Tomorrow, Mischief Brew releases their new album, This is Not for Children. The album finds the band evolving from their previous LPs. Gone is the clacking, clinking, shambolic instrumentation. In its stead is a new, direct, pulsating energy, and the band uses that energy beam and reflects inward.
This is Not For Children dwells on the gentrification of Philly, laments the tragic loss of friends and looks at a town that is literally built on top of a giant, blazing fire. To learn about the band's current focus, and to get some history, features editor John Gentile spoke to the Brew and their friends. You can read the interview below.
There actually is a Hell on Earth. Itâ€™s called Centralia and itâ€™s located a mere two-hour drive outside of Philadelphia. (Ironically, itâ€™s only an hour and a half from Bethlehem, PA). If you were to visit Centralia youâ€™d see abandoned houses, roads cracked from non-use and covered in graffiti, and greenery reclaiming man-built structures. But, if you were to dig, say, as little as ten feet down, youâ€™d find a raging coal inferno that has been burning for fifty-three years. Itâ€™s hot enough to melt steel in the deepest pits and scientists expect it to burn through 2265. Some people even think that because the area is so rich in coal, that the fire may continue to burn for thousands of years.
Centralia was purchased from Natives in the mid-1700s and by the 1850s, it had become a key supplier of coal, which of course was booming industry by that time. However, as the coal industry died out in favor of oil and cleaner sources of energy, Centralia dwindled and by the early '60s, it was gasping. And then, in 1962, a fire started above ground. No one knows how it started for sure -- a trash fire? Hot ash in a dumpster? But, somehow the fire made it down the mineshaft and literally set the entire underground ablaze.
At first, people noticed that their underground oil tanks were reaching 200 degrees. Steam was coming up from the ground. Then, in 1981, a sinkhole suddenly opened up under 12-year-old Todd Domboski and tried to pull him down into the burning pit. Not too long after, the area was evacuated by government order. The fires could not be stopped.
And this is the area that would serve as a cradle for the family of Erik Petersen, frontman of Mischief Brew.
â€œI like fire,â€ Petersen says from his Philadelphia suburbs home. â€œI use the theme a lot on the new record. For example, the song 'Two Nickels' is mostly about heat and how things like utilities, such as heat and electricity, are seen as privileges and not as rights. â€
Ironically, Petersenâ€™s genetic line was born from the need for heat. Also ironically, it was the countryâ€™s rampant demand for heat and energy which would shift his family from just outside Centralia to where he calls his home: Philadelphia. â€œMy grandma was from a coal mining town that was next to Centralia,â€ he says. â€œMy roots are there, in Columbia County.â€
The video for the albumâ€™s first single, â€œO, Pennsyltucky,â€ dwells on this subject. For those from outside of the tri-state area, the title might not make sense, having been formed from a local joke: â€œWhatâ€™s between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh? Kentucky.â€
The video, filmed in Centralia with fires burning a mere feet below, acts as sort of a placard for the album as a whole. The groupâ€™s previous LP, The Stone Operation, found the band gallivanting across the globe from Dallas to Romania and back again. By, contrast, This is Not for Children focuses squarely on the Philadelphia area. The city itself gets its fair dues -- Petersen pens both love and hate letters to the city -- but the band also uses the failure of Centralia to make a bigger point. In the video, a ghastly, gas-masked figure wanders around the ruins of the town, which are being reclaimed by the Earth as he wanders. Still, the ever-present inferno simmers just below the scene.
Petersen explains, â€œCentralia is the story of industry in America summed up in a 50-year period. Itâ€™s the story of a town and people being all used up, but you watch in fast-forward. Itâ€™s a window into the soul of America.â€
This is Not for Children
Mischief Brewâ€™s origins go all the way back to 1995 when a teenaged Erik Petersen formed brat-punk band the Orphans, following a short string of even more obscure punk bands. (One even covered the Sex Pistols and listed high school dance DJs that they hated on the demo tape.)
Petersen went to an all-boys Catholic high school, was into hip hop, heavy metal and horror movies. â€œI tried creating music, but I canâ€™t rap,â€ Petersen says. â€œNor can I shred on guitar. Punk seemed like something anyone could do after two guitar lessons. When I first started going to shows, the most revolutionary concept to me was that my favorite bands could become my friends. Seeing these bands save up some money and put out 7-inchers gave me something realistic to shoot for. It was suddenly something that anyone could do, and we did it.â€
Sort of a Circle Jerks/Germs-influenced band (as seen through the view of whippersnappers) the Orphans sang about sniping people, painted tales of getting raided by G-men and even had a few Subhumans covers. The band was something of a local hit, playing basements, parks and rented church spaces. They developed alongside a fairly bustling scene in the Philly suburb West Chester, PA, and would play alongside regulars like The Boils, Corrupt Justin and Plow United. In fact, they made such a racket that Petersenâ€™s dad once dubbed the band â€œThe Screaming Jackasses.â€
â€œThe shows back then are hard to generalize because they were all so different,â€ says Plow Unitedâ€™s Joel Tannenbaum. â€œEvery suburb had its own weird vibe. A show in downtown West Chester and a show in Phoenixville could be completely different animals. West Chester was very provincial. Youâ€™d see the same people at every show. Philly, was, by our standards, cosmopolitan. You never knew who was gonna show up.â€
He continues, â€œThe Orphans were a little younger than most of the other bands and they were very smart and engagedâ€¦ Very different form the crusty stoner a lot of the rest of the bands gave off. Their songs were solid, but they werenâ€™t pop-punk, which I remember appreciating a lot at the time.â€
But, as young bands do, they broke up in a few short years, leaving a mere 7-inch in their wake. It was at this time Petersen took his first steps towards the creation of Mischief Brew. Armed with only an acoustic guitar, Petersen made the decision to play acoustic, folk-influenced, music to a bunch of punks. Now to be fair, that kind of thing had been done ever since Billy Bragg, but in the late 9'0s it still took guts to do, especially in the rough-and-tumble Philly scene, and especially compared to the commonplace acoustic-guitar-guy seen so frequently in punk rock today.
â€œErik and I played our first acoustic shows together at our friends warehouse in North Philly in 1998,â€ Tannenbaum says. â€œWe were both really nervous beforehand and joking about how we should make ourselves vomit. I sucked that night and stopped playing acoustic shortly thereafter. Erik killed.â€
With that energy, Petersen formed â€œMischief Brew.â€ Though, at the time, he was unsure if â€œMischief Brewâ€ was the name for a label, a demo or a band. In 2000, he released the Mirth demo cassette, which both set the bandâ€™s foundation, and if you ask some people, the buoy from which they would sometimes sail away from, and sometimes sail towards.
The releaseâ€™s eight tracks were raw, ragged and were mostly acoustic. It leaned heavily on medieval and Enlightenment imagery, creating a sort of anarcho-knight-folk. Jesters adorned the cover. There were songs about sailors and killing slave masters in their sleep.
Within a few years, the release sparked and the former solo-acoustic guy Erik Petersen once again fronted a band thatâ€¦ gaspâ€¦ also had electric instruments. In the band then, as today, was Petersenâ€™s brother Chris Petersen on drums, who looks identical to his brother except that heâ€™s taller and more slender. On bass was Shawn St. Clair, who aside from the fanciful earrings that weave throughout his ears, could pass for one of the Discharge guys. On second guitar, and sometimes drums, was Doc Petersen, an affable kind if guy that youâ€™d like to have as a neighbor -- despite his friendly, jovial nature, youâ€™d never guess that he was running around with a bunch kinda-sorta-anarcho-sorta-acoustic-sorta-electric-political-punks (punx?).
Basing their sound off the first demo tape, the band created one hell of a unique beast. Sometimes they smashed along like a d-beat band. Sometimes, they pulled back and covered â€œThe Midnight Special.â€ Sometimes they wrote songs about Philadelphia police killing immigrants. Sometimes they wrote songs that could soundtrack your next D&D campaign. Somehow, it all made sense, fitting together in a rag-tag mÃ©lange of class warfare as seen throughout all ages, with all its joys and sorrows.
â€œI first saw the full version of the band when the Low-Budgets, a band I was in, opened for them,â€ says Joe Jack Talcum of The Dead Milkmen (who also once shared a split with the band). â€œThe energy, sincerity and melody of the music and lyrics is what I like about the band.â€
â€œErik is a serious songwriter and talented musician with an ideological point of view,â€ adds Franz Nicolay, who recorded an entire collaboration with Mischief Brew and his own Guignol. â€œHe has a commitment to both quality work and all the stuff that they call â€˜ethicsâ€™ and â€˜walking the walk.â€™ I respect the way heâ€™s chosen to do things -- support yourself with a regular, respectable job and only do the shows and releases you want to do. At a very basic level, the band as it stands these days has to be one of the best punk bands going.â€
Nicolay continues, â€œWhen someoneâ€™s public face is primarily as a songwriter and frontman, their instrument is, by necessity, primarily a functional tool. But, heâ€™s a tremendous guitar player with a great earâ€¦ and my wife has always maintained that heâ€™s a really subtle singer under the gruffness. His songs are deceptive. Theyâ€™re not just three country chords and go.â€
Across two studio albums and about 15 other releases, the band established their core identity, and then began to play with that concept. The debut LP, Smash the Windows set the standard. It had tunes that were rooted in a swinging recklessness. Some had a crust-punk, stomping attack, like the Stza featuring â€œTen Thousand Fleas,â€ and others were more old country, such as â€œThe Lowly Carpenterâ€ which could have been written the same year that Martin Luther was nailing things to peopleâ€™s doors.
Then, six years later, on 2011â€™s The Stone Operation., the band exhibited just how much that they had grown. They still had the low-end, blues-based swing, but the entire release was covered in shambolic instruments, clacking and collapsing at all times. It was harder and more electric than earlier releases, and found the band regaling the listener with tales about Romania, Paris and all over the globe. A sort of gleeful nihilism graced the record, as paeans to demons, odes to Rudimentary Peni and a sort of celebration insanity were cheered along side the racket. The record was scatted across the four corners as the band rolled around in a shambolic network of chords and riffs.
But now, theyâ€™re about to release This is Not for Children. Depending on whom you ask, the record is a radical departure for the band, the next step in evolution for them, or an aspect of them that theyâ€™ve always had. (For instance, master Philly show-booker Greg Daly says, â€œI donâ€™t think the anarcho angle of the band is new at all. Itâ€™s been there since day one!â€) That is to say, people are having trouble defining this record and putting it into a box.
Itâ€™s all electric. Itâ€™s hard charging. It has a clean sound. Itâ€™s the bandâ€™s most contemporary set of lyrics to date. And, unlike nearly all their previously releases which jumped back and forth through the time stream to the dark ages to the renaissance to the great war, and which boated from Eastern Europe to the UK to Spain and back, the new has its eye focused squarely on one thing: Philadelphia.
Lancaster Avenue Blues
Quite fittingly, Petersenâ€™s house is located close to road that runs from the suburbs of West Chester, loops around the upper crust of Newtown Square, cuts through the working class area of Upper Darby, before winding its way through the richest, and poorest, areas of Philadelphia.
His house looks surprisingly home-y. For a guy that sings about class war, brutal police killings and how much he hates Black Friday, he seems to have built an extremely traditional house. Three tiny pugs perpetually wander about the house. (In fact, the band has a sort of Pug infatuation, having adorned the animal on multiple designs). The pugs are all well behaved. Two of them, upon finding you in their place, will look up at you with their E.T.-like eyes, staring silently before wandering away. The third will drop down into a sitting position and just stare at you until you leave. If you try to beat it in a staring competition, you will lose.
Bright wallpaper highlights the cabinets masterfully crafted by Petersen himself. The kitchen combines modern fixtures with some more antique utensils and down-home plates. To be fair, some haunting prints which depict medieval images hang on the wall. In the corner of the living room is a surprisingly small record collection (though one supposes there is a much larger stash hidden somewhere else in the houseâ€¦)
Though there is some punk in the collection, thereâ€™s a large selection of classic rock and an impressive Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy collection (one remembers Petersenâ€™s early hip hop fandom.) But, somewhat bafflingly, if you ask Petersen about KRS-One, he seems to delicately shoo the conversation away. Is he disinterested? Is talking about records a la High Fidelity a grotesque charade for an actual musician? Perhaps, like so many otherâ€¦ dare I say musical savantsâ€¦ Petersen quite simply knows little about other peopleâ€™s records, channeling his energy more towards playing than listening.
One thing about Petersen, is that when you talk to him, it often seems as though heâ€™s holding something back, or hiding something. Talk to Keith Morris and heâ€™ll tell you about how he did lots of coke in the '80s. Talk to Mike Watt, and he might break down into tears when discussing the passing of the Asheton brothers. But Peterson seems to keep something buried in interviews. Itâ€™s not that heâ€™s acting tactically -- just the opposite. Itâ€™s as if by his nature, heâ€™s forced to shy away from things that are deeply personal.
â€œI think youâ€™re right that he keeps a part of himself guarded,â€ Franz Nicolay tells me. â€œBut, Iâ€™m not sure it isnâ€™t just the natural reticence of the musician who has been as it for a while and knows that strangers might have opinions about him. My opinion is that heâ€™s a really polite guy, who, deep down, thinks of himself as a kind of get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon- like the lyrics for â€œMr. Crumbâ€ â€“ and tries to keep his grouchy alter ego under the bridge.â€
Greg Daly has his own interpretation. He says, â€œI think Erik, and the whole band, are very friendly and outgoing, but also humble. I donâ€™t really seem them as the type of people who would sit around talking about how great they areâ€¦ Anyone who has shared some late night whisky with any of them can tell you that they open up pretty easilyâ€¦â€
Denise, Petersenâ€™s wife and the person who often acts as a de-facto manager/road manager/label head for the band tells me â€œI donâ€™t necessarily think Erik is a guarded person, maybe sometimes, but yes not intentionalâ€¦ Itâ€™s more instinctual. However from talking to him in particular about interviews I think itâ€™s more of not feeling articulate. He said something to me along the lines of â€˜I express myself through songwriting, but sometimes itâ€™s hard in life.â€˜ Iâ€™m totally paraphrasing, that, by the way.â€
And thatâ€™s the dynamic that makes This is Not for Children so interesting. Pretty much all of the previous release found the band expressing their personal viewpoints through large scale abstraction. How many songs about peasants revolting or carpenters attacking systems from the inside do they have? Now to be fair, in the previous releases, there were deeply personal songs, see â€œStuffâ€™s Weird,â€ which seemed to be a reflection of punk scene and how the band fit, or did not fit, into their own hang-outs.
But, Children seems to be where the band really just lays it out on the table. Philadelphiaâ€™s rapid gentrification over the past decade, including the areas directly across the street from Petersenâ€™s house, are a heavy focal point of the release.
I ask Petersen what heâ€™s seen change in Philadelphia. He replies, â€œHow havenâ€™t I seen it change? Itâ€™s unrecognizable in places. Gentrification gaslights you. After ten years, After ten years, you turn around and the places you remember are gone, and strangers live in these apartments and theyâ€™re going to the gym in buildings where you used to see Burn the Priest and Dissucks play. Gentrification is people who arenâ€™t part of a neighborhood and forming a culture that wasnâ€™t there. Itâ€™s renaming. An area of the city gets renamed. If thereâ€™s an area of the city that is kind of becoming hip, then all the areas around it become associate with that neighborhood. â€˜Oh, thatâ€™s the eastern part of this new neighborhood. Itâ€™s sinister and dangerous. Itâ€™s the people that have nothing to do with an area, moving in, making their own. It has nothing to do with culture. Itâ€™s sinister.â€
â€œBut, West Philly has also changed in many great ways. Being critical of gentrification doesnâ€™t mean youâ€™re anti-growth or anti-safety. It just means that you think communities should be a part of their own growth and it shouldnâ€™t be determined by outside forces like real estate brokers, corporations and developers who are more interested in taking the money and running, while displacing as any people as possible in the processâ€¦ the poor people that donâ€™t fit into their plan.â€
â€œPhiladelphia is a big city with a small town feel,â€ he continues. â€œThere was a point where I thought I wanted to live in the country or a small town. Philly is kind of that. Itâ€™s very provincial. If you live here, you tend to stay here. Thereâ€™s a culture and provinciality that makes it really unique. Itâ€™s not New York, itâ€™s not Boston. Itâ€™s transient, but even the people that move in absorb that familial aspect of it.â€
This love-and-hate relationship is built into â€œO, Pennsyltucky,â€ one of the albumâ€™s cornerstones. In the song, Petersen gasps as he gets to the erupting refrain, â€œO, Pennsyltucky, the three mile islands/ the coal fires buckle the minerâ€™s highways/ Iâ€™d love just to leave you, but itâ€™s good to see you, and old filth-fadelphia, hostile city, PA!â€
Philadelphia, now 334 years old, has a certain texture that can be difficult to describe to outsiders. The majority of the area is working class. Small single family homes surround the roads that lead to its core until they transform into red brick row homes, some are which over 100 years old. (Though, as Petersen points out, many of those low-income housing units are being knocked down and replaced with expensive apartments.) Pizza and hoagie shops are ubiquitous. The area, which was once a sort of melting pot for the Italian, Irish and Germans half a century ago, has now evolved into an area of hundreds of cultures, all in different states of â€œAmericanization.â€ Walk down Chestnut Street in West Philadelphia, and you can have Chinese food, African food, Halal food, Greek food, Lebanese food, Mexican food within a stone's throw. Sometimes the different cultures get along. Sometimesâ€¦ they donâ€™t.
But, by contrast, Center City, now more than ever, is growing into a sort of big business mecca. High-rises block out the sun. Cafes where a salad costs $16 are easy to find. People in suits hustle and bustle past the homeless. And, this development, whether you think itâ€™s positive or negative, is spreading like wildfire out into Philadelphiaâ€™s outer regions. The result is this strange setting, where unlike the gradual change in areas that you see in New York or San Francisco, one street makes all the difference. For instance, thereâ€™s a church on Fairmount Avenue that has upscale homes with manicured plants and mid-range cars parked out front. One minute walk north and you can find a pawn shop. A few minutes walk east and you can find the remains of the famed Golden Tea House which used to throw shows weekly, including killer sets by Paint It Black, Night Birds, Bad Canoes, Restorations and others. Now itâ€™s shut down because the abandoned garage(?) that stood next to it has been demolished to make way for very, very expensive housing.
From my personal experience, Philadelphiaâ€™s rough-and-tumble nature has spilled over to its live shows. It seems to me that Philadelphia audiences are often hostile, and just plain disrespectful to touring acts. I think back to when David Johansen, one of the legendary figures in punk rock, had a bottle thrown at him (despite his killer set). Or, how about when two beers where thrown at Nobunny who was totally rockinâ€™? Or how about when a wasted guy, who had a bizarrely high-pitched voice, heckled Buzz Osborne of the Melvins at his solo show to the point where Osborne had to talk the guy down after he rushed the stage? Security didnâ€™t even seem to think it was worth moving a finger for. I was embarrassed for my own town! By contrast, in San Francisco, that guy would have been out the door before his fourth wordâ€¦ but then again, I never saw something like that happen in San Francisco in seven years.
But strangely, not a single musician that I contact will agree with me that Philadelphia is a rough place to play. For instance, Joe Jack Talcum says, â€œI donâ€™t ever recall having a hostile audience in Philadelphia.â€ Nicolay throws out my premise entirely, â€œDoes Philly have a bad rap? I thought it was, like, the hotbed of new punk rock in America? Iâ€™ve always had a good time here.â€ I even have a musician, who shall remain anonymous, reprimand me for even asking the question. She says, â€œPhilly shreds, buddy! Get with the program!â€
â€œPhiladelphia does get a bad reputation, but at times its undeserved,â€ Petersen says. â€œThere are magical moments. Like when I saw Los Crudos at the Church -- 600 people going insane over this music that meant so much in the '90s. Thy are a revolutionary band that is so important. I donâ€™t like to focus on a few bad eggs or jerks in the crowd. There are jerks everywhere. I donâ€™t know why Philadelphia gets a bad rap.â€
â€œYou see, Phillyâ€™s an interesting place,â€ Petersen continues. â€œThere are so many clichÃ©s: it gets no respect, the sports fans are detestable, we threw snowballs at Santaâ€¦ ho hum. Itâ€™s so uncreative and redundant that itâ€™s laughable to people that grew up here, whose parents grew up here, and so on. That provinciality has produced a thick-skinned character, while the city has maintained its traditions and flavor.â€
â€œThere is still hope that the roots are strong enough that they wonâ€™t allow neighborhoods to become complete shells of their former selves, like whatâ€™s happened in parts of New York. I imagine itâ€™s pretty heartbreaking for people that grew up there, the way some of those neighborhoods look now. I have some friends that live in NYC that are caught in this hamster wheel routine of work-pay rent-work, just to live in some tiny apartment with one window, and a kitchen you canâ€™t even hang out in with friends. In Philly, for less money, you can straight up buy a house, with a basement to practice in, with a yard to put a BBQ in, and put a table in your kitchen and hang out there. But yeah, we threw snowballs at Santa in 1968, so whatever.â€
â€œBut how about the attack on David Johansen?â€ I demand an accounting.
â€œWas he dressed up as Santa Claus?â€ Petersen asks back.
Slow Death Hymn
Perhaps the other surprising facet of the album is just how personal and direct it is. The last song, â€œSlow Death Hymn,â€ is one of the bandâ€™s most moving songs ever, as Petersen runs though a list of how close friends have passed away, including cancer, heroin addiction and suicide.
â€œIt was a bad year,â€ Petersen recalls. â€œFour friends died within a couple months of each other. That was pretty intense. It filtered into the lyrics. Itâ€™s hard for me to pull back and put it all in a frame. Things that happened to us over 2012 and 2013, happened to seep in. It was a few up and down years. We had four every close friends die tragically and I donâ€™t know if I want to say how or why, but it was very intense and it was relentless. It kind of puts everything in perspective, and finds its way into the lyrics, without forcing it.â€
â€œI mean, Iâ€™m not dwelling on it,â€ Petersen pauses. â€œBut, itâ€™s always around the corner, peering down from rooftops and in the shadows. I wasnâ€™t planning on writing any songs about it, but then â€˜Slow Death Hymnâ€™ seemed to write itself.â€
Denise tells me, â€œErikâ€™s songwriting has a lot of story telling to it. For me, personally, itâ€™s interesting because Iâ€™ve seen the evolution of so many of these songs. Some are more personal in nature like if they sprung up from a conversation we had or something that happened in our lives and others are just fun. Itâ€™s funny, on the new record, the song â€˜Two Nickels,â€™ thatâ€™s way old and I always sing the old lyrics over it when I hear it.â€
â€œSlow Death Hymnâ€ has a refrain the seems to be one of the bandâ€™s boldest statements, and one of their most revealing lines. Petersen calls out â€œIâ€™ll take life, I donâ€™t care if itâ€™s fair!â€
â€œAs a punk, you want everything to always be fair,â€ he explains. â€œYou want this perfect utopian idea of life, but then, when your best friend dies, youâ€™re like, I just want life. I want this person to be alive. I wasnâ€™t planning on writing about any of this stuff. Naturally itâ€™s going to come out like a journal.â€
Itâ€™s this though process that has led to the new albumâ€™s texture. The political angles are still there, perhaps even more so than ever before, theyâ€™re weaved into the bandâ€™s personal aspect. Itâ€™s this unique combination that led to them releasing the new album on Alternative Tentacles, the label owned by punk titan Jello Biafra.
â€œMischief Brewâ€™sâ€¦ ahemâ€¦ special brew comes from the combination of cleverness, earnestness, fun, a dash of the political side of folk, with a general punk attitude,â€ says Alternative Tentacles label manager Jesse Townley. â€œThey don't hesitate to mix it up when necessary, but it never comes off as forced eclecticism like other bands. Erik is very creative and political, while being completely casual and funny. It's easy to forget that there's a lot of deeply political thoughts going on in his music and writing when you're hanging out in a room with him.â€
â€œWeâ€™re not Crass, weâ€™re not Aus Rotten,â€ Petersen adds. â€œOur tactic is that weâ€™re storytellers. We try to bring up imagery that people can relate to and project their own experiences into the song. Thatâ€™s the best we can do. Weâ€™re not out there with a bullhorn or leading protests. Weâ€™re never been that. I wouldnâ€™t say that weâ€™re an overtly political band, but we try our best to say something. I mean, if weâ€™re not saying something in the lyrics, itâ€™s just nonsense. Itâ€™s pop music. Pop music is saying nothing. If weâ€™re not saying something, we might as well give up and quit.â€
Itâ€™s the afternoon of May 30, 2015 at the Boot and Saddle in South Philadelphia. Wonderfully, the dreaded Philadelphia humidity decided to roll in today, of all days, leaving the general population in an uncomfortable, irritable state. Today, Mischief Brew will play two sets to celebrate the release of This is Not for Children.
The early set is a sight to behold. Middle-aged people have brought their grade school kids to watch the gig. Some crusties have showed up and are milling around outside. Dedicated Mischief Brew fans are killing time before the set, ordering Sprites and just kind of hanging out in the music area, waiting for the show to start. Denise is zipping around like a dynamo, taking care of this and that.
Petersen himself makes a short appearance out front before disappearing in the back. St. Clair and Chris Petersen hang just near the bar, seemingly excited about the release show, whereas Erik Petersen seemed slightly nervous. Greg Daily, as always, radiates an effortless, unflappable cool as he talks about all the latest happenings in the Philly punk world. People circle around him like heâ€™s some sort of sage.
Finally, the band comes out and blasts through a mid-day set. A mix of newer and older material, the bands seems to morph between two facets. The earlier, more ragged material rises and falls, lashing about as the band shouts out things like â€œBoycott Me!â€ or the bloody scream of â€œLawless world.â€ But then, when they switch to the new material, the slashing, lashing is converted into a polished, vibrating, hard-charging sound. The band is tighter, harder and more energetic. Wonderfully, despite the raw power of the new songs, the actual songcraft shines through.
But then, interestingly, the second set shows a surprising change. Now, the bar is more of a typical bar. Itâ€™s packed with punkers of all types -- some crust-punk-til-I-die, some pop-punkers, some just regular guys and gals. Out front, on the sidewalk, people smoke and a few people are busking. Inside, the drinks are now flowing and you can tell it by the rosy cheeks on almost everyone in attendance.
When the band comes out for the second set, itâ€™s clear that they have had a nip themselves. Certainly, they're not out of their facilities, but they are looser, more confident. The band kicks into a set packed with almost all of the new songs and a few oldies. But, strangely, the new songs have now changed. Where they previously stood out against the older tunes, that have amassed a new sort of coat. They still have that pulsating charge, reminiscent of the mid-'80s anarcho-punkers. But, now they are rawer and more savage. Maybe the older songs have grown towards the new ones, or maybe the new ones have grown the sheen of the old ones.
Either way, it seems that Mischief Brew has grownâ€¦ but they havenâ€™t grown away from themselves. Theyâ€™ve grown into a more formed and more direct entity. And even more interesting, is that despite the heavy nature of the new songs, as the band tears through them, itâ€™s not a boo-hoo-hoo fest. Rather, the band is clearly on fire, having a blast and the audience is reciprocating. Despite the tales of gentrification and heroin and struggle, this is joyful music.
And right at the end of the set, the band launches into one of the older classics. Petersen with a twinkle in his eye and grin on his face, howls out, â€œIâ€™ll see you in hell, boys! Iâ€™ll see you in hell!!!!â€ But, it doesnâ€™t sound like a condemnation -- it sounds like a party.