PEARS/Subhumans - Live in Denver (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

PEARS / Subhumans

Live in Denver (2016)

live show

PEARS are one of those bands that I can largely thank PunkNews for getting me into, because I knew nothing of them before becoming a PunkNews staff reviewer. This whole website just seems to have one big collective gender neutral hard-on for PEARS up and down the entire site, so much so that, upon first listening to Go to Prison, I didn’t expect an album that actually lived up to all the hype I’d been hearing about them. Instead, Go to Prison exceeded the hype from my fellow reviewer, and was the single most revolutionary punk album I’ve heard since The Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come. I was glad to finally see someone take hardcore and do something really fresh and new with it, and Green Star was almost just as good. PEARS comes off as a punk rock history lesson that’s been run through a postmodern meat grinder. With their fresh take on the genre, I was excited to see how they fared opening up for a more traditional, classic hardcore band like Subhumans.

What I saw in PEARS’s live performance was a lot of bizarre movement and energy that felt mostly artificial. Frontman Zach Quinn, ill-advisedly, came out with no shirt on. If that was just because he was really hot in a packed room on a spring night, then good for him, but it felt like it was some big, Danzig/Rollins-esque attempt to look larger than life to the audience, and it fell short. Certainly Quinn is not the scrawniest guy in the world, and could easily kick my ass (please don’t), but he’s not a big enough guy to pull off that superhuman, giant, intimidating tough guy look that he was clearly trying to pull off with his stage persona. Unfortunately, that’s what made all of his other stage antics look absolutely ridiculous.

Quinn was jumping all over the stage, playing a bizarre dance with the microphone that looked like ballroom dancing n crack. While Quinn exuded a ton of energy, none of it felt organic. Rather, bizarre moves like holding the microphone stand out over the audience—with the feet facing the crowd instead of the microphone, no less—looked less like Quinn’s own persona, and more like he was trying to copy other frontmen he had seen before, but had a very fuzzy memory. Add to the fact that he was a bit too skinny for the particular effect he was trying to pull off (again, still larger than me, please don’t kick my ass) made him look scrawnier than he really was, and it ultimately looked like Michael Cera in a Saturday Night Live sketch parodying a hardcore punk band.

What came towards the end of PEARS set, though, was where the band showed a fair bit of integrity and won me back over. At one point in the set, a fan came up onto the stage, stood behind Quinn, and wrapped one arm around Quinn’s stomach, while yelling something incoherent into Quinn’s microphone. Quinn stood in stunned silence for over a full minute, seeming to be both shocked that someone was doing this, but (rightfully) even more flabbergasted that venue security was making no attempt to remove a man who was inappropriately touching the talent and who looked potentially unstable. As the security guards finally remembered that they were at work and escorted the man with no boundaries off of the stage, people in the front row started to yell to the band that there were, as I understood it, Nazi punks in the pit who were throwing fists in people’s faces. Once again, it was up to PEARS to request from the stage that security to do their job and remove the offenders from the pit. In the ensuing melee, guitarist Brian Pretus tried to lighten the mood by filling the silence as he jokingly started playing the riffs from the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Slide” and Sum 41’s “Fat Lip,” all while some guy in a D.R.I. t-shirt tried to get closer to the stage to shout Bible verses (“He who is without sin…”) at the band to justify people’s rights to throw punches in the pit of a 16 show. After the troublemakers were escorted out, PEARS added an extra song to the end of their set to apologize to the audience for the incident.

Still, with all the credit I give PEARS for handling that difficult situation, it still hadn’t quite erased my memory of Quinn’s very forced stage antics that looked like someone desperately trying to figure out how to embody hardcore and awkwardly producing an unintentional hardcore parody. But as the more traditional hardcore veterans, Subhumans, took the stage, frontman Dick Lucas almost seemed to be putting on a clinic as to the proper way to be the lead singer a hardcore band. By contrast to Quinn’s antics, Lucas demonstrated how one could exude punk energy while staying more or less in one place on the stage, rather than scrambling all over the stage and violently twirling around the microphone stage like an amateur, unrehearsed martial arts performance. Lucas’s relaxed slouch can still command a lot of attention and energy from the audience, and he used his place on stage as a pretty powerful soapbox. The show happened to fall on Memorial Day, so Lucas took advantage of the opportunity to rile up audience anger over the tragedy of those dying in unjust wars, which added a great amount of fuel to Subhumans’ natural fire, as their own mosh pit went on with great exuberance from fans, and no further incident.

For the record, as much as Zack Quinn’s performance was all over the place, I still walked out of the show with a PEARS t-shirt (although I didn’t realize until a week afterwards when I went to put on the shirt that the merch guy hadn’t given me the one I had asked for) because I do still truly believe that PEARS are a revolutionary band that can and most likely will change punk forever. But their live show looked like a band that was still trying to figure out how to translate their revolutionary new sound into a live performance. One of my favorite things about PEARS is that they’re a very experimental band, but experiments, by definition, don’t always end up working. The result of this particular one was that, while it may have looked like an opportunity for a passing-of-the-torch type show—with an 80’s hardcore band passing on the spirit of the genre, with a pat on the back of approval, to the new generation—it instead came off as the pairing of an opening band with a lot to learn about how to perfect their live performance, and a headliner with plenty to teach about that very subject.