This past Saturday, we threw the Summer Chimera! It was a triple headed attack that featured Philadelphia's Roadkiller, Stza Crack doing a full band set backed by Crazy and the Brains, and the first Philly appearance of Danbert Nobacon of Chumbawamba in almost a decade, playing in conjunction with Kira Wood Cramer. A sequel of sorts to last year's show with Stza and Joe Jack Talcum, the concert found these stellar artists doing their solo thing and performing together. Check out our recap of the night below.
The Summer Chimera
Words: John Gentile Photo and video: Doug Kavendek
Well, the joke was on me. Being a student of classical studies, I assumed that everyone knew what a Chimera was: a fearsome, three headed beast with each head having a different deadly style. “Perfect symbol!” I thought. “We’ve got three killer acts, each of different disciplines and we’ll use the Chimera as an icon for the show!” Well, as it turns out, most people aren’t that versed in ancient Greek mythology. It’s a testament to how dorky I am that I was genuinely surprised by this. And, in true Punknews style, calamity and poor assessment lead to one of our best shows to date.
The whole thing was sparked last year when I had the opportunity to interview anarcho-punk champion Danbert Bobacon of Chumbawama. As the end of the interview, I said to Danbert, “If you ever want to play a Philly show, let me know!” Being an English gentleman, he responded that he would, and of course, I assumed that he was giving me a polite no. Well, the joke was on me because some six months later, the champ sent me a message, asking if I could put on a show for him. Of course, being as shortsighted as I am, I immediately said “yes!” without any plan whatsoever.
Last year, we were lucky enough to have Stza Crack come down and play a full band set backed by Crazy & the Brains, co-headlining with the hero Joe Jack Talcum. That set turned out amazingly well, despite that the acts involved are all of very different music styles. Still, knowing that Stza is a fan of the earliest anarcho bands, I asked him if he wanted to try to repeat last years (mis)adventure, and to my surprise, he generously jumped at the chance!
In order to further mix up the style, I booked Philly’s own Roadkiller to open the show. Fronted by Australian transplant Zebidy Tank, the band rips through thrash bashers and would be different, but compliment the other punk styles.
As the doors opened, myself and my right hand man KB Vickers handed out programs featuring backgrounds on the bands. The sound system blasted out hits of ‘80s, and of course, in a vague nod to Danbert’s legacy, I packed the setlist with all bands that had a mega radio hit, but were also excellent bands with rich histories in their own right- Flock of Seagulls, Human League, Tom Tom Club, the Go-Gos, etc etc.
Finally, the lights shut off and the intro music boomed across the Creep records venue, sound handled by Creep’s founder Arik Victor. First a goat brayed, then a lion roared, then a dragon screamed, only for the music to build to din as provided by Amebix’s medieval instrumental “Shield Wall.” As that track built to a crescendo, I jumped up on stage and yelled at the crowd, “mmaaaaake sooome noooisseee!!!” in true Funkmaster Flex Style.
The crowd did just that and Roadkiller blasted directly into their set. A to piece, the band focused on hard and fast whipping riffs. Zebidy Tank sung in a cross between Dickenson and Dio and the band headbanged out track to hard livin’. The crowd was pretty much eating it up as the band switched to songs about pagan queens and other darker things. Live the band cleverly kept things simple and focused on hard thrashing over technicality, and the result was a set that was as explosive as it was ripping. This is what thrash is all about.
With a few minute changeover, Danbert and his compatriot Kira Wood Cramer took the stage for a decidedly different approach. Chumbawamba famously bucked at the punk trends of the day by using folk, acoustic, and dance music in their act and Danbert has continued his “no rules” mandate through today.
Sounding as wonderfully proper and as wonderfully baritone as ever, Danbert’s deep rich voice countered Cramer’s, dare I say, classical voice, which drew from both opera styles and the songstresses of the early ’50s. Their songs drew mostly from the political side of things, such as attacking Trump’s wall and defending science. Still, as the pair have mastered, none of the songs seemed like arguments against something. Rather, with their delicate and clean delivery, it was almost as if, “of course this is the truth.” That is, Danbert has the gift of getting you on his side without it making it seem like that’s what he’s doing.
Between some of the songs, the pair did a series of mini-vignettes, with Danbert portraying the part of a young tyke learning about the world and Cramer serving as a sort of instructor, echoing those renaissance era English street plays. It was funny, and moreso, enriching to have what is ostensibly an ancient English art, delivered in the loud punk rock context.
To the surprise of many, the pair did slip some Chumba tunes into the mix. “This Girl” was a show stopper with the pair conjuring every ounce of emotion and sentimentality heard on the famous studio recording- moreso, perhaps, because it was live. Likewise, “Bad Dog” as reworked as an acoustic umber and was as powerful as ever, despite its new quiet nature. That is, during their set, Danbert and Kira proved that it’s not volume or power that makes a song moving, it’s the soul, and if anything, Danbert and Kira are masters of soul, even if they prominently played the anti-mysticism “Karma won’t save us” during their set…
After another quick change over, Crazy & the Brains blasted into their own unique mini-set. Having recently released Into the Ugly the band is at the height of their powers right now. The guitars ripped. The xylophone kept things jubilant and weird. The drums cracked and the bass rumbled the room. Vocalist Christoph brought his art-weirdo vocal stylings.
The band ripped through about eight mostly new tracks, including the surf-attack meets Johnny Thunders stomp of “Hell No.” Although the band has been getting wilder with each year, growing into the maniacs we always knew they were, paradoxically, they’re also becoming a tighter band, hitting marks like sledgehammers. The live version of “Hail Mary,” with its xylophone bounce locked against the lumbering low end made the band almost feel like a metal act before they brought in their Beach Boys harmonies. Just as they were about to end their set, they got the word to add an extra song, so they closed out the set with an older classic, “Say My Name,” which like most great songs, started with a quiet intro before exploding into a fiery finish.
Just after that, Stza took the stage, dressed in a mod suit jacket and tie, somewhat echoing the two-tone legends of yore. Interestingly, throughout the night, the whole crew kicked out an unexpected, and thusly welcomed, setlist.
They opened with a completely volatile version of “Stop the Inanity.” It was a hard smash to open the show and got the place shaking. For his part, Sturgeon was in fine form, flipping between his glass edged howl and his, perhaps unused, smoother lower register. Rarely are the sonic depths of Choking Victim/Leftover Crack discussed, but the fact is, through all the chaos and playful-satanism, there really is an amazing songcraft and sense of melody in these songs.
Equally interesting is that while Crazy & the Brains have a lot of “fun songs,” (even though a lot of them actually deal with depressing issues), they switch their style when backing Sturgeon. The band was low and powerful and smashed down so hard it was almost like Stza was backed by a gnarly metal band- and that included Jeff Rubin’s xylophone that served the place of the keyboard for the night, giving the set a unique character.
A few Choking Victim classics were brought out, such as “Infested,” which, as the song hit the famous “one bug, two bugs, three bugs four!” midsection, a shower of balloons rained down on the audience. “Crack rock Steady” was treated to an extended dub style intro with the band riffing on that famous bass line before launching into the famous “aaaaaayyyyeeee crack rock steady!”
An especially high point was “Soon we’ll be dead,” which, with it’s contrasting metal smash and Pogues balladry, was as moving as it was nasty. Sturgeon is a king of contrast and live, he really made those different halves work to benefit the other. And to boot, Jeff Rubin’s xylophone gave the song a whole ne character with two complete xylo-sections.
I think it’s fair to say that Sturgeon was as excited to play with Danbert as we were to see the combo in action. He was in fine, high energy form for the entire night. So much so, that near the end of the set, Danbert and Kira retook the stage and we were treated to an acapella version of the Chumba classic “The day the nazi died.” Not only was it a great moment, but it was also unfortunately poignant in today’s political climate.
There’s only one way to end a show of this insanity and the whole crew climbed back on stage for an absolutely manic cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died.” Sturgeon and Cristoph switched between screaming the refrain “This is for the people who died! Died!” Meanwhile, guitarist Ernest locked in with bassist Brett and drummer Jon and the trio kicked out a backing as hard as any CBGB or Mabuhay garden show ever. So much so that as we got to the dreaded 10:00pm hard curfew, the whole song exploded, erupted, and then crumbled apart in disaster. It. Was. Awesome.
Sometime during the evening, Sturgeon made mention that he enjoyed playing with Joe Jack last year and equally enjoyed playing with Danbert, before illuminating the importance of Danbert on punk, and music as a whole. Sturgeon then proceeded to muse on the idea of making this event (now in its second year) an annual tradition… I must say, after the show wrapped up, I don’t need a lot of convincing to get to work on next year already…