Propagandhi / Teenage Bottlerocket - Live in Denver (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Propagandhi / Teenage Bottlerocket

Live in Denver (2016)

live show

Propagandhi came through Denver on one of those unusual tours where they had absolutely nothing to support, being four years removed from their last album, and with no new releases announced yet. If anything, the only things they had to show off that were new were a handful of new songs and their new touring guitarist, Sulynn Hago, who adds some welcome gender diversity to the band, and whose stoic ferocity adds to the band’s powerful energy. But more than the fact that they had nothing to promote, the strangest part of the show was the opening band that they chose.

Teenage Bottlerocket felt like an odd choice as they sound like one of the bands that Propagandhi railed against in “Rock for Sustainable Capitalism.” Propagandhi are not exactly quiet about their hatred of pop-punk. Perhaps they’ve grown out of their elitism a bit.

The problem with giving yourself an age specific name like Teenage Bottlerocket is that, by the time you hit 30, your band better be brilliant or else your name sounds silly. There's only one band that was ever brilliant enough to pull it off and, sadly, Teenage Bottlerocket is no Sonic Youth. To their credit, though, the band joked about how they should rename the band Middle Aged Pocket Rocket.

TBR played a competent yet unremarkable set, although the constant reminders of the tragic loss of their drummer almost a year ago demonstrated that they were still recovering from that great loss, which makes even a competent yet unremarkable set a victory. But, however triumphant their set may have been, it dragged and I was getting impatient in my wait for the main attraction.

Propagandhi frontman Chris Hannah took the stage in what can only be described as a Colin Kaepernick Christmas sweater. Not a jersey, but a sweater with Kaepernick’s name and number emblazoned on the front, and a row of snowflakes in San Francisco 49ers colors around the stomach. I don’t know if the famously hockey-obsessed Propagandhi are really football fans as well, but it was pretty obvious that his primary intention was to support the recently controversial quarterback for his protests on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The biggest challenge that Propagandhi has for a live performance is that they’ve had two distinctly different eras to their career, marked approximately by the point where they replaced bassists: the John K. Samson/skate punk era, and the Todd Kowalski/thrash punk era. Additionally, Propagandhi was a three-piece during their skate punk days, and added a second guitarist to expand their sound early in the thrash punk era. So how exactly do you pull together a coherent set when your band has had such widely different sounds throughout their career? You could wimp out like AFI and just play the music that sounds most like your current sound, or you could take Propagandhi’s approach and remember the key to almost everything is about confidence. Play every song with the confidence that they belong together, and incorporate that extra guitarist to bring your classic material a little more in line with your modern stuff.

While I didn’t get to hear my favorite song of theirs, “Rock for Sustainable Capitalism,” I got to hear a few other favorites. “Note to Self” was played as the carefully orchestrated chaotic nightmare that it’s supposed to be. “A Speculative Fiction,” their song about a fiction of a wall being built between Canada and America and forcing all Americans out of their country, was particularly fitting given the current political climate.

Overall, Propagandhi shows that they’re still going as strong as ever, and the brief glimpses into their new material make me excited for whenever they finally get around to recording another album. For a band with such a complex sound, they certainly have no trouble replicating it live.