. They all broke up a long time ago, and some of their key members are even deceased. Until this past weekend, there was another band on my woulda-coulda-but-won't-see wish list that was actually still together, Propagandhi. Propagandhi spent the last 150 years (well, it's actually like eight…) shunning the United States, but with a new record (the OK comeback Supporting Caste), I suppose those crazy Canadians decided to conquer the States one more time. The result: a tight hardcore bill at the Trocadero featuring Philly locals Witch Hunt and Paint It Black that pretty much rocked my face from start to finish on March 14.
2009 has been a somewhat unexciting year for music so far; I haven't been this apathetic about punk rock since high school. Up-and-comers Witch Hunt completely changed my mind, though. This co-ed quartet ripped through a tasty 30-minute set of blistering punk/hardcore in the vein of Choking Victim, Black Flag and Melvins. Oscillating from black thrash to street punk, Witch Hunt won me over with their eclectic chaos and passion. All three bands talked about scene unity that night, but Witch Hunt frontwoman Janine was the only one to take it a little further. She introduced the song "Slow Decay" with an entreaty for more open discussion about depression and addiction. Listing the pros to both therapy and simply talking to your friends, her anti-suicide/anti-abuse speech scored a round of applause from the crowd. As for the songs, they ripped and rocked. With a new record on the horizon, Witch Hunt is a crust punk band to watch in '09.
Witch Hunt was my pleasant surprise of the night; Paint It Black was my old reliable friend. I've never seen them put on a bad show, and they came through yet again, although sound issues early in the set left the band sounding a little hollow. Paint It Black deals in short, fast hardcore hits, and the boon of writing 90-second songs meant that the band drew from all three of their albums well. New Lexicon shone through, with highlights including "The Ledge," "Missionary Position," and "Shell Game Redux." Bassist Andy Nelson was quick with the quips while gangly yet muscled frontman Dr. Dan Yemin awkwardly tore about, frequently leaving the stage to share his mic with the crowd. It didn't always work -- The Troc was too big for the mic-less gang vox renditions of set-enders "Atticus Finch" and "Memorial Day" to be heard past the first few rows of bodies, making the band's finale somewhat anti-climactic. But for the most part, Paint It Black kicked rump. They even debuted a new song from the band's upcoming seven-inch. It still sounds like Paint It Black (sorry, Kid Dynamite fans), although it's much slower and more controlled. You feel it every time drummer Jared Shavelson hits his kit. Think of the second half of Black Flag's My War.
Then came Propagandhi.
Anticipation was heavy; there was a huge forward surge of bodies as soon as the lights cut out. One brave kid jumped from the Troc's balcony to the stage. The band plugged in and kicked off a string of Supporting Caste cuts and…proceeded to suck. Now, I've seen opening acts outperform headliners, but March 14 marks the first time I ever felt like the sound guy was deliberately favoring the opener over the main attraction. Witch Hunt's sound was flawless and Paint It Black took a few seconds to congeal, but Propagandhi's first few songs were all bass-'n-drums, burying all of those nifty guitar tricks from the band's pseudo-recent metal direction. Whoever was manning the boards eventually got his and/or her shit together, but for those first few minutes were scary. Despite this little stumble -- which didn't seem to bother those in the pit, anyway -- Propagandhi took off. Supporting Caste sounded pretty good live, especially cuts like "The Banger's Embrace" and "Dear Coach's Corner." Drummer Jord Samolesky introduced the latter with a discussion about hockey, discussing how he put a curse on New York Rangers fans at the band's previous show for being dicks. Lo and behold, my town's very own Philadelphia Flyers trumped the Rangers 4-2 earlier that day. That, in turn, segued into a conversation about how, back in 2008, Republican Vice Presidential failure Sarah Palin visited a Flyers game on the campaign trail. The crowd was obviously booing, though close camera shots and some audio edits attempted to convince viewers at home otherwise.
Clearly, the guys had a lot to talk about since their last Philly visit.
The set list attempted to blend in aspects of each of the band's albums -- "A Speculative Fiction" from Potemkin City Limits, "Hallie Sallasse, Up Your Ass" and "Anti-Manifesto" from How to Clean Everything, and "…And We Thought Nation States Were a Bad Idea" and "Apparently I'm A P.C. Facist" from Less Talk, More Rock all went over well. Today's Empires, Tomorrow Ashes seemed to get the biggest reaction, with the crowd lapping up "Fuck the Border," featuring Dan Yemin, and "Back to the Motor League." Bassist Todd Kowalski teased the audience with references to "Come to the Sabbat," the ridiculously awesome hidden track from Supporting Caste. While the band didn't play nearly enough of the songs I wanted to hear -- how could they? -- I still felt generally stoked to have witnessed this rare show, regardless of the sound issues and thoroughly stinky fans. After a quick encore, the band asked concertgoers to check out some of the political literature they brought along, as well PETA's booth (man, those folks really hate Kentucky Fried Cruelty, eh?).
With G7 gone, I hope Propagandhi can dig deep and hit up Pennsylvania a few more times. Don't take this the wrong way, but I really, really want to meet Hannah in a VFW hall and have him scream, "My brown power ass in your white power face," you know, in my face.